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Crowded Ferrell Southern Stoneware Sale

Pete Prunkl | January 25th, 2014


“Phoenix/ Factory 1840” is written in fine script on the shoulder of this 19½" stoneware jar. Master potter Thomas Chandler was employed at Phoenix in 1840 and may have turned this jar. Phoenix Factory went out of business in 1850. At $90,000, this was the sale’s top lot (est. $50,000/70,000). It has a new home at the McKissick Museum, Columbia, South Carolina. In addition, the museum purchased a stoneware waste bowl (not shown), attributed to John Durham of Kirksey’s Crossroads, Edgefield District, for $2520 (est. $2000/4000).


This 5" face jug was slave-inspired but not made by enslaved persons. Attributed to Davies Pottery, Edgefield District, circa 1862, it features a tooled spout and kaolin eyes and teeth. It sold for $43,200 (est. $15,000/25,000) to a phone bidder.


“This is one of the finest known examples of Thomas Chandler’s work,” bragged the catalog regarding this 20" decorated stoneware water cooler. Few would argue with the superlatives. The celadon glaze alone elevated it above the rest. In overall excellent condition, the cooler sold to Philip Toussaint of Columbia, South Carolina, for $78,000 (est. $70,000/90,000). It ranked second in selling price among top sellers.


During the preview, Jim Williams of Greenville, South Carolina, promised his wife, Agnes, that he would buy this Thomas Chandler stoneware jar for her in honor of their 54th wedding anniversary. The circa 1849 jar with lug handles and bold kaolin loop and swag decorations is stamped “TRAPP &/ CHANDLER.” The catalog asserted that it was almost certainly turned by Chandler. This jar had been included in the 1976 exhibition at the Gibbes Art Museum. The jar opened at $3200, and Jim was in it from the start. He prevailed. Agnes received a $12,000 anniversary gift (est. $6000/9000). Prunkl photo.


There was one genuine surprise in the sale. Two phone bidders really liked a lidded coffee boiler attributed to Stork/Landrum Pottery, circa 1880. The humble 6" pot opened at $500, one-half the low estimate, and soared to $6000 (est. $1000/1500). When bidding stalled on a preserve jar a few lots later, Jeremy Wooten tried to encourage the bidders by saying, “You could put coffee in it.”


Don’t let the size (8¼" tall) of this stoneware bottle take your eye away from the inscription “A. Landrum July 20th 1820.” A document by pottery factory owner Abner Landrum that accompanied the bottle suggests that the signature is in his hand. Jane Przybysz (pronounced like Frisbees but with a P) of the McKissick Museum and Bill Mariner of Ocean City, Maryland, were locked in combat over the Landrum bottle. Mariner, who never dropped his number paddle, won the bottle at $57,600 (est. $40,000/60,000). His wife, Susan, is on the board at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), Old Salem, North Carolina. It may turn out that one day the Landrum bottle will be donated to MESDA, but Mariner assured M.A.D. that for now it is part of the family’s personal collection.

Wooten & Wooten, Camden, South Carolina

Photos courtesy Wooten & Wooten

To appreciate the significance of the sale on January 25 at Wooten & Wooten, Camden, South Carolina, answer this question: Which of the following southern potters or pottery owners does not belong with the others? Here’s the list: Abner Landrum, George Ohr, Collin Rhodes, and Thomas Chandler. The answer is George Ohr; he was a Mississippi potter. The others made their mark on antebellum South Carolina pottery.

There is another reason why Ohr was odd man out in this 94-lot all-pottery standing-room-only sale. His circa 1890 art pottery vase was among the also-rans in the race for top dollar. The self-styled Mad Potter of Biloxi’s small vase sold for $2880 (includes buyer’s premium). Compare that to Chandler’s circa 1850 water cooler at $78,000, Landrum’s stoneware bottle at $57,600, and Rhodes’s decorated stoneware pitcher at $52,800. If this were a Southeastern Conference football game between Ole Miss and the University of South Carolina, it would have been a blowout for the Gamecocks.

Personal provenance was at the heart of this sale. All 94 lots were accumulated over the past 50 years by Terry Ferrell and his son, Stephen. The Ferrells, longtime residents of Edgefield, South Carolina, attended the sale. According to the father and the son, there are 20 to 40 additional Edgefield pottery treasures in their hometown cache. Anyone who collects stoneware of the South knows of the Ferrells. They are southern pottery celebrities of the highest order.

Among the Ferrells’ many friends is Dr. Arthur F. Goldberg, who attended the sale with his wife, Ester. Goldberg, a southern pottery benefactor, co-authored the 2006 Ceramics in America article on the enslaved potter Dave from the Edgefield District. Goldberg put his friend’s contributions in perspective for us: “Terry Ferrell was a major pioneer in the appreciation of Edgefield alkaline glaze stoneware. He has never received full credit for his role as collector, scholar, historian, and curator of the 1976 Edgefield stoneware exhibition.” That exhibition, which started at the Gibbes Art Museum, Charleston, South Carolina, and traveled to two other southern museums, built a tidal wave of interest in Edgefield pottery.

The Wooten & Wooten showroom was packed with 150 collectors, dealers, museum representatives, reporters, and friends. At least a third of the audience stood for the entire two-hour sale. Many remained afterward for an impromptu after-sale gab fest. As one wag remarked, southern pottery collectors will stab a fellow collector in the back during the sale and offer him a drink afterward. As might be expected, not all bidders were in the room, but most of the winners were. Of the 94 lots, 55 went to the house, 25 to the phones. The rest went to the Internet or absentees or were passed. Of the top 20 lots, 11 went to on-site bidders, nine to the phones.

Contacted before the sale, Terry Ferrell singled out two lots as his favorites. Both were part of the groundbreaking 1976 exhibition.

The first was Thomas Chandler’s circa 1850 stoneware water cooler. The catalog photo did not capture its subtle, soft celadon glaze. The slip decoration was crisp, artistic, and extensive. Chandler’s masterpiece opened at $35,000. The phones and house battled it out. Local collector Dr. Philip Toussaint won the prize at $78,000 (est. $70,000/90,000). He and his wife plan to have a party with the Chandler cooler as the centerpiece filled with liquid refreshment.

The other Ferrell favorite was a 10½" tall decorated stoneware pitcher attributed to the Collin Rhodes Factory at Shaw’s Creek, Edgefield District, circa 1850. Trailed kaolin and brushed iron- slip-decorated leaves encircled the pitcher’s body. A swirled and slip-decorated horseshoe form appeared under the spout. The pitcher opened at $15,000. Although in-house collector Doug Howard of Cartersville, Georgia, hung on to the bitter end, a phone bidder took it for $52,800 (est. $30,000/60,000).

None of the aforementioned pots was the sale’s top lot. That distinction belonged to a 19½" tall stoneware jar signed in script, “Phoenix Factory 1840.” Thomas Chandler worked at Phoenix Factory in 1840 and may have decorated this pot with the brushed iron-slip decorations he learned in Baltimore. Chandler is believed to have been the first potter in the South to abandon iron-slip decoration for clay slip. An in-house proxy bidder for the McKissick Museum, Columbia, South Carolina, bought the jar for $90,000 (est. $50,000/70,000).

A brief history and geography lesson may be in order. The pottery-centric Edgefield District was located in west central South Carolina, across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia. Today it includes parts of Edgefield, Aiken, and Greenwood Counties. The district fostered a small number of pottery factories staffed with exceptional talent and an innovative spirit. The bustling district was the birthplace of American slip decoration, wood ash alkaline glaze, and African-American-inspired face jugs. Pottery production started there in 1815 with enslaved persons and journeymen potters providing the labor. After the Civil War, a few shops held on. By 1900, stoneware production in Edgefield had practically vanished.

The great enslaved poet/potter Dave produced his highly coveted wares in the Edgefield District. Two of his pots were in the sale and brought less than many expected. A large dated and signed jar (“Lm Aug 18 1857/ Dave”) found at the Tupper-Barnett House in Washington, Georgia, went to Columbia, South Carolina, neurosurgeon Philip Toussaint for $33,600 (est. $40,000/60,000). A large well-turned ovoid stoneware jar dated in script “January 25th 1840 L. Miles” was attributed to Dave. The jar opened and closed at $12,000 (est. $10,000/30,000).

No Edgefield sale would be complete without face jugs. The 19th-century Edgefield version is typically small and primitive; most would fit in the palm of your hand. They were first produced in the pre-Civil War United States by enslaved persons in the Edgefield District. Why they were made is still an unresolved question. Two face jugs opened the sale, and both sold to the phones. Lot 1 was 5" tall with bulging eyes, a wide, fierce mouth, and a reglued broken handle. The circa 1862 jug opened at $17,500, and with interest only from the Internet and the phones, it escalated to $43,200 (est. $15,000/25,000). The second face jug was smaller and pinched rather than wheel turned. The sale’s condition report noted that there was an old restoration to its nose and handle. It sold for $33,600 (est. $10,000/15,000).

Wooten & Wooten is a relatively new auction business. Its first sale was in March 2013. (See M.A.D., June 2013, p. 38-C.) Jeremy and Rebecca Wooten are exactly what the antiques auction world needs. He is a 28-year-old auctioneer with experience garnered from Charlton Hall, the well-known auction house in Columbia, South Carolina. She is a 2007 graduate of Winterthur Program in Early American Culture with a master’s degree. Their small business is located in historic and antiques-friendly Camden, South Carolina.

One of the lessons Jeremy learned from Charlton Hall was where to start the bidding. The Wootens provide estimates for every lot, and Jeremy will not go below one-half the low estimate. “That is one of my principles,” he said at the January 25 sale. The technique worked as he expected when he passed lot 23, an 1840 jar attributed to David Drake. No one answered his call for a $10,000 opening bid. A few seconds later, a hand went up asking that the lot be reopened. While there are technically no reserves, this rule keeps bidding well above the bargain basement.

For more information on Wooten & Wooten, visit the Web site at (www.wootenandwooten.com). The mailing and physical address is 1036 Broad Street, Camden, SC 29020. The toll-free phone number is (866) 570-0144.

Stamped “GEORGE OHR/ BILOXI MISS” on the base, this 6" tall pottery vase was the only Mississippi ware in the sale. Wooten estimated the date as circa 1890. That’s before the October 12, 1894, fire that destroyed Ohr’s studio, his home, and eight blocks of downtown Biloxi. For a while, no one in house bid on the Ohr piece; it was all Internet and phones. Finally, a bidder at the sale jumped in, but a phone bidder prevailed at $2880 (est. $1500/2500).

There were four non-Edgefield face jugs in the sale. This one, circa 1900 and attributed to John Leonard Atkins of Jug Factory Road, Greenville County, South Carolina, brought top dollar. Originally this 7¼" jug had a strap handle; that is missing. The jug sold to an on-site bidder for $6060 (est. $2000/4000).


Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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