Redware Sets Records In Pook & Pook Sale

Among the tens of thousands of pieces of redware created in the mid-Atlantic region during the late 18th- to mid 19th-centuries, a limited number of them bear the slip decoration now desired by collectors and even fewer are found with the rarest sgrafitto decoration. Potters were generally creating plates, loaf dishes, crocks, and jars for primarily utilitarian purposes. As such, it is no great surprise that American pieces with these ornate, originally European, sgrafitto designs, command the highest dollar from redware collectors.

Proving the point, on Friday, January 11, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, auction house, Pook & Pook, Incorporated, set a new auction record of $351,000 (includes the 17 percent buyers’ premium) for an exceptional sgrafitto plate attributed to George Hubener, one of the most renowned of the identified potters. Early in the day at lot 143, the Montgomery County, Limerick Township, Pennsylvania, sgraffito redware dish dated 1785 crossed the auction block. Descended in the family of pioneer collector, Arthur Sussel, the plate was adorned with a three tulip vine and floral pinwheels. The 12 1/4-inch diameter plate also had an inscribed border, which was translated for Pook & Pook by retired Lutheran minister and Pennsylvania-German historian, Reverend Frederick S. Weiser, to read “If it weren’t for the boys and the roosters, then cradles and hen houses would be empty.” The wonderfully bawdy verse was just a bonus to the vibrant surface with a yellow and green glaze over the deep toned earthenware body, and the pristine condition as the plate had only sustained only a few small flakes over its 222 years.

Estimated at $50,000 to $70,000, Pook & Pook auctioneer, Kellie Seltzer, opened up bidding in the saleroom at $40,000 and guided a lone phone bidder and multiple bidders in the salesroom through 31 bid increments to end at a final hammer price of $300,000. American folk art dealer, David Wheatcroft of Westborough, Massachusetts, who was bidding in the room, was the eventual winner to the hushed exclamations of the audience. The sales price of the Hubener plate more than triples the previous auction record for a sprafitto plate, which had lasted only nine months and was also held by Pook & Pook. In April 2007, Pook & Pook handled the landmark Americana collection of Dr. and Mrs. Donald A. Shelley. It was the Shelleys’ Bucks County, Pennsylvania, earthenware charger attributed to Isaac Stout, bearing the date 1790 and central decoration with a leaping stag, flanked by tree, flowering vine, and fence which then sold to a collector in the salesroom for $111,150. When asked post-auction about the results and Wheatcroft’s monumental purchase, a collector from Pennsylvania stated “Things have sure changed. Ten and twenty years ago, no one would have dreamed of 6-figure redware sales. The big collectors and dealers keep pushing the spending ceiling for the truly amazing pieces higher and higher”.

The sale offered a broad range of very strong prices. The 708-lot sale was 96 percent sold by lot and produced a total revenue of $2,747,326 with over 1,400 registered bidders both in-house and via the Internet. Obviously, buyers were ready to get back to business after the holidays and Pook & Pook provided the perfect venue. Company president Debra Pook noted that with the recent decline in the stock market “people were again recognizing the value of investing their money in tangible objects which can be viewed and enjoyed on a daily basis”.

While items from the Sussel Collection were certainly not the only significant results, there were several additional prices of note among the items descending in the family of the pioneer collector. A Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, sgraffito redware dish by Samuel Troxel, dated 1828, with central spread winged eagle, a banner inscribed “Liberty,” and a potted tulip vine sold for $70,200 (estimate $30,000 to $40,000). A Bucks County, Haycock Township, Pennsylvania, sgraffito decorated redware plate, attributed to Conrad Mumbouer, circa 1815, was adorned with tulip vine and stylized floral pinwheel decoration and sold for an outstanding $76,050. A Pennsylvania redware covered sugar dated 1798 and inscribed “Zucker est der frauen fraund” (Translation “Sugar is the Female’s Friend) and a appliqué quilt dated 1846 and signed “Mary Ogier” with 16 calico floral sprays within a sawtooth and trapunto border each hammered down at $9,360.

