Rare Morgan Stoneware Cooler Heats Up $1 Million Auction At Crocker Farm

The rare 6-gallon stoneware water cooler with profuse incised decoration of birds feeding in a flowering tree soared to a final price of $230,000. It was signed “Morgan Maker / Balt,” for William Morgan, Baltimore, Md., circa 1822–1827.

SPARKS, MD. — Crocker Farm’s stoneware and redware auctions are always highly anticipated, and the July 20 event was no exception, offering a choice selection and racking up impressive prices on many of the more than 600 lots of American pottery and related items offered. “It was our best auction so far,” exclaimed Tony Zipp, the firm’s co-owner and Zipp family patriarch.

“At $1 million, including the buyer’s premium, it comes in as the best American stoneware auction ever, almost doubling our usual sales gross,” he said. “We had 600 lots, the largest so far. Whenever we have a lot of good pieces, we get good participation. For this sale, we had 150 chairs in the gallery, all taken, with some folks getting here late, some early, so I think we had about 200 over the course of the sale. We had 22 registered online bidders and more than 300 phone bids. Our son, Luke, who does the Live Auctioneers bidding, was at one point working on the computer and a phone line at the same time!”

As usual, the sale began with a bang — a big one, as an exceedingly rare 6-gallon stoneware water cooler with profuse incised decoration of birds feeding in a flowering tree soared to a final price of $230,000 and roosted there as the top lot of the day. Signed “Morgan Maker / Balt,” for William Morgan, Baltimore, Md., circa 1822–1827, the cylindrical cooler featured a tapered shoulder, rounded rim and large handles. The bunghole at the base had an unusual stepped design, embellished with impressed circles and cobalt highlights. Emanating from the cooler’s bunghole was a wonderful flowering tree, whose branches formed a heart around two perched the birds, which were accented with nicely incised feather detail.

Zipp said the piece was probably the finest surviving example of early Baltimore stoneware. “It was such a unique piece. I’ve handled about 12,000 lots since we started in 2004, and this was the most unique I’ve seen.” The cooler’s pleasing form was something even a person who does not know about stoneware would appreciate, and its pure gray clay body and artfully conceived and executed incised decoration, delicately filled with vibrant cobalt-oxide glaze, all combined to make this example a masterwork from the moment of its production.

The cooler, which had been estimated at $30/50,000, went to the trade, bidding for a collector, who, according to Zipp, was “very happy to get it at that price.” The auctioneer said that the $230,000 price makes this the second highest piece of Nineteenth Century American stoneware ever sold at auction. (The record is an Absalom jug that sold for $402,900 at Pook & Pook in May 2012.)

The third highest piece of American stoneware to sell at auction was also recorded in this sale. Similarly demolishing its estimate was a rare diminutive stoneware jar with profuse incised decoration of a Federal eagle, which left its expected $20/30,000 in the dust to achieve $195,500. Incised “New York / Octr. 25 / 1802,” the Remmey or Crolius family tapered jar with inset rim, incised banding and large, semilunate handles with original holes was decorated on the front with a large incised and cobalt-highlighted federal eagle with striped shield across its chest and stars accenting its neck, holding an olive branch and arrows in opposing talons. The back was incised with a flower extending from a curved stem with splayed leaves, also highlighted in cobalt slip

The jar was found recently in the Southeastern United States and, according to the catalog notes, is “one of the most significant discoveries in Manhattan stoneware of the past several decades.” Most such pieces bore incised or simple brushed decorations, but this figural example is a tour de force, with catalog notes further suggesting that this may be the earliest depiction of a federal eagle on an intact example of American stoneware, made 20 years after the eagle was chosen as a national symbol.

Another lot doing well across the block was a rare pair of Shenandoah Valley redware whippets, both signed “Samuel Bell / Winchester Sept 21 1841.” The matched pair of molded figures with incised details to face and paws, both dogs painted black with white and-red eyes and red mouths, reclining atop green painted bases with incised borders, left the gallery with a $115,000 bid.

One of the most iconic and desirable forms of Shenandoah Valley pottery, the stately Bell whippet was produced on occasion by several members of the Bell family in Waynesboro, Penn., Winchester, Va., and Strasburg, Va., according to catalog notes, though few examples have survived to this day. Adding to the allure of this particular pair was the fact that they have the distinction of being the first produced by Samuel Bell in Winchester to be offered at auction in decades, if ever. Also, their green painted bases are distinctive, as all other previously documented examples by Samuel Bell are painted solid black. They were acquired by the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

At this spring’s Westchester Glass and Pottery Show in Old Greenwich, Conn., Mark Zipp exhibited a pair of molded redware spaniel dog figures made by another prolific Bell family member, Samuel’s brother, Waynesboro, Penn., potter John Bell. The spaniels, circa 1840–1865, seated and with incised details to eyes, muzzle, teeth and paws, were, according to Tony Zipp, the first such pair to come to auction in decades. The rarity of the pair, stamped “John Bell,” propelled the lot to a final price of $42,250 against a $15/25,000 presale estimate.

“John Bell material usually does not sell as well as the Virginia pieces, but this price was extremely strong,” said Tony Zipp. “It sold to a collector in Texas who has been buying both Virginia and several New England pieces for some time. He loved the color and glaze of the spaniels.”

One of the finest New York State deer design pieces to cross the block in recent years was a 6-gallon stoneware crock with elaborate cobalt decoration of a deer flanked by trees, stamped “Haxstun, Ottman, & Co. / Ft. Edward, N.Y.,” circa 1870. Realizing $29,900, the cylindrical crock with tooled shoulder, semi-rounded rim and applied lug handles was decorated with an elaborate slip-trailed woodland scene featuring a large deer with turned head and spotted body, flanked by pine and leaf-bearing trees. Heavily detailed ground below included shrubs and various ground cover. The crock had come out of private collection more than 25 years in the making.

Fetching $26,450 was a rare 4-gallon stoneware jug with cobalt double pheasant on stump decoration, stamped “J.&E. Norton / Bennington, Vt.,” circa 1855. New to the market, the cylindrical jug with sloped shoulder and semi-rounded spout had been purchased by the consignor about 20 years ago. The front of the jug boasted two large, slip-trailed pheasants with turned heads, detailed wings and long tails, perched on the branches of a tree stump.

Additional highlights included a possibly unique 6-gallon stoneware jar with incised and brushed cobalt eagle decoration, stenciled “Hamilton & Jones,” circa 1870, doubling its $10,000 high estimate to bring $20,700; a rare early Nineteenth Century Crolius or Remmey family presentation stoneware ring jug with incised bird decoration, incised “Daniel Meritt his Ring Jug,” Manhattan, N.Y., finishing at $12,650, and a rare  1½-gallon stoneware pitcher with elaborate cobalt floral decoration, stamped twice “G.&A. Black,” Somerfield, Penn., origin, circa 1860, which brought $10,925.

Everyone probably wishes they were the gentleman who purchased a couple of New Geneva presentation pitchers — one inscribed “Miss Catherine Donnery” and the other “Miss Mamie Donnery” at a Goodwill store for a few dollars. Both pieces, Nineteenth Century and Albany slip decorated with large fuchsia vine design, were bid to identical prices of $4,600.

Crocker Farm’s next American stoneware and redware auction is set for November 2. Said Zipp, “We have a lot of dedicated buyers who rely on us to assemble a good sale, and our sales always come together with a wide range of good things from every region and at every price point.”

All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.

For information, www.crockerfarm.com or 410-472-2016.

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