Published: July 31, 2012
“It was one of the best sales we’ve had so far. The low and midrange did fine, and if you had something that was just a little bit different †unique decoration or form †then that did even better,” stated Crocker Farm auction house principal Tony Zipp about the firm’s July 21 auction of antique stoneware and redware. The auction conducted in the 1841 Gorsuch Barn and attended by a standing-room-only crowd †”the largest crowd ever,” said Zipp †featured more than 400 lots and saw active bidding throughout the day.
Zipp said he was very gratified to see a number of new faces among the 150 or so bidders gathered in the gallery. “There were a couple dozen or so new faces, some just starting out collecting,” said Zipp, whose wife, Barbara, and their three sons, Brandt, Luke and Mark, collectively ensure a smooth experience for bidders at Crocker Farm auctions. “I had one fellow who called for directions and was new to collecting that was an underbidder on a $5,000 piece,” said Zipp.
The auction presented compelling examples of utilitarian pottery from across United States. There were highlights from southwestern Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Illinois and New York †and it was the rare and extravagant forms with exceptional decoration that captured many of the bidders’ dollars.
As usual, preview for the auction was well attended, with a good-sized crowd arriving the morning of the sale to survey the lots, bolstered by the free coffee and donuts the firm puts out. Dealers and collectors came from all over, including Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Indiana. “There was a lot of excitement in the air, people were having a good time, smiling even,” observed Zipp. The in-gallery crowd was augmented by about 170 bidders participating via the Internet and those bidding by phone. At one time there were up to ten phones active in the gallery.
Things heated up right away as the first lot, a rare stoneware jar with incised foliate decoration, came under the gavel. Stamped “Coerlears Hook” and “N. York,” the late Eighteenth Century 2-gallon ovoid jug lit up six phone lines, was chased by a couple in the room and had attracted a strong left bid. In the end, it exceeded its high estimate, selling at $24,150 to a Midwest collector bidding by phone.
“It was a rare piece,” said Zipp. “There are only a handful we’ve seen in the $20/30,000 range.” Catalog notes described the example as among the earliest and rarest pieces by the African American potter Thomas Commeraw, New York City, produced at a time when he was still hand-incising his work. The jar, featuring a rounded foot, tooled shoulder, flaring rim and large open lop handles, had recently been found in South Carolina.
Zipp’s observation that unique form or decoration held sway was clearly evident in a rare Anna Pottery temperance jug that would surely make anyone swear off the liquor after seeing the hellish forms of humans and serpents writhing in the applied decoration on the fanciful 10½-inch jug. He said the piece had been consigned by a Southerner who said it had always been in the family. The circa 1875 bulbous, salt-glazed jug with tall neck and squared spout was exuberantly decorated with applied clay and hand incised designs.
The snake-form handle was just the starting point for the ambitious piece, which was a tour de force, with the snake-form handle extending through the neck of the jug and the snake’s fangs grasping a frightened bust of a man modeled in detail with open mouth, carved teeth and protruding tongue. Six other snakes slithered seemingly in and around the jug in applied decoration and male and female figures were applied around the jug’s midsection.
“The Kirkpatricks had a marvelous sense of humor,” said Zipp, “as well as a great sense of style,” referring to the pottery in Anna, Ill., that skillfully and imaginatively produced American stoneware, most famously the pig bottles. Six phone bidders and some in the room chased the temperance jug, which ultimately went to a left bid at $35,650.
The top lot of the auction came as a green-glazed redware sugar bowl with bird finial and attributed to Anthony Weis Baecher, Winchester, Va., was offered. The catalog stated that since it was the only example of the form the firm had seen decorated with a striking green glaze, it was likely the finest Baecher sugar bowl known and certainly one of the finest examples of Shenandoah Valley pottery to be offered anywhere in recent years.
The bulbous bowl featured a narrow, rounded foot, heavily tooled rim and open lop handles. The surface had been decorated with large applied flowering vine that encircled the body, with incised leaf-veining and blossoms. The color was key, said Zipp, a rare sea-green glaze with brown marbling and darker copper flecks throughout. That pleasing green copper oxide color extended into the interior of the bowl. Impressed on the lid, which featured a hand modeled feeding bird with incised wings and legs, was the mark “Baecher / Winchester Va.”
