Described by the cataloger as a "mysterious creation," this early Edgefield, South Carolina, slave-made face jug is thought to have been made for the maker's pleasure rather than as part of his production. Unusual and haunting, it was the sale's top seller at $38,500.
Signed "LM May 13 1863 Dave," this two-handled alkaline-glazed storage jar by Dave "the Slave" Drake had resided in a Texas collection for over 30 years. Never offered publicly until this auction, it reached $25,850, within estimate.
Pictured is a commercial Bristol-glazed crock with an aviation connection. Love Field Potteries operated in the shadow of the Dallas, Texas, airport from 1925 to 1948, and the crock made an on-time departure at $77.
Whether the legends of unexpected or accidental results are true, North Carolina potter Burlon Craig (1914-2002) became known for his weeping-eye pots. Combined with a large size that he dubbed "eight-gallon jugs" (no one ever checked), this example need not weep any longer; it reached $7700 (est. $1500/2000).
Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society, Bennett, North Carolina
by Marty Steiner
Photos courtesy Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society
Perhaps because there is less immediate emotional pressure in an absentee auction, the February 8 through March 10 sale held by the Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society (SFPCS) in Bennett, North Carolina, appeared to represent caution at every turna reflection of current economic conditions. Reality and caution were the operative words among the consignors and among the bidding community.
Consignors appeared to be "keeping their powder dry" by waiting for a stronger market before committing their high-end items. Culling or shrinking the collection seemed to be the order of the day. This sale did not have any potential high-end offerings.
Bidders seemed to focus on fewer lots bid and bought. Buying one important or more desirable pot, rather than two or three good examples, appeared to be the attitude. As a result, 58 of the 368 lots offered received no bids, and one was withdrawn.
There are probably as many ways to read an auction catalog as there are bidding strategies. Catalogs that have a standard format and sequence cater to a regular, knowledgeable clientele. The SFPCS catalogs take this discipline to its highest level. The only assumption is that you know where a specific potter worked because the lots are listed (in alphabetical order) by the state where they were made. If there is a shortcoming, it would be the lack of an index by potter.
Most prospective bidders look for works by legendary potters such as Dave "the Slave" Drake or Lanier Meaders, for example, even if they will probably never bid on them, and then perhaps make a quick front-to-back scan of all the cataloged lots. Usually there are some miscellaneous items after the pottery listings. Included this time were bricks (a basic product of the fired clay industry), some baskets, and some furniture, followed by a veritable library of reference books and publications.
SFPCS catalogs specify a minimum bid and an expected price range for each lot. Only eight lots had minimum bids of $1000 or more, and an additional 22 lots required minimum bids of $500 or more. When the bidding clay dust settled, only 47 lots had winning bids exceeding $1000.
Two South Carolina slave-made pots, both from Edgefield sources, took the sale's top honors. An early face jug by an unknown maker brought $38,500 (including buyer's premium). These jugs turn up from time to time with some common characteristics. Whether they are intended to be self-portraits or re-creations of African tribal themes in the medium of glazed and fired clay is open to conjecture. The other pot, a Dave "the Slave" Drake alkaline-glazed storage jar with two handles, reached $25,850.
A pattern frequently seen is the strength of a specific artisan's works. Burlon Craig's pottery, for example, has consistently sold well in a variety of recent auctions. Ten of the 12 Burlon Craig lots in this sale met or exceeded their expectations, and five of them more than doubled their very realistic estimates. A medium green alkaline-glazed double-face jug with glass runs reached $4180; a devil and snake face jug brought $2530; and a large weeping-eye face jug with two handles made $7700.
Pottery locales attracting increased interest include Crawford County in west-central Georgia. It's a source for unusual forms, refined glazes, and a curious tradition for makers' marks, the impressed initials on the top of handles, and the handles are frequently applied high on the vessel's body. Active research and a number of published articles are expanding the knowledge about this area and creating a corresponding increase in collector base. Among the three Crawford County pots offered, a high-sheen alkaline-glazed storage jar with two handles, impressed "BB," more than doubled its expectations to sell for $2310. This "BB" mark is under study because two different Crawford County potters, Benjamin Becham and Billy Bryant, may have used it.
