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Two Decades of Southern Pottery Society Sales

Marty Steiner | November 9th, 2013


“Huge” is the first impression of this 15-gallon storage jar with four lug handles and signed “J C M.” Known to be the work of Daniel Seagle, for resale by John Conrad Michal’s mercantile business, it is only the third known pot with this marking. It topped the prices realized list, bringing $20,350.


One of five Lanier Meaders face jugs offered, this early example has a number of unusual features for a Lanier jug. These include deep gouged eye sockets containing clay eyeballs, incised eyelashes, piercings for the eyebrows, protruding lips with no teeth, and deeply incised shoulder grooving. At $6325, this jug more than doubled expectations.


The classic early 19th-century Catawba Valley potter Daniel Seagle produced large alkaline-glazed utilitarian wares noted for strong construction and fine glazes. The fact that many signed examples, such as this one, survive in excellent condition is testimony to his work. In an unusual six-gallon capacity, the double lug-handle storage jar sold for $7975.


Potter Thomas Ritchie, a neighbor of Daniel Seagle, produced forms similar to Seagle’s. Many unsigned examples are attributed based on form, glaze, and decorative work. This double lug-handle storage jar features a telltale Ritchie sine wave inscribed on the shoulder line. Outstanding glass runs brought the price to $6325, well over expectations.


North Carolina potter Harvey Ford Reinhardt produced face jugs just prior to World War II. This signed example features the first and only known jug with a goatee. Featuring a double row of china plate teeth, abrupt mustache, heavy eyebrows, and clay eyes, it reached only $7425, probably because of minor condition problems.


Redware pottery has a Germanic origin with potters first in Pennsylvania, then Virginia, and eventually the Piedmont area of North Carolina. This redware chicken figural form has survived more than two centuries as a utilitarian kitchen shaker! From the Salem (Winston-Salem) area, it brought a strong $15,400.


Society sales always offer a strong selection of salt-glaze pots, primarily from North Carolina. Many are commemorative pots, apparently a regional tradition. This two-handle jug bears a strong John Paschal Marable signature, incised five-gallon capacity mark, and the name “Moffit,” the honoree of the celebration. It tripled expectations to bring $7425.


Society sales are among the few that offer the very earliest of southern pottery. This exceedingly large marked ten-gallon two-handle salt-glaze storage jar with impressive ash runs bears a strong impressed “S. LOY” signature. This is the first signed Loy pot offered, and $10,175 was paid for this rarity.

Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society, Bennett, North Carolina

Photos courtesy Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society

In January 1993 the Southern Folk Pottery Collectors Society issued its first absentee sale catalog. The society, then located in Robbins, North Carolina, offered 530 lots of pottery from the collections of Kate and Ralph Rinzler of Washington, D.C., and Nancy Sweezy of Arlington, Massachusetts. Ralph Rinzler had been with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, working on southern music projects, when he first was exposed to southern folk pottery. He co-authored the book The Meaders Family: North Georgia Potters (1980). Nancy Sweezy wrote the book Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition (1984) and operated a folk craft shop. The shop had acquired the Busbees’ Jugtown and its collection and was responsible for the revival of Jugtown.

This first catalog was all black-and-white and incorporated many of the society’s now standard catalog practices such as providing minimum bids as well as low and high estimates.

Now, with its 40th sale completed, the society has begun its third decade of absentee sales. The most current catalog features an all-color cover, 398 lots, 158 references, and, for the first time, a CD containing the entire catalog.

Other changes have occurred over the years. Prices realized for the first sale, which closed on March 31, 1993, ranged from $20 to $3700, plus 10% buyers’ premiums. Prices realized for sale number 40 ranged from $16.50 to $20,350 but still retain the 10% buyers’ premiums.

In the 40 sales that have been held an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 lots of pottery have been sold, which probably included nearly 20,000 total individual pieces.

Society catalogs are somewhat unusual. Rather than minimal descriptions that seem to assume that bidders know (or should know) about the material, society catalogs teach and convey knowledge. Society spokesman Billy Ray Hussey offered that unlike many commercial sales “we are selling history and an appreciation of the skills and work in a piece, not just a piece of pottery.” Lot descriptions make that point by frequently building on family genealogies and personal interviews. With frequent references to prior society catalogs, there is a presumption that a bidder has those at hand. Hussey explained that a significant portion of active bidders have been involved in these sales for many years and do have these references.

