Published: September 24, 2019
LAMPETER, PENN. — The well-liked and highly regarded collector and dealer William (Bill) Kurau Jr of Lampeter, passed away peacefully on September 13, surrounded by his loving family after a brave fight with serious medical issues. He was 73.
Bill was a renowned dealer specializing in a variety of English ceramics made for the American market, but always found that his greatest joy and his greatest accomplishments were his marriage to the love of his life, Teresa, their three children and their families, William III and his wife, Kimberly, and children, Sophia and William IV; Jonathan and his wife, Erin, and children, Riley, Barrett, Teddy, Madeline; and David and his wife, Trisha, and children, Sadie, Vera and David Jr.
Born and raised in New York City, Bill entered the New York City Police force where he was assigned to a citywide tactical unit that provided him with the material for many funny and poignant stories of city life in the 1970s. It was during this time that he married Terry, in 1974, who was the daughter of a Lancaster area antiques dealer and worked for an airline.
Together Bill and Terry started a small business, working out of their apartment in Jackson Heights, N.Y., buying and selling American Historical Staffordshire, Liverpool, other ceramics and antiques and spending much of their spare time attending antiques shows, antiques shops and museums. To advertise their budding inventory well before the age of the internet, they would send mimeographed price lists to dealers and clients and later upgraded to a printed pamphlet titled Historical Staffordshire and Historical Items, which is now a collector’s item.
Once Bill retired from the NYPD, they moved to Lampeter, his wife Teresa’s hometown, and set down permanent roots. Their business thrived and their family blossomed.
Bill and Terry went on to become the preeminent dealers specializing in American Historical Staffordshire along with historical china. They also were successful dealers in Currier & Ives, Liverpool pitchers of American interest, War of 1812 jugs, Gaudy Dutch, spatterware, Anglo-American china, mocha, political Americana and anything else that attracted their interest.
Bill’s easy-going manner, quick smile, infectious laugh and his encyclopedic memory made his booths “show destinations” where he always had great inventory, interesting stories and anecdotes that he was happy to share with the many people who stopped by. He often tucked away special pieces he found for delivery to clients.
Bill had an uncanny ability to find unusual gems, from Martha Washington China to mounted butterflies and Erie Canal medals. It has been said that he would walk through an empty room and come out with a one-of-a-kind rarity. I’d often hear stories about him attending some silly auction and walk away with rare antiques or buy a blind lot of papers and come away with the original Treaty of Versailles (I’m exaggerating, but not by much). If luck favors the prepared, you could count on Bill being prepared.
Bill’s curiosity wasn’t confined to ceramics and Currier & Ives prints and over the years he’s offered for sale brass swivel cannons, swords, Stiegel flasks, stoneware with inscribed eagles, blown sugar bowls, coins, early blown and pressed glass, Bennington pottery and iron kitchen implements and so on. It almost always left customers scratching their heads and wondering, “Where the heck did he find that?” I knew whenever I talked to him about something unusual, he would joke that he had three or four. A two-pounder cannon? He had two or three somewhere in his house — along with a seashell collection and the mention of pin-mounted beetles. He was a man who possessed an amazing range of knowledge and interests, which were often expressed in his inventory and acquisitions. His wife Terry was his partner in every sense and was there with him at every step — but was less than an enthusiastic collaborator when he would purchase books in 100-pound units or a 500-pound modern player piano.
Bill was a fixture in the show circuit and could be spotted wearing his signature plaid shirt. And along with Terry and son David, he could be found at the Delaware Antiques Show, the Chester County Historical Society Show, Antiques in Manchester, N.H., the Collector’s Fair Show and the York Shows in Pennsylvania at the fairgrounds, the New York Ceramics Fair, Brimfield, Wilton, Rhinebeck, Oley Valley, the 23rd Street Armory, the NYC Pier Show and many others. He and his family were masters of booth setup and pack out, which they managed with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. He spoke proudly and with a bit of awe at their son David’s abilities to pack the van.
Bill was also famous for his Christmas cards featuring Arms of Pennsylvania platters, particularly rare pieces of Staffordshire, Liverpool and spatter and their signature elf. The photographs of his children and grandchildren as babies standing in large ewers or reclining in soup tureens are legendary.
There may not be a collection of American historical ceramics that does not have more than a few pieces with Bill’s handwritten labels. In fact, he was instrumental in helping grow many significant collections, such as Buddy Zamoiski, Robert Teitelman, Gene Fleisher, Chet Cruetzburg/David Martin, Hayden Goldberg/Curtis Brown, Nick Routson, Kurt O’Hare, to name a few.
One of his favorite stories was meeting Bob Teitelman at a Pennsylvania Turnpike rest stop to deliver a rare Liverpool pitcher — it seems Bob couldn’t wait to take possession, so Bill jumped in his car in the dead of night. He was good friends with many of the Lancaster collectors and dealers, including Connie Machmer, and sold many pieces of her glass collection, including a “Stiegel” paneled vase, Eighteenth Century eight-diamond covered sugar and a GII-12 child’s pitcher in blue. It was unusual for there to be a sale of Staffordshire, Liverpool, Curriers or spatterware, that didn’t include a piece he’s bought and sold or not have Bill and Terry bidding in the audience.
Bill was quick to share his knowledge and enjoyed educating collectors and casual lookers. His favorite activities included spending time with his wife and sons, of whom he was exceedingly proud, their wives and his many grandchildren, vacationing at the cabin on the lake, taking his beloved 64 Corvette out for a spin and babysitting his grandkids with his wife at their Lampeter home. His son David joined his business several years ago and has been managing several aspects of the business, including their eBay store and strategizing on what to buy at sales and auctions. To end on a happy note – The family business will continue, a legacy Bill envisioned from the very start. —Submitted by Kurt O’ Hare
[Editor’s note: A celebration of life led by Pastor Douglas Hinton took place on September 19 at the Groffs Family Funeral & Cremation Services. Charitable donations in Bill’s memory may be made to the PA Dutch Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which was incredibly important to Bill and his family.]
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