Published: May 2, 2020
By Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Crocker Farm
SPARKS, MD.— A 7-gallon W.H. Farrar stoneware water cooler featuring an incised and cobalt-decorated street scene of Broadway in Manhattan, dated 1846, sold for $480,000, including buyer’s premium, to collector Adam Weitsman in Crocker Farm’s April 6-May 1 sale. It is the second highest auction result for American stoneware to date and a record for New York state pottery. The cooler received competitive interest from private collectors and closed at a $320,000 hammer on May 1, but was pushed higher the following day per the sale’s format, which provided call backs on May 2.
Weitsman said he thinks it is “the finest piece in existence.”
The 26-inch high cooler was a recent discovery. It had descended in an old New York state family that had since moved West, and this is the first time it was ever known to the market.
In June of 1846, it is believed that potter W.H. Farrar visited New York City on the occasion of the Great National Jubilee, a celebration for the Order of the Sons of Temperance. It is surmised that Farrar was a member of the organization, which had moved into its new national headquarters at 315 Broadway within a year or two of the celebration. An 1885 volume, One Hundred Years of Temperance, mentions 12,000 attendees, “the waving of flags, the ringing of bells and the thunder of cannon.” Membership in the organization jumped from 40,000 to 100,000 that year.
The central image, incised into the jug and decorated in cobalt, features the new headquarters, marked “GRAND LODGE / CITY NY,” beside a townhouse, beside a tall fire alarm bell tower with a female figure holding a long rope as she rings the bell from below.
The words “Love, Purity & Fidelity” are written beneath the bell ringer. They represent the three degrees of the Sons of Temperance.
On the opposite side of the cooler is an image of a Temperance flag stemming from a box that lists the abbreviations of the officer positions within the organization.
The auction house said it was the finest example of American salt-glazed stoneware to come to auction since the “Elizabeth Crane / 1811” punch bowl that sold in 1978.
The street scene image is unparalleled in American stoneware production.
“We have never seen another street scene like this,” said Mark Zipp of Crocker Farm. “Sometimes you’ll see incised or slip trailed houses, but nothing this elaborate or refined. Farrar wasn’t using only incised details, but also stamped details to an extreme degree. You can see the hinges on the doors, the doorknobs, the arches on the half-moon windows. It’s outlandish. He also had a good grasp on the perspective in three dimensions. That’s not commonly found on pottery.
“The way the design is done, he was working as a true artist,” Zipp continued. “It made us contemplate if Farrar actually did it, or if he hired it out to someone who was academically trained. In the end we think he did it, but it does not relate to anything he ever made. In the 1850s, he started to do rectilinear forms with trailed birds, and that’s what he’s best known for. But for this, he really focused his attention on this piece, it’s really unbelievable.”
There is perhaps no greater street in American history than Manhattan’s Broadway. It is the oldest North-South thoroughfare in New York City, originally a path carved by Native Americans called Wickquasgeck trail that was developed and renamed in Dutch New Amsterdam and then again when the British took over the city, who named it Broadway Street. The road’s prestige and central role in Manhattan life continue to present day.
Farrar created the cooler sometime following his return home to Geddes, N.Y., present day Syracuse. A stamp on the cooler reads “SALINA DIVISON. NO. 86 / SONS OF TEMPERANCE,” which indicates that Farrar may have been involved with that chapter.
The auction house wrote of him, “Born circa 1813, Farrar was among the country’s most influential Nineteenth Century potters, most well-known for the artistic slip-trailed stoneware he produced at his Geddes shop.”
“This cooler is his masterpiece,” they said.
Not just Farrar’s, but one of the most remarkable examples in private hands in the entire field. The result places the work among the masterpieces of American stoneware, second at auction only to a 7-gallon Remmey water cooler with incised Federal Eagle decoration that Crocker Farm sold for $483,000 in 2015. The result missed the record by one bid increment.
The auction also produced a record for Edgefield pottery, Alkaline-glazed pottery, and an artist auction record for any work by enslaved African American potter Dave, with a $216,000 result, including buyer’s premium, on a 16-inch high, 8-gallon stoneware jar. The double-handled work in a poured, green-toned alkaline glaze is incised “Lm / Decr 17. 1857 / Dave,” the initials LM for Dave’s owner, Lewis Miles. The jar closed at a hammer price of $50,000 on May 1, and was pushed much higher in a bidding war over the phone the next day. It sold to a private collector.
We will provide a larger review on this sale in a future issue.
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