Estimated at $30/40,000, the sugar bowl realized $47,150, selling to a Virginia dealer on the phone. Zipp said he believed the price set a world auction record for a Shenandoah Valley sugar bowl, and likely represented the second highest price paid for a Baecher piece of redware.
A Google search of Cowden & Wilcox led a New York woman who had recently discovered a rare 1-gallon stoneware batter pail that had descended in her central Pennsylvania family to the Zipps’ doorstep. She had no love for the piece and was glad to hear that it might fetch $10/15,000. Profuse with cobalt decoration and depicting a bird holding a flower on one side and a double bunch of grapes on the spout side, the circa 1865 piece stamped “Cowden & Wilcox Harrisburg, Pa.” It brought $14,950 from a New York collector on the phone.
A quart-sized stoneware jug with cobalt floral decoration provided an upside surprise. Fetching $10,350 against a $3/4,000 presale estimate, the semi-ovoid jug was inscribed “C.F. Bell / 1857” and stamped “John Bell / Waynesboro.” One of the earliest examples made and signed at the Bell shop in Waynesboro, the 6½-inch-high jug had somehow made the long trip out to the Pacific Northwest, having been consigned to the sale from Washington state. Its round-shouldered stance with semi-squared rim and applied strap handle, as well as three large and bold brushed tulips, combined to make it one of the best examples of Bell family stoneware to surface in recent years.
Another surprise, although to the downside, according to Zipp, came in the form of an 8-gallon stoneware churn with a large and finely detailed cobalt rooster decoration. He said that his expectations had been higher for the circa 1885 piece, which was stamped “J. Burger, Jr., / Rochester, N.Y.” “It had some fry to the cobalt,” he explained, referring to the bubbling that can occur to the decoration in the kiln. “It was perhaps too strong.” It sold under its low estimate at $8,050.
The Man in the Moon lit up the auction gallery as a rare 2-gallon stoneware jar took $6,037. Stamped “Cowden & Wilcox / Harrisburg, Pa.,” the circa 1865 cylindrical jar with tooled shoulder, semi-rounded rim and ribbed lug handles was decorated with the brushed cobalt profile of a man’s face with long nose, surrounded by a crescent-shaped leafy stem. Recently discovered in Iowa, it was fresh to the market and was an obvious crowd-pleaser.
Probably made for “Katie,” whose name was impressed and highlighted in cobalt upon its front, a diminutive (4½ inches) stoneware presentation pitcher with a Baltimore origin and from the Nineteenth Century, sold for $5,980. It was likely a toy, according to catalog notes, but that did not keep its maker from finely potting the pitcher and decorating it with a large two-stemmed clover plant.
A stoneware coin bank took $5,750. It was profuse with decoration, a cobalt fuchsia vine winding around its squat surface. From Greensboro or New Geneva, Penn., the bank featured a tooled shoulder, slightly domed lid with heavy tooling, a raised button finial and coin slot in the top surface. Old orange, red and blue stripes had been made in the upper portion. Zipp said the he had expected the bank to do better, having assigned it an $8/10,000 presale estimate. “There was some damage around the slot, and that was a negative,” said Zipp.
Also bringing $5,750 was a rare 7-gallon double-handled stoneware jug, circa 1850. Decorated with a brushed cobalt design and incised “Samuel Young,” the Belmont County, Ohio, ovoid jug with open handles stood a substantial 195/8 inches high. It went to a Texas collector on the phone, who, according to Zipp, generally acquires smaller pieces, but in this case the jug’s excellent form and condition were appealing to him. Catalog notes identify Samuel Young as a potter active in Belmont Country, Ohio, with no known maker’s mark. This would make this jug possibly the only known signed example of the potter’s work.
Impressive size and a desirable motif in the form of a boldly graphic cluster of grapes hanging from a vine with two leaves and two corkscrew tendrils took a 6-gallon stoneware cream jug stamped “Cowden & Wilcox / Harrisburg, Pa.,” to a selling price of $2,875. The circa 1865 ovoid jar with tooled shoulder, finely thrown rim and applied lug handles was fresh to the market.
Prices include the buyer’s premium charged.
The next auction scheduled at Crocker Farm will be in November, with date still to be determined. For information, www.crockerfarm.com or 410-472-2016.
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