For those bidders interested in more formal items, both the estates of Oliver Ireton Shoemaker of Media, Pennsylvania, and of Anne Brossman Sweigart of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, achieved impressive results. Anne Brossman Sweigart, who passed away February 2007, had been voted the eighth greatest resident of the century by her area newspaper and had amassed a tremendous collection both in scope and in size. The highlights of her estate consisted of a very rare T.G. Hawkes and Company clear glass goblet engraved with historical scenes by William H. Morse (price $70,200) and a five-piece Chinese export garniture set (price $25,740). Other decorative accessories of note included a saffron cup by John Lehn for $7,605, a Staffordshire red transfer assembled dinner service in the Palestine pattern for $7,020, a rare cut class coffeepot for $7,605, and a Hawkes and Company engraved and cut glass marriage pitcher for $7,020.

The consignment from the Shoemaker estate revealed the family’s rich and deep Philadelphia history with many items descending through the family from 19th-century sea captain, George Robinson, and three-time Colonial Philadelphia mayor, Benjamin Shoemaker. An oil on canvas of the Philadelphia ship, Electra, off the white cliffs of Dover by British artist, Miles Walters, was offered. With two views of the ship showing both the starboard and the stern, the 20-inch by 34-inch canvas easily sailed to a final price of $35,100. A 10-inch high Liverpool pitcher bearing the monogram of Captain Robinson made $5,382. A Persian illuminated manuscript with hand decorated boards and 20 color, hand-painted miniatures illustrating the 170-page narrative garnered a top price of $11,115.

An early 19th-century American coin silver presentation bowl with repeating ship decoration on the footed base was inscribed “Presented to Capt. George Robinson by the Cabin Passengers of the Ship Cambria on her first Voyage from London to Philadelphia August 29th 1826” (price $1,872). Illustrating that rarity often trumps condition, a pair of early 19th-century Chinese export porcelain bough pots, each decorated with a large portrait of an American ship and bearing the monogram of Captain George A. Robinson, brought $16,380 despite some significant losses. Although it was not from the Shoemaker estate, a collection of 18 sketch books dating from 1866-1896 and containing over 1,200 watercolor drawings by Henry Duncan Grant (British, 1834-1896) demonstrated the continuing interest in things nautical. The watercolors were completed by Grant while serving as a Royal Navy officer traveling abroad to locals including Brazil, India, Greece, St. Thomas, Jamaica, Azores, Argentina, Northwest United States, Newfoundland, and British Isles. Depicting a wealth of detailed port cities, types of fish caught, portraits of ships, and more, the detailed set brought $32,760 from a phone bidder.

The second highest priced lot in the sale was a pair of New England oil on panel folk portraits from the late 18th century. Depicting a husband and wife in appropriate costume, the portraits were hotly contested as auctioneer James Pook accepted bids from phone bidders, floor bidders, and dealer David Wheatcroft, who ultimately won the lot for $128,700. Phone bidders did turn their luck around with the selection of painted Pennsylvania boxes offered. A Pennsylvania collector bidding by phone took the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, painted popular dresser box by the Compass Artist within estimate at $64,350. Another Pennsylvania collector bought the painted pine slide lid candlebox, inscribed on lid “Johannes Stauffer Anno 1797, John Drissel, his hand” for $49,140. Another small, but vibrant Pennsylvania painted poplar box decorated with tulips on a blue ground made $25,740.

Folk art faired very well in general. A lot comprised of a New England hearth rug central basket of flowers within a vine border, together with a smaller sewn rug with central red panel and shirred wool surround sold for an outstanding $28,080. A 6-inch high Pennsylvania carved and painted bird on perch retaining its original vibrant yellow, red, and green decoration realized $17,550. A Southeastern Pennsylvania watercolor fraktur from the early 19th-century depicting two mermaids above a pond with fish, flanked by tulip vines sold for $19,890. Three miniature painted pine dresser boxes by Jacob Weber fetched $21,060, $4,914, and $11,950. A collection of 10 carved animals by Joseph Gregory, who arrived in American via Ellis Island in 1903, was a surprise highlight of this category as well. Created with the help of his children who would gather used packing cases, old furniture, animal hair from barns, and more, Gregory fashioned turkey, roosters, horses and the like. While the artist did sell his work during his lifetime to support his family, the prices achieved during this auction session would have likely astounded him. Only two lots sold for under $1,000, with the two roosters realizing $9,360 and $4,680, the lioness reaching $5,382, and a turkey making $7,020.

