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Rookwood XXIII, Art Glass 2013, Keramics 2013

Don Johnson | June 1st, 2013

Once the property of the czar of Russia, this is a 6" x 3½" (closed), 6 5/8" (open) St. Petersburg triptych. The painting depicts the resurrection of Christ with angels and two frightened guardsmen. In a gold-washed silver and enameled case, it is in excellent condition and sold for $57,500.

This Russian silver kovsh has a cloisonné design of scrolling foliage and exotic flowers and a gold-wash interior. It is 4½" high (at handle) and 12½" long (overall). With wear to the gold on the handle and some flat chips on the enamel it sold for $20,700.

In 1902 Matthew A. Daly decorated this Rookwood Sea Green vase with three fish. The 12¼" high vase reportedly had been exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. It brought $31,050. The catalog noted, “This vase has remained in the family of one of Rookwood’s last owners and has never been offered for sale until now.”

This 18" x 12" Rookwood Architectural tile features a garden scene with a fountain, trees, clouds, and a flowerpot. In a new frame and with minor chips to its back edge, the tile had never been installed. It sold for $6900. The catalog noted, “It is one of the larger Rookwood Architectural tiles we have seen.”

This 5¾" high Rookwood French Red vase, created by Sara Sax in 1922, shows wild roses against a black ground. The interior glaze is French Red. In excellent condition with no crazing, it sold for $8625.

This 10" x 14 1/8" Rookwood Mat glaze plaque by Albert Valentien, 1901, shows two fish. Framed and uncrazed, it has a small chip on one corner covered by the frame. It brought $18,975.

This 11 7/8" tall Daum Nancy Martelé vase is decorated with life-size flower heads and buds and has a hand-carved “hammered” surface. Marked and in excellent condition, the vase brought $5635.

Humler & Nolan, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photos courtesy Humler & Nolan

It was far from the top lot of the auction, but a dresser box offered a poignant history lesson when it was sold by Humler & Nolan during the Rookwood XXIII, Art Glass 2013 and Keramics 2013 auction held June 1 and 2 in Cincinnati. The glass box was among 23 lots of Russian objects from a Cincinnati estate. Many of the items came with documentation as part of the Russian imperial exhibit from the Hammer collection that sold at Marshall Field & Company in Chicago in 1933. Beauty and craftsmanship aside, it was the backstory that added to their appeal.

The oval dresser box was once owned by the Grand Duchess Anastasia, youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II, who was executed in July 1918 along with his wife, all five children (including 17-year-old Anastasia), the family doctor, and three servants. For Anastasia and her siblings, their only crime was being part of the wrong family at the wrong time. Made of cut glass, the box was small, only 4¼" long, but big for its historical context. Having Anastasia’s monogram below a small crown on the silver lid, it sold for $3450.

“It’s a fantastic piece of history,” said Riley Humler, gallery director. “You can’t look at it without feeling a little tingle.”

The provenance was crucial. The dresser box came with a handwritten statement identifying it as belonging to Anastasia. Also accompanying it was a typed certificate regarding its sale at Marshall Field. Other items had similar paperwork.

“These pieces, in many cases, had documents from the Armand Hammer sale. We didn’t have to say, ‘We think they are,’” said Humler.

As an extra measure of assurance, the material was scrutinized by experts. “All this stuff is dead-on what it was supposed to be,” Humler added. “The only thing wrong might have been the estimates. On the surface we looked pretty stupid. We had two hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of Russian stuff that we estimated at maybe thirty [thousand]. Some of that is caginess on our part, and some of it is, it’s hard to predict.”

There was no question the auction house had something of significant value. “It became a day-to-day experience with one phone call after another from Russian dealers, Russian collectors,” Humler said. In the end, the Russians outbid everyone else, running multiple pieces to five-figure prices. The top lot of the auction was a silver cloisonné St. Petersburg triptych depicting the resurrection of Christ, once owned by the czar of Russia, selling for $57,500. A similar diptych of Mary and a guardian angel was $55,200. An icon from the quarters of Czar Nicholas II at Alexander Palace, showing St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker, brought $41,400. The best of several silver and cloisonné kovshes realized $20,700. (A kovsh is an oblong Russian drinking bowl with a handle.)

The Russian material drew international attention, but the heart and soul of the auction remained rooted in Cincinnati. The Rookwood XXIII session offered more than 500 lots of the popular pottery during what might have been called the Year of the Fish. Leading the Rookwood was a Sea Green vase showing three fish, one a golden color, painted by Matthew Daly in 1902. Just over a foot tall, the vase is believed to have been exhibited in the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, thus increasing its allure. Plus it was fresh to the market, coming from the family of one of Rookwood’s last owners and having never before been offered for sale. It sold above estimate for $31,050.

