Published: February 20, 2018
SALISBURY, WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND — A teapot attributed to the John Bartlam factory at Cain Hoy in South Carolina — the only known porcelain teapot by the Bartlam concern and therefore the earliest known American porcelain teapot — sold at the auction house Woolley and Wallis for a record $800,000, including premium. It was bought in the room by English dealer Rod Jellicoe on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, according to Clare Durham, associate director, English and European ceramics and glass, at Wooley and Wallis.
It was brought to the auction house by a private collector from the southwest of England, one of the firm’s regular clients and, in the words of Durham, “someone who often buys ‘mystery’ or problem pieces.” Durham said her client had spotted the teapot in a general sale in the Midlands and bought it via the internet for £15. “He brought it to us having identified the pattern in the Isleworth catalog of 2003, but thinking that it might be pearlware. After quite a bit of research, we discovered that it is actually very low fired porcelain, and its key attributes — including the poor firing — match up with those recorded in the known Bartlam pieces.”
The teapot was far from perfect – missing its lid and with a reglued handle. Woolley and Wallis accordingly assigned it a conservative estimate of $14/28,000. The pattern on one side of the teapot is identical to one on a saucer, which is also attributed to Bartlam and which now resides in a private collection in Chicago. Durham said that as far she could ascertain, these are the only two pieces known in this pattern. The design features a palm tree similar to that featured on four Bartlam teabowls that were sold recently, including slightly ghost-like almost featureless figures that match up.
American ceramics expert Robert Hunter, editor of Ceramics in America at the Chipstone Foundation and author of “John Bartlam: America’s First Porcelain Manufacturer,” which appeared in the 2007 edition of the ceramics journal, said he participated in early stages of bidding for unique object. “No one knows the total output of Bartlam,” he said after the sale, “but an $800,000 price will surely elevate his stature and promote more research.”
The only other piece of John Bartlam porcelain sold at auction was a tea bowl that also surfaced in England and sold at Christie’s in January 2013 for $146,500. There have been other private treaty sales, and so far this the seventh known Bartlam piece to have surfaced.
More on this sale will be forthcoming.
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