Published: August 6, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Tania Kirkman, Catalog Photos Courtesy Crocker Farm
SPARKS, MD. – One of stoneware’s most famous faces made its way across the auction block at Crocker Farm’s July 20 auction. Shattering previous records, this iconic vessel now holds two new world auction records, for both American face vessels and Ohio stoneware.
Rare, exceptional, important and outstanding were key words at this landmark auction. Bidders were enthusiastic and prices were strong across the board. “We were very happy with the results of the sale,” said founder and auctioneer Tony Zipp. “This was our biggest crowd ever; almost every lot had a bid in the sale, or multiple bids.” The historic auction grossed more than $1.13 million.
Of the 543 lots, nearly every lot was sold. There were 785 bidders, with 112 absentee bids and 448 live internet bids placed during the sale. Multiple phone lines were full all day with 415 phone bids alone. “This was a record for us,” said Luke Zipp, “this was our strongest sale since 2015.”
Crocker Farm, which already holds numerous world records for its sales, is renowned for its knowledge in the field of American stoneware, redware and pottery. Hosting three sales per year, the Zipp family offers confidence through consistently good property, research, informed attributions and the painstaking detail to which they catalog their sales.
Tony and Barbara Zipp started collecting in the 1970s and began doing shows and markets like York and Renninger’s in the 1980s. Their sons, Brandt, Mark and Luke, grew up with an appreciation for pottery and learned the business at an early age.
Crocker Farm has solidified itself as one of the top resources for quality American pottery. In 15 years, the personal interest and love of pottery has only continued to grow and flourish for each member of the family. The Zipp sons have become published authors and scholars on the subject, perform lectures and work in the craft of pottery itself.
The day of the anniversary auction on July 20 saw the historic 1841 Gorsuch barn chock full to the rafters with shelves of pottery and crowds of excited auctiongoers previewing, socializing and examining items. As the sale began, the room was filled to standing room only with nearly 200 people in attendance. The introduction by Brandt Zipp included announcements of anniversary celebrations, including original recipe libations, such as a Nineteenth Century brandy cordial and Eighteenth Century fish house punch and sheet cakes that were decorated with images of stoneware. There were also giveaways of reproduction pottery vessels made and fired by Crocker Farm’s own Mark Zipp.
The very first lot started off strong, with bidders in the room, online and on the phones for an 1850s stoneware jar with cobalt bird decoration by Martin Crafts, Boston. With an estimate of $5/8,000, it more than doubled its high value, selling for $17,700. This enthusiastic bidding continued through the entirety of the sale.
Anticipation in the crowd rose with the approach of the top lot in the auction, a rare and important salt-glazed stoneware face cooler by William Wilbur of Ironton, Ohio, origin, circa 1870. This large, 20-gallon vessel was decorated with a life-sized applied clay face of an African American and other details, including lizard handles and turtle spout.
Estimated at $75/125,000, it opened for bidding at $20,000 and bounced between live bidders in the room, phone and online. This monumental piece finally ended up selling at $177,000, breaking two auction records for the highest prices achieved for an American face vessel and for an Ohio stoneware object. The cooler was purchased by dealers Frank Swala of Washington, Penn., who bid live at the sale, and Kelly Kinzle of New Oxford, Penn. Although they did not yet have a buyer for the piece, Swala said that he already had people inquiring.
The cooler originally debuted on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow in 1998 where it appraised for $30/50,000. It was also sold later that year at Skinner’s auction for $86,000 and has since resided in a personal collection. Sandy Cluthe and her husband Chet of Blue Bell, Penn., regularly attend the Crocker Farm auctions and were especially glad to see this cooler at the sale. Cluthe explained that they had been at the original auction, and she said it was “like seeing a wonderful old friend.” Having collected face jugs in the following years, Cluthe remarked that “this is the best face you’ll see on any face vessel anywhere.”
The second highest priced item in the auction was an alkaline-glazed face cup from the Edgefield District of South Carolina, circa 1855-70. This piece had remarkable characteristics, including bulging kaolin eyes, a small pinched nose, c-scroll ears, and an open mouth filled with teeth. Noted as being one of the most expressive Edgefield face vessels offered from a small surviving quantity from this region, it surpassed its estimate of $20/40,000, fetching $70,800.
