Published: August 1, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Crocker Farm
SPARKS, MD. – By 8 am, the yard in front of the 1841 Gorsuch Barn was packed with cars on the already balmy Maryland morning of Crocker Farm’s July 21 auction. A few stray groups of men braved the heat advisory and huddled around their open trunks, hawking their personal inventory of pottery to a devoted demographic of passersby as bidders arrived in droves and made a beeline for the double doors that lead inside the auction gallery.
Through the entrance was a bustling scene of previewers picking up, turning over and feeling their way along the edges of more than 600 lots of American stoneware, redware and pottery pieces that lined the floor-to-ceiling shelves along near every available wall. The sweet smell of fresh cedar permeated the air as bidders made their way over the wide, 176-year-old floorboards to take their seats, if any were still available, as Tony Zipp headed to the auction block for the 10 am start.
As hot as the July sun was that day, Southern pottery was still hotter. The section would go on to buoy $1,133,555 in total sales for the day.
Just two years ago in 2015, and at the very same July sale, Crocker Farm set a world auction record for a Southern face jug as it hammered down an Edgefield alkaline-glazed work to the tune of $92,000, including premium. If readers do not recall the record, they may remember the discovery story, as the consignor had purchased the piece for $1.50 at a tag sale.
So with a strong precedent and a white hot market for Southern pottery, the Zipps were primed to move the markers forward with a prime offering of Edgefield face jugs in this year’s July sale, and they did just that.
“Last sale, Southern pottery did well and it had a lot of interest,” said auctioneer Tony Zipp. “That gave people the trust to send it to us. It usually stays in the South.”
Before Zipp opened lot 111, the alkaline-glazed, green mottled Edgefield face harvest jug, he said, “This is one of the finest pieces of Southern pottery to come to the market in ages,” and the market seemed to agree. Estimated at $35/50,000, the very first bid the auctioneer took was a $50,000 shout from South Carolina collectors Philip and Corbett Toussaint. And it did not stop there. Bidding came from multiple directions in the gallery, from the top balcony, to the auctioneers side and forward, and from the phone bank that had every line lit with a committed bidder on the other end. It was ultimately the phone that would succeed, setting the newest world auction record for an American face jug as it sold for $100,300, including premium. Zipp confirmed to Antiques and The Arts Weekly that the bidder was a dealer bidding on behalf of an as-of-yet unnamed museum.
The South Carolina jug featured a happy and dumbstruck face, with a pointed nose, wide-open circular eyes, C-scroll ears and a mouth that opened to the right side revealing a full line of teeth. It was topped by a single handle with a spout behind and stood 10¼ inches tall. Included in the lot was a desirable 1882 stereopticon image by photographer J.A. Palmer that featured an early teenage African American boy sitting at a table with an Edgefield face jug sitting atop, a large sunflower, wider than the boy head, rising from the spout. Though Zipp received a $10,000 offer to sell the image alone, he included the stereopticon with the jug because they determined that both the jug in the image and the jug in the lot were made by the same, unknown hand.
Zipp believes that the strength in the Southern pottery market lies in contrast with how stoneware is oftentimes collected.
“A lot of people collect regionally,” he said. “If you live in New York, Pennsylvania or Maryland, you’ll buy stoneware from that area. With Southern stoneware, it’s collected from people all over the country. It’s not just selling to people who live in Edgefield, South Carolina.”
And the all-important subject, with its playful expression and disregard for any sort of rationality, fits perfectly square within the folk art tradition.
“They’re recognizing that it’s very folky. So we have these folk art collectors buying Southern stoneware who aren’t really stoneware collectors. People from all over the country are bidding on it.”
Other Southern face pottery works joined rank and performed strongly during the sale, with four other works finishing above $30,000.
A devil face jug fashioned by Davis P. Brown of the Arden, N.C., Brown Pottery sold to Florida collector Martin Kaye for $59,000. Kaye raised his card in the beginning and did not lower his arm until the hammer dropped. This devil face jug is one of only two known examples from the Brown Pottery that featured store advertising on it, this one for the Graham’s Furniture and Hardware Store in Bakersville, N.C. The other example is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Kaye is a particular collector, having amassed a significant collection of mostly Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century American incised and blue decorated stoneware from the Northeast, but he made an exception for the Brown devil face jug.
“This is basically the first face jug I have ever bought,” said Kaye in a conversation following the sale. “If you’re going to collect one piece of Southern pottery, this would be it. It just hit me. And it’s the best piece of Twentieth Century stoneware that’s out there. Talking about American folk art, this is an icon.”
Ringing in at $47,200 was a 4-5/8-inch Edgefield face jug that was previously in the John Gordon collection. It featured a dark, mottled alkaline glaze with exaggerated features, including large C-scroll ears, a wide mouth and bulging eyes. It went to bidders in the room.
Just beneath it at $41,300 came an Edgefield district face cup, which is a rare form from the period as only a few other cups are known to exist. Even with a restored handle, the piece came close to doubling the $24,000 high estimate. The cup had an old sticker on the bottom that read “Made in Africa / Presented to T H B / by / Horace T. Smith / of Phila / Pa.” The Zipps noted in their catalog description that the early misattribution is indicative of the mystery of Edgefield face vessels during the early Twentieth Century.
Finally, at $35,400 came the last Edgefield face jug with an applied face and green mottled high gloss glaze. It came with provenance from the Edmund and Jayne Blaske collection, which was sold at Skinner in 1983.
The sale also featured a number of other high-flying lots from the North, including the very first lot that crossed the block that day.
A museum-quality Samuel Troxel sgraffito redware plate from Montgomery County, Penn., with a backside inscription would go on to be the second highest lot of the sale, finishing at $82,600.
“The great thing was the inscription on the back,” said Zipp. “You don’t see that. That added value to it. Without it, it was a good redware plate, but with it, it was very special.”
The plate had never hit the market before, having been purchased by the consignor from her neighbor 30 years prior. The inscription on the back read “Samuel Troxel / Potter To uperhanover / Township Montgomery / County January us the / 25th A.D. 1833.” The writing in itself is quite rare, the only other known Troxel plate with a backside inscription resides in the Winterthur collection. And furthermore, that date would place the plate in the very same run as the Troxel example that reads “Liberty for Gackson” in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“We get good support from museums,” said Zipp, before the sale started. “Some of the things we get are so rare that they belong in a museum. Collectors see that and they want the same thing.”
Not to be outdone, unusual cobalt decorated stoneware fared well in the sale, with a number of lots rising to significant results.
From Rochester, N.Y., a Harrington & Burger double handled crock with a brightly decorated cobalt parrot captivated a number of bidders as it fetched $47,200. With some notable similarities, the Zipps posit that the potters were using an Audubon print as their guide for the image. There are only three known examples of the parrot on a piece of stoneware from this maker.
A Virginia stoneware pitcher with an incised bird and New York motifs hit $35,400. The house stated it was likely by John Schermerhorn, who was potting in Richmond in 1815. Schermerhorn potted in New Jersey and New York earlier in his career, which explains his familiarity and control of the drape and tassel motif that was incised around the shoulder. The extravagant bird decoration was likely drawn from the Remmey family while they potted in Baltimore, making the example a terrific mix of different styles along the East Coast.
Fitting more surely within the range of his collection, Martin Kaye purchased a David Morgan jug with incised bird decoration. The Manhattan jug is regarded as the finest surviving stoneware example produced at Morgan’s short-lived Corlears Hook pottery. It brought $20,060.
“We were very pleased with the sale. It’s exciting to see, in today’s market, that prices are still going up for things. And for Southern stoneware, prices are really strong, They’re higher than they’ve ever been.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
Crocker Farm conducts three auctions a year, its next will be in late October or early November. For more information, www.crockerfarm.com or 410-472-2016.
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