A Pennsylvania painted pine and poplar tall post bed dating to the mid-18th century was an interesting crossover item. With traditional Chippendale ball and claw front feet and bottle turned rear legs with diamond headboard, the bed retained an early 19th-century red and black grained surface, attracting many bidders favoring both the formal and the painted before selling for $39,780. A York County, Pennsylvania, walnut schrank deaccessioned from the Carnegie Museum of Art was distinguished by its double broken arch pediment, raised panel doors, and fluted pilasters. Although the schrank had at some point sustained some fire damage and lost both the upper sides and back to the case, it realized $37,440. Another Pennsylvania walnut schrank dated 1762 with applies astragal panels, molded pilasters, and bun feet sold for $19,890. The assortment of tavern tables at this sale astounded many bidders. With 10 examples alone from a single Minnesota collection plus the balance of the tavern tables from which to choose, no one should have left without one. A New England painted tavern table, circa 1770, with an oval top and splayed legs, retained a green over red surface and sold for $5,382.

With several selling in the $2,000 to $3,500 range, a standout emerged from the group in the form of a late 18th-century New England painted tavern table with rectangular tray top, baluster turned legs, box stretcher, and an old black surface (price $16,380). A 15-inch high New England Queen Anne painted pine courting mirror retaining an early Spanish brown surface from the same collection sold for $5,148.

With 18 tall case clocks of both American and European origin offered during the sale, the most striking example was a Chester County, Pennsylvania, Chippendale walnut tall case clock with an 8-day silvered dial, inscribed “Isaac Thomas Willistown,” which sold for $42,120. Another important clock offered was a Norristown, Pennsylvania, mahogany shelf clock dating to circa 1835. The broken arch bonnet and 8-day works with painted face signed “J.D. Custer Norristown Patent” drove the 39-inch high clock to a price of $30,420.

Historically, a delftware blue and white tin glazed plate dated 1738 offered during the auction session carried a most interesting story. This plate was one of a small number of services made for a group of Chester County, Pennsylvania Quakers and ordered from England. According to Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition catalog, (Wordly Goods), at the time it was made the plate represented the growing “desire for stylish imported goods” by the Quaker farming families. This plate was most likely made for William and Elizabeth Levis, (William Levis, 1688-1747), (Elizabeth Reed Levis, 1720-1773). With the wonderful history and one-time inclusion in the collection of Titus Geesey, the plate flew to a price of $32,760.

Rounding out the sale was a South Carolina Federal mahogany sideboard, probably from Wilmington, with an inlaid case supported by line and star inlaid square tapering legs terminating in banded cuffs. Selling for $23,400, a nearly identical example is pictured in Bivins, (The Furniture of Coastal North Carolina), plate 7.40 and 7.40a. A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, silk on linen sampler dated 1819, wrought by Sarah Doughtery at Mrs. Leah Meguier’s school was embellished with a large central scene of a young man and woman and a blocked border with vignettes of eagle, moon, young children, etc. With seven phone lines reserved, the sampler price was a dazzling $49,140. A rare Dutch locket with 8 miniature portraits of a family from the 17th century was won for $12,870.

Among the American Indian items sold, a 33-inch high Northwest coast carved and painted totem, circa 1900 made $7,605, which was the identical price achieved for a lot of two smaller 13-inch to 14-inch Northwest coast carved and painted totem poles. While some say spatter has already hit its peak, a blue spatter cup and saucer with spotted bird motif still captured the attention of serious bidders, selling for $12,870. Several music boxes commanded strong prices as well with a Swiss Allard-Sandoz orchestral music box, circa 1870, standing out thanks to the 7 engine-turned bells, drum, castanets, and double comb encased in an ebonized and burled walnut case resting on a matching table with single drawer containing 6 cylinders. The Allard-Sandoz example as well as a Mermod Freres Ideal Soprano cylinder music box each brought $14,040. A Regina disc music box with a mahogany case and stand, together with 73 discs realized $6,710.

For further information on Pook & Pook, Inc.’s upcoming sales schedule, call (610) 269-4040 or visit the web site at