Published: March 21, 2016
SPARKS, MD. — A possibly unique stoneware temperance rundlet with applied rattlesnake and profuse cobalt and manganese decoration was the top lot at Crocker Farm’s March 19 stoneware and redware auction. Inscribed “A Whiskey Gauger,” and signed by Jacob Bachley, the Texarkana, Ark., circa 1880, wheel-thrown keg went to a private collector for $37,950, besting its $15/25,000 presale estimate. The keg, which most recently had been used as a doorstop by an Arkansas family, presumably had been acquired directly from the potter by the consignor’s great-grandmother.
With incised surface simulating wooden staves, each end with faux iron bands, the body of the keg is seemingly constricted by a hand-modeled and applied clay rattlesnake. The snake features life-like scaling created with a triangular stylus, a well-defined rattle and a diamond-shaped head with poison glands and beaded clay eyes.
It was the whiskey gauger’s responsibility in Nineteenth Century America to measure a distillery’s production, but even more important to collect excise taxes on the amount of whiskey produced. In 1794, according to Crocker Farm’s catalog notes, a failure by Pennsylvania distilleries to pay whiskey excise taxes led President George Washington to deploy troops in the famous “Whiskey Rebellion.” This tax was later repealed, only to reemerge in 1862 through the Internal Revenue Act, which created the position of “whiskey gauger.”
The Jacob Bachley name adds great importance to an otherwise outstanding ceramic work. It transforms the piece into a rosetta stone of sorts, as it reveals the identity of the infamous Texarkana “Pottery Man,” who produced pig bottles and snake jugs in the Anna style. A small number of pieces bearing the inscription “by Texarkana Pottery” and one bearing the signature “by Jacob” are documented, but previous attempts by those interested in Anna Pottery to conclusively identify the origin of these examples have been met with failure.
“From perspectives of American folk art as well as ceramic history, this object ranks among the greatest works we have ever handled,” said Crocker Farm’s Tony Zipp.
A full report on this sale will follow.
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