Russell Crook stoneware vase, school of fish contrasting with an indigo ground, unmarked, 11½" high, restoration to two rim chips and a base chip, $36,800.
Rookwood Sea Green vase, Matt Daly, 1899, lightly carved, three black cranes on a cloud-like green ground, 13" high, fine overall crazing, minor scratch or two, $26,450.
Thomas Webb & Sons cameo vase, amethyst glass cut in three layers, whitish-blue floral decoration, unusual mark, 5¾" high, excellent condition, $18,400.
Rookwood Standard glaze Indian portrait vase, Grace Young, 1900, picturing “High Hawk - Sioux,” double handles, 13" high, uncrazed, a few minor scratches, $33,350.
Rookwood Standard glaze tri-corner pitcher, Artus Van Briggle, 1889, profile of a Native American male with feathers and a shield before a full moon, 8" high, faint crazing, minor scratches, $3450. According to the auction house, the pitcher is possibly the earliest Native American portraiture done at Rookwood.
Cowan Pottery Danse Moderne plate, Viktor Schreckengost, 1931, also known as the Jazz plate, a couple dancing to music with stars and cocktails surrounding them, Egyptian blue and black, marked, 11¼" diameter, excellent condition, $16,675.
Waylande Gregory charger, two horses and scattered apples, pre-1939, marked, 21¾" diameter, restoration to a 5" rim chip, $10,637.50. The catalog noted, “The large charger is an early example of Gregory’s ceramics and glass fusion technique with melted glass in the background area around the horses.” It was pictured in an article in the March 13, 1939, Life magazine.
Rookwood Vellum glaze plaque, Kitaro Shirayamadani, 1912, 14 gulls flying above a marsh with a stream emptying into an ocean, 8 3/8" x 10½" plus frame, fine overall crazing, small edge chip, $7187.50.
Weller Hudson vase, Mae Timberlake, a pair of birds perched among the branches of a fruit tree, marked and artist-signed, 29 3/8" high, excellent condition, $9775.
Sabino Art Deco Water Fountain lamp, frosted glass on a metal base, marked, 23½" high overall, cord and light socket replaced, $3450.
Humler & Nolan, Cincinnati, Ohio
Photos courtesy Humler & Nolan
Not surprisingly, a piece of American art pottery took the top price during the “Holiday Sale 2013” conducted by Humler & Nolan in Cincinnati on November 9 and 10, 2013. What raised a few eyebrows, however, was which piece of pottery saw the most rambunctious bidding.
It wasn’t a piece of Rookwood.
The annual auction features three sessions—Keramics, mixing American and foreign art pottery; art glass, including anything from Tiffany to Loetz; and Rookwood, anchoring the event.
Rookwood is the golden boy of the sale, as it is during the annual June auction held by Humler & Nolan. More times than not, Rookwood brings the most money. Of course, there are exceptions.
Unexpectedly, it was a Russell Crook vase that led all charges at the sale, realizing $36,800 (includes buyer’s premium). The vase was estimated at $4000/6000. In an ovoid shape, the 11½" vase was decorated with a school of light-colored fish against an indigo ground. It had restoration to the rim and a base chip. The vase was unmarked, as is typical for Crook’s pieces.
The bidding was a head-scratcher even for Riley Humler, the gallery’s director. “I thought it would do OK, but I had no idea it would do what it did. In deference to that there have been several Russell Crook pieces that sold in the past year, one in the high twenties.”
The only other Russell Crook item in the auction, a lamp showing two storks wading among water lilies, was a bit disappointing. Estimated at $6000/8000, it sold for $4140. Condition was one issue. The lamp’s wiring and brass fittings were older replacements, and it suffered from firing separations in the lower part of the body, while rim chips and a crack were covered by the cap.
“I thought the lamp was underappreciated,” Humler said.
Russell Crook isn’t a household name, but it’s certainly one that most serious art pottery collectors recognize. Then again, he was just one of many potters trying to make a living in the early 20th century.
In a December 1906 article about the opening of the premiere exhibition of the National Society of Craftsmen, the New York Times noted several lesser-known potters who were represented. The report included this mention: “Excellent work comes from Russell G. Crook of South Lincoln, Mass.”
Crook was a sculptor, plaster molder, and potter. According to a Skinner auction listing in 2012, “He exhibited extensively with the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts from 1899-1927. He was also a member of the Wayland Massachusetts Society from 1906-1912, where he was known for his animal decoration on earthenware.”
Wells Tiles & Antiques, Los Angeles, which has handled Crook’s wares, notes on its Web site that in 1908 Crook attained the designation of Master Craftsman by the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts. In addition to working for himself, he designed tiles for Grueby Pottery. Grueby commissioned him in 1902 for the decoration of Dreamwold, the elaborate estate of stock manipulator Thomas William Lawson in Scituate, Massachusetts.
