The obvious star of this sale was this monumental four-handle storage jar. Few such large vessels were made because of the skill required. Thomas Chandler boldly incised his mark just below one of the lug handles. Early decoration is of dark iron clay slip and includes loopy swags tied to bull’s eyes between each handle. It brought $43,450.
Early or unusual works by established potters sometimes encourage aggressive bidding. In spite of significant condition problems (one ear missing), this early B.B. Craig face jug with fang-like china teeth and crushed glass glaze more than doubled the high estimate and brought $935.
The Meaders family celebrated a century of potting in November 1992. A number of centennial pieces were made by various members of the family. This Edwin Meaders face jug is smaller than usual and utilizes light clay for eyes. A strong $4620 far exceeded catalog estimates.
Billy Ray Hussey, a North Carolina potter and director of the society, is known for his sculptural works. This frog figure reached $275, nearly doubling the presale estimate. Black glaze highlights the details.
This mammoth four-handle storage jar is one from a “mystery” potter. Although the jar is clearly marked “JCM,” no potter is known by those initials. In form and size it is identical to works by Daniel Seagle, but none of his known workers or apprentices had these initials. Twenty-two years of society research and sales have recorded only eight with these initials, and only two of this form. A buyer paid $31,350 for this rarity!
Some of the earliest southern stoneware was produced in the Edgefield area of South Carolina. A number of legendary potters worked in this region, including Thomas Chandler. Some of the finest decorated Edgefield stoneware was produced at the Phoenix Factory. This two-color alkaline-glazed pitcher is decorated with dark brown clay swags. Although unsigned, the pitcher has all the essential style elements that establish Thomas Chandler as the potter while he was at Phoenix from 1840 to 1842. It sold for $12,650.
Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society, Bennett, North Carolina
Photos courtesy Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society
Folk art—especially folk pottery—has seen cautious sales for the last few years. High-end well-established artists are retaining value, with an occasional record price both at auctions and through direct sales. Experienced collectors are buying fewer examples, and newer participants, or those with limited means, are seeking out bargains of better material or more recent and less expensive works.
The Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society 38th absentee auction, October 17-November 10, 2012, exhibited this buying pattern. An unusually high number of lots (14%, or 62 of 450) drew no bids. (The society establishes minimum start bids for all lots.) While a few of these had condition problems, most did not.
Billy Ray Hussey, who executes the auction, commented about another dynamic that seems to be a growing presence in these sales. Although he operates the sale as an absentee sale, Hussey actually speaks with every bidder. In the last few years he has found more middle-aged bidders who are new to both collecting and pottery. Many are disillusioned with other holdings. They are fascinated by both history and handmade objects. Folk pottery provides both in a form that can be part of their everyday environment.
Hussey ends these sales in a lot-by-lot “last man standing” approach. Although there is a published end date, Hussey will contact the last bidders on almost any lot until only one remains. The new bidders described above take full advantage of this call-back method to ask many questions. The end result is an expanding well-informed bidder base.
This sale was a little different than most in that it began with 54 lots from a single collection, the Benny Carter collection. American folk artist Benny Carter is generally known for his painted images of New York City. Colorful scenes, usually with a fleet of yellow taxis, are frequently seen at Slotin Folk Art auctions and in many folk art galleries.
Following the Carter collection was the usual format of state-by-state offerings. Seven Alabama examples were offered, primarily utilitarian forms with no rarities. The seven Florida lots, all essentially art pottery, had almost no interest, with only one selling at the minimum bid of $55 (with buyer’s premium).
Eighty lots from Georgia, a state with a rich ceramics history, included examples from eight members, three generations, of Meaders, Bill and D.X. (Dorris Xerxes) Gordy, Marie Rogers, Hewell, and a few earlier potters.
As usual, works by Lanier Meaders brought strong interest and bids. Prices ranged from $99 to $2970 for a rock tooth face jug with smooth stone eyes. Lanier is known primarily for his face jugs. This sale also included a two-handled signed churn that stirred up a $770 price. Other Lanier items included handled mugs, a stacker jug, hanging planters, and a vase.
