Cuttlestones announce auction of collection relating to life and works of Minton’s pate-sur-pate master Alboin Birks

In the early 20th Century, Alboin Birks (1860 – 1940) was one of the foremost figures in North Staffordshire’s pottery industry, renowned for his work on Minton’s delicate pâte-sur-pâte porcelain. Now, a unique collection that includes significant pieces of Birk’s work for Minton alongside personal letters, photographs and ephemera charting his life is set to sell at West Midlands Auction House Cuttlestones’ Friday 14th September Fine Art and Antiques Sale.

One of the Alboin Works on offer at Cuttlestones

Pâte-sur-pâte, a French term meaning ‘paste on paste’, was pioneered in 1850s at France’s Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres; initially an accident, the technique was perfected by Marc-Louis Solon, who would become known as the master of the craft. The translucent, almost ethereal effect is produced by a relief design being created on an unfired, unglazed body through the application of successive layers of white slip with a brush.

Solon fled France in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war, and settled in England where he was soon employed by Mintons Ltd in Stoke-on-Trent; keen to capitalise on Solon’s expertise in this popular decorative art. Minton’s gamble paid off and the factory became the biggest producer of pâte-sur-pâte porcelain, with Alboin Birks one of Solon’s most talented apprentices. Birks’ legacy is a hugely collectable range of Minton pâte-sur-pâte pieces, the majority of which carry his signature ‘AB’ alongside the Mintons’ factory mark.

Sixteen lots, which have been consigned for sale by Birks’ descendents, were part of his private collection and include examples of his finest pâte-sur-pâte work for Minton along with photographs of Alboin, some pencil sketches believed to be self-portraits and a drawing of a classical head; all of which showcase his considerable artistic talent.

Perhaps the most interesting of the Minton pâte-sur-pâte pieces is a ‘Le Collier’ cabinet plate, circa 1913, decorated by Birks himself with figures of Venus and Cupid on a blue background with ivory and gilt borders and a pierced rim. Apparently, when King George V visited the Minton factory in 1913 it is noted that he admired this plate greatly and hinted that he would like it for his wife. Alboin advised that he was, in fact, making it for his own wife and the King declared he must then, of course, pass it to her. This lot carries an estimate of £300-500.

Other highlights include a chocolate brown Minton pâte-sur-pâte cabinet plate, circa 1900, with gilt and ivory accents, featuring a seated putto holding a heart in one hand with a string of hearts in the other and signed A.Birks; estimated to achieve £200-400. A circular plaque with a seated putto holding a hammer and chisel sculpting the profile of a mythological warrior, on a green ground, signed A.Birks and framed, is expected to fetch £100-200.

It has been far harder, however, to put a guide price on the collection of personal effects which include ephemera, photographs, medallions and pictures relating to Alboin Birks and members of his family that form another lot. Comprising photographs of Alboin and his wife Elizabeth, a selection of original unframed watercolours and drawings mainly of flowers, landscapes and children alongside various ephemera relating to his work at Minton that include newspaper cuttings, brochures and sketch books, this is a totally unique opportunity.

Auctioneer Ben Gamble says:

“Being based so close to the potteries, we get our fair share of quality ceramics – however, to have a collection that is so personal to one of Stoke-on-Trent’s most prolific pottery artists is very rare indeed. Not only will these lots appeal to collectors of Birks’ work, but also to those with an interest in the pottery industry and Staffordshire in general. Serious Birks collectors will no doubt be very interested in the personal effects as this represents a one-off opportunity to add something truly unique to their collection.”

The collection has will go under the hammer at Cuttlestones’ 14th September Fine Art and Antiques Auction in Penkridge. The full catalogue will be available from Friday, 7th September online at www.cuttlestones.co.uk and viewing will be on Thursday, 13th September from 10am – 7pm. Live internet bidding via www.the-saleroom.com alongside telephone and commission bidding options will open the field to an International audience.

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