“The Sea Green piece was impeccably done,” said Humler. “The colors were dynamic. They were startling. The piece was in great condition with no crazing, no issues.”

While quality is still recognized, the market has changed, even for top pieces of Rookwood. “I would say ten years ago that might have been a forty- or fifty-thousand-dollar piece,” Humler said.

There was something fishy—in a good sort of way—about a Rookwood plaque decorated in the Mat glaze line by Albert Valentien in 1901. An early experimental piece, the 10" x 14 1/8"
plaque showed two fish swimming against a green ground. It nearly tripled its upper estimate, selling for $18,975. The plaque was one of three made by Valentien at the same time and featured in a Keramic Studio magazine article shortly thereafter. From that trio, a plaque with a single fish was sold as part of the Glover collection by Cincinnati Art Galleries in June 1991 for $10,725. The third example also depicts a single fish. “Where they were, how they got separated, we’ll never know,” said Humler.

A slew of plaques in the Rookwood session included an 8 7/8" x 9¾" Vellum glaze line example, decorated by E.T. Hurley in 1946, showing birch trees along a lake with a mountain in the background in a new frame, which sold for $6900. A 5¾" vase decorated by Sara Sax in 1922, the tapering form having wild roses around the strong shoulder, all against a black ground and with an interior lined in French Red, sold for $8625.

There was also strong interest in several Rookwood tiles. An unused Architectural tile having a garden scene, unusually large at 18" x 12" and in a new frame, sold for $6900. An Architectural Faience tile having a three-dimensional image of a rook, the whole in a dark blue matte glaze with green highlights, roughly the size of a large brick, sold for $6612.50. The auction house staff had never seen another.

Of the smalls that punctuated the Rookwood session, a 3 3/8" long ladybug paperweight from 1936, reddish brown with black dots in high glazes and a green matte glaze on the base, realized $4025.

Highlighting the Keramics session was a 10 1/8" Jugtown Chinese style blue vase that sold for $4945. Roseville was led by a Crystalis glaze oil lamp in the Egypto line, formed to show three elephants with riders, all in reddish orange glaze, at $3335. The best of the Weller was a 9¾" pop-eyed dog at $3450.

There were plenty of hard-to-find examples at affordable prices, especially among the Weller. For instance, a 5" Teco-like vase in a hexagonal form with buttressed sides and a two-tone tan matte glaze sold for $373.75, and a 10 7/8" Athens vase with two panels showing nymphs, sea horses, and a nautilus, the line made circa 1897 to 1904, with minor restoration, sold for $690.

“I thought it was good,” Humler said of the Keramics session. “There were a couple of flat spots, but by and large the Weller and Roseville did well. We had a great piece of Jugtown that went through the roof. The only place we had trouble, there were some esoteric kinds of studio pieces that didn’t do well. They might have been too far out for us.”

Aside from the imperial Russian items, the Art Glass session yielded a Tiffany Studios damascene and bronze desk lamp having a 9¾" melon green shade at $8625, and an 11 7/8" high Daum Nancy Martelé vase depicting life-size flowers against a hand-carved “hammered” surface that sold for $5635.

Some of the newer glass also did well including works by Charles Lotton. A Lotton sunset Multi-Flora double-cased bowl-shaped vase made in 1987, 6½" high x 12" diameter, sold for $3795, and a seldom-seen Multi-Flora floor lamp from 1993 brought $3450.

“The contemporary glass, which we had a lot of, I was rather pleased with how that worked. It almost all sold,” said Humler. “I think the sale before that one, contemporary glass seemed to be a little off. It picked up again.” Taken as a whole, the auction did well. “I think it was maybe the best sale we’ve had since the recession or whatever you call it we’re in,” Humler noted.

Next up for Humler & Nolan is the annual holiday sale, which has been moved forward in the calendar to November 9 and 10. The firm is back in old haunts on the fourth floor of 225 E. Sixth St. in Cincinnati, where it conducted business from 1999 until 2010.

For more information, phone Humler & Nolan at (513) 381-2041 or visit (

 This 9¾" Tiffany Studios damascene and bronze desk lamp with a melon green shade and marked “L.C.T.” and “Tiffany Studios, New York” on its base remained in excellent condition. It brought $8625.

Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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