SPARKS, MD. — The affable couple Tony and Barbara Zipp put all on the line when Tony quit his job as a hospital administrator and devoted himself fulltime to selling antique American stoneware and redware pottery. A decade after its founding, the family auction house, Crocker Farm, is a major force in the field, its sales providing a benchmark guide to the market that it has a big hand in shaping.
Crocker Farm’s tenth anniversary auction on Saturday, July 19, generated sales of $1,209,708 with premium, a house best and a record for any specialty auction of redware and stoneware, says Tony Zipp. The session also saw a partial record for American stoneware at auction. Two prominent collectors bidding by phone competed for the Civil War churn uniquely decorated with four Union soldiers marching in formation. After a furious volley, the churn sold to folk art collector Jerry Lauren of New York for $402,500 including premium (the $350,000 hammer bid is a record).
Attendance has dwindled at most houses as collectors choose to leave bids or tender them remotely. Countering the general trend, Crocker Farm drew an audience of roughly 160, including 101 registered bidders, to the artfully renovated barn that serves as its gallery and salesroom. Seventy-one enthusiasts bid by phone, 170 left bids and 234 potential buyers registered online.
With more than 500 lots, the sale featured American pottery from Vermont to Texas. Sixteen entries fetched more than $10,000. That left a great range of wares, priced from $100 and up, to tempt buyers of diverse interests and means.
Civil War Churn
Possibly from Fort Edwards, N.Y., and dating to circa 1861–65, the 5-gallon churn that went to Lauren was a last-minute addition to the sale. Crocker Farm first heard about the piece, off the market since the 1930s, roughly two years ago and discussed its possible sale with the consignor earlier this year. On July 7, the owner, not wanting to wait, asked that the vessel be sold immediately.
Initially reluctant, the Zipps rightly guessed that market psychology would work in favor of the surprise offering, which they promoted with a special mailing, hand marked “Important” in red lettering by Barbara Zipp. At Lauren’s request, the Zipp sons drove to the Hamptons to show the collector the churn, along with a half-dozen other pieces in which Lauren was interested. From the Crocker sale, the collector also acquired a striking Anna Pottery, Ill., stoneware and cobalt decorated jug with a serpent coiled around its neck for $50,600.
African American Preacher
Like most auctioneers, Tony Zipp avoids generalizing about the market. That said, he does believe that, across all categories, quality pieces — objects that sold in the $5,000 to $6,000 range a few years ago — have generally doubled in value and that, regionally speaking, Southern pottery is appreciating at a rapid rate.
The market stimulated by active digs, new discoveries, publications and exhibitions, Southern pottery is indeed hot. At Crocker Farm on July 19, a signed Solomon Bell of Winchester, Va., glazed redware whippet made $25,300; an Alamance County, N.C., slip decorated redware sugar jar and cover handled by dealer Joe Kindig Jr in the 1930s fetched $35,650; and face jugs of all description — among them a Virginia portrait jug with an applied “coleslaw” beard, $12,650, and a bust-length Alabama-style portrait jug of a man with crossed arms, $16,675 — exceeded expectation.
Attending the auction were Corbett and Philip Toussaint, young collectors from Columbia, S.C., who have already made a name for themselves. At Wooten & Wooten’s January 25 auction of the Ferrell Collection of Southern Stoneware, the discerning, scholarly couple acquired an exceptional Thomas Chandler, Edgefield, S.C., decorated water cooler for $78,000. At Crocker, they picked up a circa 1850 2-gallon jug, $2,415, stamped “CHANDLER MAKER,” also attributed to Thomas Chandler.
Their big splurge at Crocker Farm was a stoneware figure, 16¾ inches tall, of circa 1880–90. It depicts what is believed to be an African American preacher with clasped hands and a broad-brimmed hat. Crocker Farm suggests a Rock Mills, Ala., origin for the recently discovered example, which went to the Toussaints for $52,900. A figure likely by the same maker is illustrated in Robert Bishop’s American Folk Sculpture and John Michael Vleck’s The African-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Christie’s auctioned the latter in 1999 as part of the John Gordon collection.
The fierce fight over the sale’s opening lot, the Civil War churn, seems to have overshadowed the piece Crocker Farm originally thought would steal the day, a circa 1855 J. & E. Norton, Bennington, Vt., water cooler with brilliant cobalt designs. Decorated in the round with a lion, reclining doe and an architectural scene bordered by horizontal rings, the 13¼-inch stoneware vessel went to a surprised and delighted Martin B. Kaye for $63,250 against its $50/70,000 estimate. Kaye, who said he was prepared to spend $125,000, noted that the Bennington Museum owns a companion cooler, also 3-gallon but decorated with a lion and buck.
Crocker Farm attributed the cooler’s decoration to John Hilfinger, a German-born itinerant artist who worked at several upstate New York and New England potteries. Norton pieces decorated with lions are highly prized. Few have sold publicly or privately in the past 15 years, say the auctioneers.
Kaye, who lives in Florida, emphasized that he was bidding on behalf of the Martin Kaye Stoneware Trust, established for the benefit of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Kaye created the trust as a way of thanking Tufts for its exceptional care of a beloved pet, his late Great Dane, Cheyenne. In an email, Kaye told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that, upon his death, all the animal decorated pieces in the trust will be on permanent exhibit at the veterinary school. Other items may be sold and their proceeds used to fund large breed canine research or treat animals whose owners cannot afford such advanced care.
A financial executive who is partial to lion-decorated pieces, Kaye previously acquired for the trust such notable vessels as a T. Harrington, Lyons, N.Y., 4-gallon crock that was formerly in the Schatzberg collection and is illustrated in William Ketchum’s Pots and Potteries of New York State 1650–1900, and a C.W. Braun, Buffalo, N.Y., 6-gallon churn that once belonged to the noted collector Robert E. Crawford.
“I don’t want to kill animals, but I do like to hunt,” Kaye said of his ongoing search for animal-decorated stoneware.
Crocker Farm, which organizes three auctions a year, has scheduled its next sale for October 25.
Crocker Farm is at 15900 York Road. For further information, www.crockerfarm.com or 410-472-2016.