Published: September 1, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Crocker Farm
SPARKS, MD. – Crocker Farm continued its success with stoneware vessels of the African American enslaved potter Dave from the Edgefield District, S.C. Out of public offer for 168 years, a rare 3-gallon alkaline-glazed stoneware jug signed “Lm/Aug. 17, 1852/ Dave” led Crocker Farm’s August 21 summer stoneware auction. Selling for $96,000, the highly ovoid jug was closely followed by another Dave piece, a rare 4-gallon double-handled stoneware jug with alkaline glaze, also from 1852. It finished at $72,000. Crocker Farm holds the record for Dave stoneware, having sold a 16-inch-high, 8-gallon stoneware jar by Dave for $216,000 to a private collector earlier this year.
The sale, totaling $1,102,560, was a “white glove” event, meaning not a pottery shard was left on the copious shelves inside the firm’s historic Gorsuch Barn; every one of the 440 lots offered was sold. “It was our second ‘white glove’ sale in a row,” said an obviously pleased Tony Zipp, patriarch of the family enterprise. “Everything met reserve. This online format is working really well for us. In less than four months, we’ve sold more than $2.4 million worth of stoneware and redware. We’ve got lots of new customers – at all levels. After being in business for 16 years, you think you know the people who are going to bid on things, but we’re getting a lot of new people and it’s really refreshing.”
Case in point, the successful bidder for three Dave the Potter jugs in the sale, including the top two lots, was a new customer from the West Coast. “He’s very excited about his purchases,” said Zipp.
David Drake aka Dave the Potter was an enslaved worker at Lewis Miles’ Stony Bluff Manufactory. The ovoid Dave 3-gallon jug that led this sale had a distinctive tooled spout and applied strap handle. It was decorated with an opaque, gray-green alkaline glaze, streaked over a reddish-brown ground. Incised diagonally were large letters “Lm / Aug 17. 1852 / Dave.” Crocker Farm in its catalog listing said its highly ovoid form was “characteristic of Dave’s best jugs,” and its condition, with just a chip on the spout and coupled with its large signature and fine glaze, rank it among the best examples of the form by Dave to come to auction. Certainly, its buyer, a private collector, believed so too, taking it past its $50,000 high estimate.
Remarkably, this 15¼-inch-high piece was made exactly two weeks before the Dave double-handled jug that was the second highest selling lot in this auction. It was a recently surfaced example, having been purchased by the consignor in the 1990s. Before that it had descended in a family from an old community near Savannah, Ga.
Following behind was a rare 4-gallon double-handled stoneware jug with incised inscription, “Lm / August 31. 1852 / Dave.” It, too, featured a highly ovoid shape with two applied strap handles, the surface covered in an attractive, light-green alkaline glaze. The double-handled jug form, according to catalog notes, is among the rarest and most desirable Edgefield stoneware forms produced with any regularity, and the known survivors of Dave’s output indicate that he rarely produced this form. The 16-inch-high jug went to the same private collector.
Also bringing $72,000 and more than doubling its $35,000 high expectation was a rare Anna Pottery stoneware temperance jug, 12 inches high, attributed to Wallace and Cornwall Kirkpatrick, Anna, Ill., circa 1862. The firm’s temperance jugs are regarded among the most iconic and visually striking works in all of American-made ceramics. Like the works of the enslaved potter Dave, the Kirkpatricks’ temperance jugs transcend the medium, and this example was a tour de force and fresh to the market, having surfaced in California in the early 1980s and acquired by the consignor at that time. Alive with all the horrors that are the hallmark of the category, this ovoid jug with tall neck, squared spout and profuse cross-hatched incising featured three hand-modeled snakes, one forming the handle and extending through the neck of the jug and about to devour a man whose head, arms and legs protrude through the body of the vessel. A second snake extended through the neck of the jug, coiling itself around the larger snake handle and peering beside the spout of the jug, a gaping mouth bearing incised teeth. The third snake extends through the base of the jug, exiting the opposite side. Oh, and there are frogs – two of them with bug eyes – adding to the commotion and emotion expressed by the jug’s makers.
More than doubling its high estimate at $42,000 was a monumental cobalt-decorated stoneware urn intended for outdoor use with chicken pecking corn, bird and foliate motifs, attributed to New York Stoneware Co., Fort Edward, N.Y., circa 1875. It stood 34 inches tall, ranking among the tallest examples of American stoneware that Crocker Farm has ever offered. With ovoid form with flared rim, applied ring handles and concave molding to midsection, it sat atop a narrow pedestal base with flared and tooled foot.