Just as Lanier is known for face jugs, his brother Edwin is known for his pedestal roosters. An olive and gray example brought $1595; a blue feldspathic glazed bird, $2860; and a Chinese red, $3850.
A pair of D.X. Gordy figural owls was the only example of his work in this sale. At $880 the pair met presale estimates. The only Marie Rogers lot to draw strong bids was her small (2½") devil face jug with snake that brought $770.
A number of potters and potteries produce figural examples. Perhaps the most unusual were three lots of catfish formed by Charles Moore at the Jugtown Pottery. A group of three fish brought $66, and the other single fish lot reached $33. A Walter Auman catfish from the Seagrove pottery, signed “WA Seagrove,” sold for $77.
Scattered throughout the sale were historically important examples. From Kentucky a mid-19th-century salt-glaze jug by Isaac Thomas, signed “I Thomas” and with a “3” (gallons) capacity mark, reached a strong $2310.
Potters from the Edgefield area of South Carolina moved to Georgia’s Washington County as early as 1810. A very large—six- to seven-gallon—two-handle jug, dated around 1849, sold for $1045, even with one handle missing! Another early example with a portion of its handle missing was an early 1800’s cobalt washed jug that did not sell.
Early 19th-century Edgefield pieces believed to be from the Landrum shop included a medicine jar for $660; a two-handle storage jar for $1265; and a one-handle jug for $3080; all were probably slave-made. Three pots attributed to Dave “the Slave” Drake included two two-handle storage jars and a one-handle jug. These reached $1320, $1375, and $1045 respectively.
Unusual forms also were available. An Albany slip-glazed foot warmer from Brown’s Pottery in Arden, North Carolina, brought $412.50. This piece basically looks like a jug on its side with a spout for hot water. The first known of Lanier Meaders’ signed hanging planter bowls were offered. Two lots with two bowls each reached $357.50 and $247.50. Perhaps the most unusual form was a brown and rust-colored lead glazed bed pan. With no markings, and as the first noted by the society, it reached $143, well over the catalog high estimate.
Poultry-related items show up from time to time. Often these were the actual commercial products of the business with decorated, figural, or other forms representing the avocation of the workers. An unglazed North Carolina chick feeder drew a $55 bid. Another commercial product, an Albany slip-decorated cuspidor, sold for $192.50. A pumpkin color glazed strainer found near Augusta, Georgia, brought $49.50.
Many collectors focus on items that are an artistic expression, and this frequently will include the utilitarian objects that underlie the entire genre. The most basic product of fired clay is the building brick. This sale was the third society sale to include a group of marked bricks. Most bricks produced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were marked in some fashion by their makers, usually with company and location. Sixteen different examples in this sale brought bids ranging from $22 to $275 for an 1895-dated Virginia brick. Dated examples are extremely rare.
There are brick collectors’ groups that provide information about this growing special interest area. The International Brick Collectors Association (IBCA) has an informative Web page (www.ibcabrick.com) and publishes a journal three times a year for members (membership is only $15 per year). They do not buy or sell bricks but do swaps and gifts. They may be reached by e-mail at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or by phone at (307) 587-5061. Other commercial sources may be found on line as well.
All society sales are well documented. This one included over 150 references to books, exhibition catalogs, and academic papers. Every auction also includes books, catalogs, and other reference materials that a collector might want. Fifty-four lots of these materials were offered. A Christie’s 1999 auction catalog for the John Gordon collection of folk Americana reached $132.
The society sale catalogs are valuable as references to anyone collecting southern pottery. To request upcoming catalogs or to order previous catalogs, please contact Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society, 220 Washington Street, Bennett, North Carolina 27208, phone (336) 581-4246, email <email@example.com>, or Web site (www.southernfolkpotterysociety.com).
Clearly impressed with the mark “Chandler Maker,” this preserve jar features black iron slip looping swags. This is the first and only validated signed preserve jar, and it sold for $5170.
A highly unusual swirl ware vase from the E.A. Hilton shop brought $1100. The swirl pattern is formed by an applied cobalt glaze over the cream background. A clear crushed glass overglaze creates a brilliant finish. It’s from the 1940’s and is only the second like it offered.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest