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Solomon Bell Cats Bring $73,000

M.A.D. staff | May 12th, 2013

Earthenware cats with lead and manganese glaze. “These are probably the best example of Strasburg, Virginia, redware figures that have ever been offered or sold in public,” the buyer told us. Photo courtesy Burt Long.

A pair of redware cats made by Strasburg, Virginia, potter Solomon Bell sold for $73,000 (no buyer’s premium charged) at Headley’s Auctions in Berryville, Virginia, on April 11. The buyer was collector and dealer Burt Long of New Market, Virginia; the underbidder was on the phone.

“I bought them for my own collection, but I always might sell them; you never know,” Long said.

The price sets a new auction record for Solomon Bell, and the pair set a new record for a lot of Strasburg pottery. (A single face jug attributed to Solomon’s brother, Samuel Bell, brought $63,250 at Crocker Farm on March 3, 2012.)

The cats are well known; they appear in William E. Wiltshire’s FolkPottery of the Shenandoah Valley and H.E. Comstock’s The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region. ( Wiltshire, whose book was published in 1975, attributed the cats to Samuel Bell. By the time Comstock’s book was published in 1994, the attribution had changed to Solomon.)

“They are a fantastic pair,” said Mark Zipp of Crocker Farm. “I’ve loved those cats for years.” Since 2005, the pair had been on exhibit at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia. The Winchester Star reported that the Headley family had owned them since the 1920’s. Joe Headley Jr. told the newspaper that his great-grandfather Boyd Sr. acquired them, and they were passed first to his son, Boyd Jr., and then to daughter-in-law, Glynnell, who died in October at the age of 90. Glynnell is the mother of auctioneer Joe Headley Sr.

“The cats are modeled as a female and a male,” according to Long. The male has a tiny chip on the tip of each ear and a small chip on the side of the base. The female is in “perfect condition,” said Long, who thinks the pair was made 1860-70. Bell, born in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1817, moved to Strasburg, Virginia, in 1845 and died in 1882.

The cats are 6¼" high each. “They are the large size. Most of the Strasburg figural animals are three to four inches tall. There are a couple of other cats known by Solomon Bell, but they are smaller and not nearly as detailed…These have great stamped decoration on the base,” said Long.

This is not the first time the Headleys and Longs have been involved in a major pottery sale. In 1967, Headley’s Auctions sold an Anthony Baecher redware goat to Long’s father, Benny Long, an advisor and agent for Dr. Henry Deyerle of Charlottesville, Virginia. At Sotheby’s Deyerle sale in 1995, the goat sold for $82,250 to collector Ralph Esmerian, who donated it to the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. The goat will not be on the market anytime soon; it’s on the list of gifts the museum intends to keep in the Esmerian bankruptcy case (see M.A.D., February 2013, p. 11-A.)

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

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