The society has noted, however, that there is a slow but steady growth in the bidder population with individuals who have sought refuge from other traditional investments. Many of these new bidders first came seeking investment but have come to appreciate the objects for the skills and work involved in their creation.

This sale showed a resurgence of the middle price range material. There had been a softness noted in prior sales as uncertain financial times seemed to move bidders to not bid or to bid on more entry- level material.

As always, there was a wide selection of reference books, exhibition publications, and auction catalogs. These 36 lots  included a lot with two academic works about David Drake, aka Dave the Slave, one of these by the recently deceased Jill Koverman, the most knowledgeable person about Dave’s work. That lot of two books brought $132. The most expensive book lot, at $192.50, included a 2001 McKissick Museum Making Faces southern face jug exhibition catalog by Koverman, paired with a 2006 Ceramics in America. A 1988 first edition of Redware: America’s Folk Art Pottery by Kevin McConnell brought only $16.50, and five book lots did not sell.

Other non-pottery lots primarily included material from pottery consignors that reflect their breadth of interest. These included two 19th-century samplers, three lots of country baskets, and two Chitmacha tribe (Louisiana) baskets. Twelve lots of two-dimensional American folk art were by significant artists including Clementine Hunter, Mose Tolliver, Rev. Howard Finster, B.F. Perkins, R.A. Miller, Mary Greene, and Benny Carter. Prices were somewhat soft, which is not unusual for items in a sale with a different primary focus. 

Pedestal roosters seem to be executed by a number of accomplished potters. For some it became a standard form, and for others only a few were ever produced. Marie Rogers (1922-2010) produced fewer than a handful. One brought the minimum bid of $88, perhaps because the piece was out of character for her work. The Edwin Meaders olive-colored alkaline example did much better, bringing $1485. Other examples included a 2001 Ruby Meaders blue feldspathic version for only $110, and a somewhat lean example by David Meaders at $220. A Billy Henson (South Carolina) version reached $495.

Figural or sculptural examples were scattered throughout the sale. Georgia’s John Meaders combined a figural form with a bowl, creating a double chicken head bowl that was reminiscent of creations of his mother, Arie. It sold for $220. Reggie Meaders produced a small number of boars. His foot-long version reached $440. The only figural known by Melvin Lee Owens was a somewhat crude unglazed seated dog. Someone paid $275 to take this sad dog home.

Billy Ray Hussey is also known for figurals. This sale included a lead glaze elephant for $770; a charging elephant, $440; a lion, $770; a bear with birds on its back, $412.50; a boar, $275; a man on a horse, $605; and a woman with cat, $440. The work of Charles Moore took on an Asian and Oriental style. He produced an elephant with a pot strapped on his back that brought $220 and a Tang Dynasty-style prancing horse that sold for $247.50.

The society sales are known for the early utilitarian wares. These represent the best craftsmanship from all across the South, and occasionally elsewhere. Examples of these early works in this sale include a signed Nicholas Fox salt-glaze jug dating 1840-50 that sold for $2310 and a Solomon Loy (attributed) decorated salt-glaze storage jar that sold for $1980. Early South Carolina potters represented in this sale included the Craven family, Landrum family, Collin Rhodes, and Thomas Chandler.

Examples of Craven work included a one-handle jug, impressed “WN CRAVEN 1851,” that brought $2860; an attributed (based on decoration) T.W. Craven preserve jar, $3300; a signed T.G. Craven preserve jar, $2530; a signed E.S. Craven two-handle preserve crock, $247.50; and three signed J.D. Craven pieces that ranged from $550 for a salt-glazed two-handle storage jar to $935 for a tall one-handle jug.

The Landrum family is known to have produced alkaline glaze pottery in the Edgefield area of South Carolina as early as 1810. Examples in this sale included an attributed Rev. John Landrum storage pot that brought $1155; an attributed Abner Landrum shop (slave-made) storage jar, $1430; and an attributed B.F. Landrum shop (slave-made) one-handle jug, $1155.

The single pot attributed to Dave Drake (Dave the slave) was a two-handle storage jar with correct Lewis Miles “LM” markings and telltale capacity piercings. This pot brought a respectable $3520.

There were no records set and no six-digit sales here, just respectable winning bids for outstanding southern folk pottery and related material.

The society usually holds two sales a year. The 41st sale will be held sometime in the spring. For information about that sale or about the society, visit the Web site at (www.southernfolkpotterysociety.com) or call (336) 581-4246.


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

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