The vase and lamp offered at the holiday sale weren’t the first Crook pieces handled by Humler & Nolan. At the fall 2012 auction, a 13¼" unmarked stoneware vase featuring a moose walking among pine trees, made around 1906 to 1912, sold for $8050, more than doubling its upper estimate.
“That’s a real typical Russell Crook piece,” Humler noted at the time. Describing Crook as “a fairly obscure studio potter,” Humler had added, “His stuff doesn't show up all that much.”
Obscure or not, it appears Crook is getting more attention these days, as indicated by bidding for the fish vase.
“Obviously the Russell Crook piece was very strong,” Humler said after the auction. “That's the function of a trend in the market. There’s been a lot of interest in Russell Crook. Several people were very interested in it, and two people were very, very interested in it.”
The difference in bidding between the fish vase and the stork lamp seemed to balance the highs and lows of it all. Ditto for the auction as a whole, with strong lots making up for a still unsteady middle market.
“Overall it was a good sale for us, close to a million dollars,” said Humler.
Other American art pottery included a Danse Moderne plate—better known as a Jazz plate—designed by Viktor Schreckengost in 1931 and made by Cowan Pottery Studio. In Egyptian blue and black, the 11¼" plate depicted a couple dancing to music, with stars and cocktails surrounding them. Estimated at $8000/10,000, it sold for $16,675.
“These seem to show up less often than their larger cousin, the Jazz Bowl,” the catalog noted. Originally Eleanor Roosevelt commissioned the Jazz punch bowl for her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, then governor of New York.
The best of the Weller Pottery was a monumental Hudson vase, 29 3/8" high, decorated by Mae Timberlake, depicting a pair of birds perched among the branches of a fruit tree; it sold for $9775.
About 300 lots in the sale were from the collection of Dorothy Daniel of Arlington, Virginia. Although the breadth of her collection eventually grew, her first love was Weller Pottery, and she tried to amass an example of every line.
“It was pretty amazing in the scope, the kind of stuff she had collected over the years,” Humler said. However, he also described her as frugal. As a result, condition wasn’t always paramount. Yet, that group of art pottery included the obscure, even if the items didn’t bring headline-grabbing prices. “It just went on and on and on, things you don’t see. Some things I’d not seen before in twenty years,” said Humler.
“Very little of Dorothy’s stuff did not sell, four or five pieces out of three hundred,” he added. Even so, bidding throughout the auction remained largely in check. “Things were good, but they’re not like they were ten years ago…I see a continued hesitancy on people’s parts in going crazy.”
Topping the art glass session was a Thomas Webb & Sons cameo vase in amethyst with a whitish-blue floral decoration, selling for $18,400. The 5¾" vase had an atypical acid mark of “Thos Webb & Sons LTD” in a rectangular banner.
Contemporary art glass saw active bidding, with a Charles Lotton lamp selling for $4945. “Contemporary glass did pretty well,” said Humler. “You never know from one sale to the next.”
Rookwood put the finishing touches on the weekend with the catalog’s cover lot, a Sea Green vase decorated by Matt Daly in 1899, selling for $26,450. Lightly carved, the 13" vessel showed three black cranes on a cloud-like green ground.
The auction house was lucky to get the vase at all. Humler said the seller’s family had owned the item for a long time. The woman had recently checked with a friend who runs a consignment shop, asking her to sell the vase. The shop owner referred her to the auction house, saying the vase would probably do better there. According to Humler, the shop owner told the woman, “I can sell that for you and get a few hundred dollars for it, but I think it’s more important than that.”
Humler was thankful for the integrity of the shop owner. “Someone was honest enough to say, ‘I'm not sure about this. You ought to have someone check it out.’ It could have easily gone to a consignment place and sold for a few hundred dollars.”
Other top lots of Rookwood included a Standard glaze Indian portrait vase decorated by Grace Young in 1900, showing “High Hawk - Sioux.” The 13" vase had double handles and sold for $33,350. Humler noted it was probably one of the top five examples of an Indian portrait vase that he’s handled.
For the market in general, it’s much the same story as in years past. Humler said buyers are interested in “good stuff that’s fresh and clean, and you don't have to make excuses for it.”
Prices also continue to have a limit. “There’s kind of a ceiling on what people are willing to spend compared to what it was ten years ago,” he said. “Five to twenty thousand dollars, there are buyers out there.”
Overall, Humler was pleased with the auction. “It was probably the best holiday sale we’ve had in a while. It had some strong prices in places.”
For more information, phone (513) 381-2041 or visit (www.humlernolan.com). Humler & Nolan will be involved when the American Art Pottery Association holds its convention in Cincinnati, April 10-13. Activities planned include tours of the Rookwood Pottery and Cincinnati Art Museum, as well as a preview of Humler & Nolan’s June auction.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest