Published: April 19, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Crocker Farm
SPARKS, MD. – Ever go months or years without seeing something really rare and then have not one but two of those things surface in quick succession? Such was the case with Pennsylvania pedestal water coolers, two of which were included in Crocker Farm’s Spring 2022 stoneware and redware auction on April 9. The sale, comprising of nearly 500 lots that went all sold but for one piece, realized a total of nearly $1.5 million. All of the buyers were from the United States, with institutions providing stiff competition for private collectors and dealers alike.
Crocker Farm keeps track of records for various subcategories of stoneware and redware and it is not unusual for prices to be routinely nudged upwards; this sale was no exception with the high bar being raised with at least three results. At press time, Luke Zipp said, “There are some other possible records for specific forms and makers I cannot confirm.”
Foremost of these – and concerning one of the Pennsylvania pedestal water coolers previously mentioned – was the sale’s top price of $144,000 realized for a stoneware pedestal water cooler marked “Wm Moyer / Harrisburg, PA.” Not only was it the top price in the sale but Tony Zipp said it set a world record for Pennsylvania stoneware, besting the previous record of $97,750 set at Crocker Farm in 2014 with the sale of a Cowden & Wilcox jug that was cobalt decorated with the profile portrait of a Civil War soldier.
In addition to its rarity, several aspects of the water cooler helped drive interest and justified the record-setting price. The open handles included terminals with impressed rosettes, a feature virtually unknown in Harrisburg stoneware production. The slip-trailed decoration drew inspiration from the New York potting tradition and is attributed to Shem Thomas, a potter trained by Thompson Harrington of Lyons, N.Y. Comparable slip-trailed floral designs can also be found on pieces marked by John Young & Co of Harrisburg but are unknown on pieces made by Moyer. To top it off, the cooler had been included in Jeanette Lasansky’s Made of Mud: Stoneware Potteries in Central Pennsylvania, 1834-1929. The catalog described it, quite simply, as “the finest known example of William Moyer stoneware as well as a masterwork of its state’s rich stoneware industry.”
The Moyer cooler and the one bearing the mark of John Young & Company are the only Central Pennsylvania pedestal-based coolers Crocker Farm could recall coming to market in the last 15 years or more. The example by Young was dated to circa 1856-58 and had lavish decoration featuring a “spitting tulip” design popular on Harrisburg stoneware. Previously unknown, the Zipps said it had been one of the greatest regional stoneware discoveries of the Twenty-First Century. It brought $21,600 against a $15/25,000 estimate, a result Tony Zipp said would have been “a lot more” if it had not sustained damage to its base.
One of the records Luke Zipp could confirm was for an American flowerpot, which now stands at $78,000 for Absalom Bixler’s redware example with applied cat and bird motif and the words “Ready For A Catch.” Of large size that typified the exuberance of the Pennsylvania-German style, the pot relates to a group, all made by Bixler for his wife, Sarah, to commemorate their courtship. Of note was the innovative use of two different clays that resulted in a contrast in color. Crocker Farm’s catalog called the pot, which had been featured on the cover of the September 1982 issue of The Magazine Antiques, “exceptional in size, glaze and subject matter, [it] ranks among the very best examples of American redware we have ever offered,” with “few pieces of American redware of this quality exist outside of museum collections.” It came from a California collection and was acquired by a private collector.
The seller of the Bixler flowerpot also sold an abolitionist redware charger that Luke Zipp said set a record at $57,000 for a redware slip-script dish. Emblazoned with the words “”Remember / him that is / in bonds,” the dish is the only example of Nineteenth Century American redware Crocker Farm has seen with a direct reference to the anti-slavery movement, though the catalog includes mention of a redware punch bowl at the Brooklyn Museum that had been made by Thomas Oakes of New York and inscribed “Freedom to the Slave.” While the tradition of script-enhanced redware was a popular one in areas further north, particular Norwalk, Conn., few are known from Philadelphia, where this example was made. It sold to a private Pennsylvania collector who prevailed against other collectors and an institution.
“Southern pottery is extremely hot,” Tony Zipp said. “Southern pottery collectors love it, but we also had interest on it from all over the country.”
A Southern institution paid $60,000 for a stoneware face jug made at Lewis Miles’ Stony Bluff Manufactory in the Edgefield District, S.C. It had an exposed tongue, a feature seen on few Edgefield face jugs; additionally, recent scholarship suggests that because of the facial construction and glaze, it may have been made by Miles’ most famous potter, David Drake.
In recent years, Crocker Farm has handled some exceptional pieces of Anna Pottery; this sale featured two pieces, both of which sold for enough to rank among the sale’s top prices. Bidders topped off a cold-painted stoneware temperance jug with snake, frog and human figural decoration at $42,000. The previously undocumented piece was a classic example of the temperance jug in its form and realistic molding of animals and drunkards throughout but stands out because of its excellent condition and slightly smaller size (it measured 8 inches tall).
Also from Anna Pottery, a stoneware pig flask with incised steamboat and presentation inscription that ran to $34,800, achieving the second highest price at auction for the form and maker. It is the only Anna pig flask with an image of a steamboat that Crocker Farm was aware of and only the second piece made by Anna referencing the steamboat industry that Crocker Farm has sold (the firm previously sold for $20,700 a pig flask on March, 14, 2015 that had been given by the steamer Fleetwood to the Cincinnati Weekly Times).
A pitcher made in Maysville, Ky., by Isaac Thomas and Joseph Mendell was a relatively recent discovery and brought $33,600, more than three times its low estimate. The work of two of Maysville’s most important potters, the piece advertises their production, and was dated 1835. Not only is it the earliest known example to bear Isaac Thomas’ name, but it is also noteworthy for its abundant use of cobalt decoration.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Crocker Farm’s next sale will take place in mid July, date to be announced.
For additional information, www.crockerfarm.com or 410-472-2016.
December 6, 2022
December 6, 2022
December 6, 2022
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