A rare 6-gallon lidded stoneware presentation jar with cobalt floral decoration, dated 1874, finished at $36,000. According to the piece’s history as outlined in Crocker Farm’s catalog notes, the 17½-inch jar was made by Strasburg, Va., potter Solomon Bell on New Year’s Day 1874 while visiting his brother, John, in Waynesboro, Penn. He inscribed the piece as a gift for his niece, Tillie Bell, the youngest daughter of John and Mary Elizabeth Bell to survive into adulthood. Born on January 14, 1838, Matilda Catharine “Tillie” Bell lived her whole life in the family home on the southwest corner of West Main Street, near her father’s shop. As Tillie’s birthday was less than two weeks after the jar’s date, the piece may have been made as a birthday present by her uncle, who incised its bottom with “January th / 1 1874 / Made by Solomon Bell / for Tillie Bell / Waynesboro, Pa,” paying homage to his brother’s shop.
Yet another Dave jar, this one a 6-gallon, 13½-inch-high stoneware example, incised “Lm / Feb 2. 1852,” was bid to $27,600. Of rotund form with semi-rounded rim and arched lug handles, decorated with an olive-green alkaline glaze featuring streaks of white and blue rutile to the shoulder and handles, it is one of a small number of Dave pieces known with rutile (titatium dioxide) decoration.
There were a styful of Anna Pottery pigs in this sale. The pick of the litter at $20,400 was a salt-glazed stoneware pig flask, signed “By Anna Pottery / 1882,” a molded flask in the form of a reclining pig, 7 inches long, with hole at rear, incised details to face and hooves and anatomically correct underside, incised on one side with the cobalt-highlighted inscription, “Railroad & River Guide / By Anna Pottery / 1882.” The remainder of pig was incised with a cobalt-highlighted map of the Midwest with the usual landmarks. The penmanship on the flask made it one of the finest the firm has ever offered.
The Anna pig flasks are notoriously political, so an 1872 example in the form of a reclining porker was incised on one side with a political cartoon depicting a bearded and spectacled Horace Greely (1811-1872) facing a trap made from his signature broad-brimmed hat, inscribed “Whoever says this is a trap is a liar.” A trigger underneath the hat reads “Presidency.” The Kirkpatrick brothers were said to be enamored of Harper’s Weekly political cartoonist Thomas Nast and were likely inspired by Nast’s depictions of Greeley in creating this special flask. According to the Jonesboro Gazette, on August 31, 1872, this flask was presented by Anna’s newly elected mayor, Cornwall Kirkpatrick, to the town’s recently founded Horace Greeley Club, which supported Kirkpatrick’s candidacy. In the sale, it found a buyer at $19,200.
Also commanding $19,200 was a diminutive (5 inches long) Moravian piece, a rare copper-glazed redware fish bottle of Salem, N.C., origin, circa 1801-29. Molded in the form of a detailed fish with large eyes, fins and elaborate scales, the animal’s open mouth formed the vessel’s spout. Its surface was covered in a brilliant green lead and copper glaze.
Another Moravian piece, a rare redware bowl with three-color glaze originated from the Salem Bethabara or Mount Shepherd Potteries in the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century. It was a deep bowl with rounded sides and flattened rim, the interior coated in yellowish slip, decorated in copper and manganese with large sponged crosses, and covered in a clear lead glaze. A band of manganese sponging additionally decorated the interior of the rim. With a diameter of 12¼ inches, the remarkably preserved bowl left the gallery at $10,800.
Although it’s an American stoneware auction, the Zipps do not pass up any opportunity to add to our knowledge of stoneware-related items. In this case, it was a rare tintype portrait of an African American man holding a stoneware jug, circa 1865, which rose to $9,000. The image depicts an elderly African American man, seated with jug on his thigh, embracing the jug with his right hand and holding the handle of the jug with his left. The jug he is holding is ovoid in form with a tooled spout and a corn cob stopper. Catalog notes describe the style of the jug as indicating it was made circa 1840-60 in the Southern or possibly Midwestern United States. There’s a penciled signature on the paper mat – “Lew Cassell(?)” – but was that the sitter or the potter? We don’t know. The tintype had recently surfaced in an album of 1860s-70s tintypes and cabinet cards.
An American stoneware sale would not be complete without some prime examples from George E. Ohr (1857-1918) aka the Mad Potter of Biloxi. This one had several and most notable was a pottery vase that was a shining example of Ohr’s whimsical manipulation of clay. Stamped “G.E. OHR / Biloxi, Miss.,” the late Nineteenth Century ovoid-form vase with footed base and partially scalloped rim displayed a traditional form on one side and an abstractly tortured contour on the other. The effect is striking because viewed from one angle it looks like a perfectly normal, utilitarian vase, while from another angle it looks like an object from the Bizarro universe. Standing 4-5/8 inches high, it went out at $7,800.
For traditionalist collectors there were plenty of staple stoneware vessels on offer, including a 2-gallon jug with cobalt reclining deer scene, stamped “J.&E. Norton / Bennington, Vt.,” circa 1855, that sold for $25,200; a rare J.&E. Norton 4-gallon churn with cobalt double-pheasant decoration, circa 1855, that fetched $20,400; and a rare Remmey ovoid presentation bank, circa 1855, with game bird finial and decorated with brushed tulips. It took $18,000.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. Crocker Farm’s next sale will be conducted in the fall, probably November. For more information, 410-472-2016 or www.crockerfarm.com
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