Georgia boasts two hubs of early potting activity dating to the late 18th century. In addition to Crawford County, Washington County engendered potters who used, primarily, alkaline glazes on utilitarian wares and exhibited high levels of skill in form, glaze, and handle application. Two examples from Washington County sold in this auction. An early (1820's) storage jar in an olive-colored alkaline glaze with two lug handles brought $1760 (est. $700/900), and a later table pitcher with a similar glaze brought $110.
White County, Georgia, could easily be renamed Meaders County. Generations of men and women in the extended Meaders family have produced and continue to produce a wide variety of pottery, and many of them are known for a specific form. Edwin (born 1921), son of Cheever and Arie and brother to Lanier, John, and Reggie, is known for his pedestal roosters. In the late 1980's he produced eight to ten multicolored roosters with up to five different-colored glazes. Only the third example of these roosters to be offered at auction brought a solid $8525 (est. $2500/3500).
Marie Rogers (1922-2010) combined traditional southern pottery techniques with innovative themes, and her ultimate expression of this blend was offered in this sale. A signed and dated two-handled jug adorned with grape clusters and two colorful diamondback rattlesnakes, the rattlesnakes woven through the handles, which were actually formed by a third snake, brought $1210 against a $300/400 estimate.
Most of the SFPCS auctions include a few baskets. Perhaps this reflects an interest in storage containers of many disciplines, whether clay pots or woven baskets, but only four of the seven basket lots sold. A miniature painted buttocks basket from a known Salem, North Carolina, collection, which spoke to its quality and authenticity, went at $550, its high estimate. The other baskets sold for as little as $88 for an 8Â¾" high Cherokee basket of patterned river cane, its square base melding into its round mouth.
Because I have a couple of marked bricks serving as bookends and as reminders of travels, I can understand other people's interest in old marked bricks from across the country, as they are the most basic fired-clay product. This sale included 23 lots of bricks, all of which sold, and it was the second SFPCS sale to include such a broad variety. Prices ranged from $11 (the minimum bid) for an Oklahoma brick impressed "Olkmulgee," 1900-25, to $220 for one bearing the Coca-Cola script logo.
Ending the sale were 33 lots of various pottery-related publications; prices ranged from $22 to $330, and four lots received no bids. A pair of Harmer Rooke Galleries auction catalogs for the Georgeanna Greer collection, 1992-93 and 1993, brought a solid $330 (est. $100/150); and another pair of Harmer Rooke auction catalogs, including the 1995 Charles G. Moore collection sale, brought $165 (est. $60/90). The value of these items in terms of provenance and identification is clear.
The Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society has no regular schedule for its absentee auctions. For information, contact the SFPCS at (336) 581-4246; Web site (www.southernfolkpotterysociety.com).
In terms of rarity, the Chinese blue glazes of Ben Owen I at North Carolina's Jugtown Pottery are the ultimate, and this sale offered two such examples. A 5" high signed translation vase (not shown) was a bargain at $467.50. Pictured is a four-handled Persian jar that had resided in the same home for over 40 years. Bearing applied shoulder "roping," it is a 1930's reproduction of a 11th-century jar in the collection of London's Victoria and Albert Museum. This rare example sold for $22,000, well over the $14,000 high estimate.
A relatively small group (11 lots) of redware from the North Carolina Piedmont was offered. Along with dishes, pitchers, and other simple forms was this rundlet dating from the first half of the 19th century. Signed "Loy" in script, it is believed to be the work of Solomon Loy, based on the honey-colored lead glaze and form details that match a fully signed Solomon Loy pot. It brought $8525 (est. $4000/6000).
Relatively few potters create figural (or sculpted) works. Ernestine Hilton Sigmon (1904-2007) of the Hilton Pottery family in North Carolina produced this 4Â½" high detailed mother with infant in the 1930's. At $1430, it doubled the high estimate.