Published: July 25, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc.
BOSTON – Wedgwood was the key word in Skinner’s July 13-14 sale of European furniture and decorative arts. Part One of the sale, July 13, was made up of 298 lots from the well-known ceramics collection of Muriel and Victor Polikoff, which included examples of Wedgwood’s various creations – from Josiah Wedgwood’s earliest pieces through items made by the company in the Twentieth Century. The collection also included Moorcroft and Doulton Lambeth pieces. The Polikoff collection grossed $423,738.
Stuart Slavid, Skinner’s senior vice president and department director, said before the sale, “I think we’ll have a good turnout for the Wedgwood. The collection is diverse, representing all periods and types of Wedgwood’s production. The lecture the evening before the sale by Woody Johnson will draw a good crowd. We have several pieces of Wedgwood in the second part of the sale, so I think many collectors will be here for three days.”
After the sale, Slavid remarked, “We were very pleased with the ceramics and the whole sale – which totaled $1,148,336. Wedgwood prices were strong, silver did quite well and the European art and furniture was strong. The weakness was in the Eighteenth Century English ceramics, but we expected that. Overall, we had a 95 percent sell-through, which is very good these days, and 160 lots sold over their estimates. That’s a pretty good indication that we did our job.”
Slavid had predicted that the Wedgwood agate wares would do well and he was right. The top selling piece, at $10,455, was a 9½-inch, circa 1775 Wedgwood & Bentley solid agate vase and cover. It had gilded white terracotta stoneware angel-form handles, with a leaf and berry border and drapery swags. A circa 1775 Wedgwood & Bentley surface agate cassolette with a reversible cover with a candle nozzle, mounted upon a stepped black basalt base, 9-1/8 inches tall, brought $6,150.
The Polikoffs liked Wedgwood’s black basalt items, and a circa 1775 Wedgwood & Bentley black basalt canopic candleholder with candle nozzle earned $5,535. They also had several pieces of Nineteenth Century encaustic decorated black basalt pieces that also did well. At $9,225, a pair of calyx krater urns, 11 inches tall, with upturned loop handles, decorated with classical figures in red, black and white, led the group. A similar Hydra vase with upturned loop handles nearly doubled its estimate, finishing at $7,995.
Nearly all of Wedgwood’s Fairyland Lustre pieces exceeded their estimates, with two pieces each bringing $3,998. One was a circa 1920 10¼-inch-high vase, Imps on a Bridge design, and the other was a circa 1930 6½-inch Nizami dish on three feet. While Eighteenth Century Staffordshire pieces were soft overall, there were some pieces that did well. A circa 1770 Staffordshire solid agate pecten-shell teapot with cover and a molded serpent handle and spout in brown, blue, and cream-colored clays realized $4,920. A circa 1740 salt-glazed teapot in the form of a camel reached $1,476.
A circa 1750-60 Staffordshire solid agate pistol-handled fork was bought by 18-year-old William Leisk and therein lies a story.
Leisk lives in England and traveled to the United States for an eight-week internship at the Birmingham Museum of Art, where his project is to identify and catalog about 500 pieces of Wedgwood – which he doubts that he can complete. The museum has one of the largest collections of Wedgwood and the internship came about as a result of a fortuitous series of events. Leisk attended the 2017 Wedgwood International Seminar and met Slavid, Ann Forschler-Tarrasch, curator of ceramics at Birmingham, and other Wedgwood collectors. He is active on Facebook British pottery pages so was known by name to many attendees. Briefly, participants at the seminar, intrigued by the strong interest shown by a person of his age, arranged for Leisk to get the internship, and several contributed to his travel and living expenses while in the United States.
He has been collecting Wedgwood since the age of 9, when he attended an antiques fair with his mother. “I fell in love when I saw my first piece and I’ve buying and selling ever since,” he said. “My friends and most of my family think I’m really weird – except when I buy something on eBay that I’m able to turn around and sell for a lot more money. They like that. There are good buys on eBay, as many people don’t really know what they’re selling.” When asked what he intends to do when he completes his last year at the Colchester Academy, in Colchester, Essex, he responded, “I’ll probably do something with buying and selling Wedgwood. Maybe with an auction house. I don’t want to work for a museum because most of them have policies that would prohibit me from collecting Wedgwood if they owned any. So that’s out.”
Skinner often hosts informative lectures prior to major sales. The evening before the sale of the Polikoff collection, Woody Johnson, a well-known Wedgwood scholar and former editor of Ars Ceramica, the journal of the Wedgwood Society of New York, presented a talk attended by more than 70 collectors that surveyed storied Wedgwood collectors and collections. A few days later, he discussed with Antiques and The Arts Weekly the Polikoff sale and the current state of the Wedgwood market.
“I think that the number of people who attended the lecture, together with the good crowd in the room for the sale, is an indication of the strength of the market,” he observed. “People saw the opportunity to bid on scarce early wares like the agate pieces, the encaustic decorated basalt, the black basalt and also some of the Parian pieces. Prices were strong for that material. The Polikoff collection was well known to collectors. Their home was open to other collectors, both gave frequent lectures on the subject and both have published on the subject. In addition to being a volunteer associate curator at the Buten Wedgwood Museum, Muriel Polikoff was also a dealer who exhibited at numerous antiques shows in years past.
“New collectors are coming into the market. The regional Wedgwood societies are active and are attracting them. There are so many facets to Wedgwood that the subject is endlessly fascinating. [Josiah Wedgwood’s] experiments in producing tableware for the common man changed the way food was served – no longer did people have to eat off pewter or wooden dishes. He pioneered marketing techniques, such as acquiring royal endorsements. He participated in the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution; he was a man of science and the grandfather of Charles Darwin; he was active in the antislavery movement, and the list could go on. It’s easy to see why so many are interested in various aspects of his career.
“And, for collectors,” he continued, “there’s likely to be additional fine old collections coming to market over the next few years. Skinner has a good reputation among collectors, so some of those collections may wind up in Boston. And I encourage all collectors to attend the auction previews. Nothing takes the place of handling the objects – learning how they feel, how heavy they are and so on. And auctions allow that.”
The second day of the sale was devoted to European decorative arts and included the priciest lot of the sale. It was a set of 14 heavily carved and molded Carrara marble plaques depicting the stations of the cross. Each carving weighed more than 500 pounds and was 53½ inches tall by 29-1/8 inches wide. It was not exactly a set that could go into most homes, which may have held back the selling price of $19,680. The unsigned set was probably from the Joseph Sibbel Studios. Sibbel (1850-1907) worked in New York and Catholic churches, including St Patrick’s Cathedral. This set was made for Boston’s Immaculate Conception Church, which served as the Boston College High School church until the 1960s. The building was sold in 2013 and is now used as residential space.
Also selling on the second day was Asian and other silver, and there were some pleasant surprises. An early Twentieth Century Japanese silver tea and coffee service finished at $14,760. The Art Nouveau style set comprised numerous pieces with high relief irises throughout. A Chinese export silver square-form teapot with a prunus panel encircled by a faux-bois stem extending from the base of the stylized bamboo handle earned $6,675 in spite of condition issues. It had been estimated at $500.
The catalog entry for a five-light Gorham Martele candelabra is enlightening. The 1916 piece by Frederick Richard Avery is noted as one of only eight such candelabras produced in the Martele line. The “costing slip” indicates that this candelabra was a special order and took 79 hours to make with an additional 183 hours of chasing at a factory cost of $337.50. At this auction, it fetched $9,840.
Slavid, who runs the department and organizes the sales, was brought up in the antiques business. His father, Leslie Slavid, came to America after World War II and opened an antiques shop, known as the Den of Antiquity, in Wellesley, Mass., dealing in Asian and European ceramics and antiques. As senior vice president at Skinner, Slavid heads three departments – fine ceramics, fine silver and European furniture and decorative arts. He is also senior vice president of institutional relations. He’s been an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow for 21 years.
Slavid said, “Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be in the antiques business and I joined my father’s business full time in 1972. I particularly liked Eighteenth Century English ceramics, especially Prattware, and by the time I was 21, I had one of the largest collections of Pratt in this country. I sold the collection when I bought my first house. The location of the antiques shop changed over the years, from Wellesley to Charles Street in Boston, to Sandwich, Mass., when I lived down there. During those years, I did numerous antiques shows and it was a lot of traveling.
“In 1988, I approached Nancy Skinner with the idea of starting a ceramics department at Skinner’s. They didn’t have one at that time, and she agreed, so in January 1989, I joined the company to develop a ceramics department. Then it included Asian material, as well as English and other European ceramics. In 1993, I became director of European furniture and decorative arts, which still included Asian arts. The Asian portion of the business developed and in 1997 became its own department with its own director. I’m often asked what was my favorite piece from the Roadshow. It was a wonderful piece of silver, but the woman who brought it in absolutely refused to go on television. So viewers never got to see it.”
All prices reported include the buyers’ premium. For more information, 508-970-3203 or www.skinnerinc.com.
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