Other Edgefield pottery included a stoneware face jug, probably from the Lewis Miles’ Stoney Bluff Manufactory, circa 1855-70, which sold for $30,680; and an 1850s alkaline stoneware glazed jar with two-color slip flower, attributed to Collin Rhodes Pottery, that went for $20,060.
An 1870s M&T Miller, Newport Penn., jug with a cobalt bird and leafy foliage sold well over its $15/25,000 estimate for $35,400. A monumental 32-gallon presentation cooler with double-heron motif by Mary H. Wagner, circa 1878, sold for $22,420. The item that saw the highest number of bids was a large, ovoid stoneware jar with cobalt slip and clear leaded glaze, attributed to C.B. Masten of Auman Pottery, Seagrove, N.C., circa 1928-36. With 61 bids, the vessel sold well above the $4/600 estimate at $11,210.
Redware included a John Bell, Waynesboro, Penn., redware jar with sponged copper and manganese decoration, circa 1840, which sold over its $4/6,000 estimate at $22,420. A rare Tennessee Cain pottery slash-decorated jug sold for $12,980; and a Nineteenth Century cylindrical lidded jar with elaborate two-color copper slip and leaded glaze made $11,800.
Patriotic-themed pottery featured a unique early Nineteenth Century ovoid presentation jug with incised Federal eagle. Hailing in origin from New Jersey, it was inscribed “Liberty for-Ever, L. Riggs, May 5th, 1819.” The jug was discovered in the 1930s by a teenage boy and his mother while working in a New Jersey home, The boy offered the owners $25 for the jug. As descendants of Riggs, the family declined his offer. He was able to purchase the jug years later at their estate auction in 1956. It remained in his collection until being sold to the current consignor’s father in 1973. It sold in the high range of its estimate at $44,250.
Another highlight was an unusual 1861 Civil War-era patriotic water cooler by F.T. Wright & Son of Taunton, Mass. Depicting a bird on a stump with flying American flag, the banner inscription read “Shoot the first man who pulls down this flag, Gen Dix.” This referenced an 1861 telegraph sent by John Dix (1798-1879) to the Union ship McLelland, which was under threat of seizure by secessionists in New Orleans, La. The cooler sold for $8,850.
Proving that what goes around comes around, auctioneer Luke Zipp welcomed back a bird-decorated ovoid jug attributed to Henry Remmey Sr of Baltimore, Md., circa 1812-29. As one of a small number of incised bird pitchers by Remmey, this piece also was originally sold in Crocker Farm’s inaugural sale in 2004. It sold again for $18,880.
When asked about their favorite memories of the past 15 years in business, Tony Zipp recalled the sale of a Baltimore water cooler with Federal eagle decoration that sold for $483,000 in 2015. It was an exciting moment to offer such a special item, and he remembers exchanging glances of excitement with the consignor, who was seated in the audience during the sale. This vessel maintains the world auction record for American stoneware and resides in the personal collection of collector Jerry Lauren.
As one would imagine, Barbara Zipp said she is grateful to share her days with her husband and sons in the family business they have created. She revealed that some of her fondest memories come after the auction when people reach out to thank them after the sale of their items.
In 2005, the $41,800 sale of a John Bell redware whippet changed the life of a consignor who had just received a hefty medical bill after a year of unemployment. “It changed her life,” Barbara said. The consignor of a Pennsylvania wax seal with baseball player, which was a last-minute addition to the auction catalog with a day to spare, achieved a sales price of $65,550 and helped that consignor pay for a roof, vehicle repair and unexpected back surgery. Another consignor who sold an Alexandria pottery pitcher for $11,000 later disclosed that after the sale she had been diagnosed with cancer, and the sale of the pitcher paid for her treatments. “Those are my best memories, that is what has blessed me,” said Barbara Zipp.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
Crocker Farm is now accepting consignments and preparing for its October 26 sale. Highlights include a large mermaid-decorated water cooler. For information, 410-472-2016 or www.crockerfarm.com.
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