AS the most prolific of the 18th century English porcelain-producing factories, there is plenty of scope when it comes to collecting Worcester porcelain. There are few collectors, however, who can match the determination of Jeanne and Milton Zorensky.
Back in 1971 the couple embarked on a quest to build up the most
comprehensive possible collection of the factory's First Period
wares. Thirty-odd years, over 1400 pieces and many thousands of
dollars later they had achieved their goal and had published a
major reference work devoted to their collection into the
bargain, Worcester Porcelain 1751-1790: The Zorensky
The fruits of their labours are housed in their St Louis
apartment in large cabinets where they are grouped by Jeanne
Zorensky according to colour rather than chronology. But with both
the Zorenskys in advancing years and their interest and knowledge
of Worcester not shared by their children, the couple decided that
it was time to think about dispersing the fruits of their 33- year
Dispersing a collection of this size is no easy task.
True, Worcester collectors are more numerous than those of other
less prolific concerns but, even so, finding buyers without
swamping the market could be difficult, especially when one adds
other factors into the mix. The Zorenskys' desire for
comprehensiveness meant a) that damaged pieces were incorporated
where no perfect example could be obtained; b) that the collection
also contained representative examples of the factory's standard
fare; and c) that it featured material that did not come from the
voguishly early years of factory production. In short, once the
collection was divided up for sale, how would the market respond to
damaged, unfashionable or frankly ordinary pieces?
Evidently this was a dispersal that would need a careful sales
Above: Milton and Jeanne Zorensky with some of their
renowned Worcester collection.
The Zorenskys took their collection to
Bonhams - or more specifically to John
Sandon, who co-authored with Simon Spero the Antique Collectors'
Club book on their collection. This wasn't their only reason for
choosing the firm.
The auctioneers also have a particularly good track record with
major single-owner dispersals (vide the Watney,
Stretton, Pinewood and Paine collections to name the most recent
The flooding-the-market problem was countered by dividing the
collection into three tranches, each containing a similar cross
section of material with considerable time left between the sale of
each (the precise date of part two has yet to be determined but is
unlikely to be before this time next year).
Finding enough buyers for the quantities of less fashionable or
more ordinary fare that was of limited appeal to the trade needed a
different approach. Short of finding a buyer who wished to
duplicate the Zorenskys' comprehensive objective, Bonhams needed an
influx of novice Worcester fanciers keen to start collecting.
Their promotional strategy was to make a feature of the very
affordable nature of this material while also stressing the
attractions of buying from a published provenance: "Collectors will
be able to bid for porcelain with a world-class provenance with
prices to suit every pocket. It will.... be possible to buy special
pieces... that have been illustrated in one of the most important
reference books, for as little as £100 or £150" was John Sandon's
As to the damage, market reaction to this was harder to predict,
especially given that Bonhams themselves had only recently sold
much well-preserved rare Worcester from Billie Paine's collection.
One solution was to estimate very realistically and to allow some
discretion with reserves.
A good view with plenty of pre-sale interest augured well for
the auctioneers as did the turnout on the day with a full room. The
final results confirmed the success of their campaign - just five
of the 416 lots remained unsold (and all of those found homes
immediately afterwards) for a total of around £500,000. Looking to
the buying breakdown, there was relatively little telephone input,
with most of the competition in the room, a sign, perhaps, that the
strength of sterling was making Americans rein in their spending
Nonetheless, the spread of buyers was also impressive. There
were no fewer than 103 different purchasers, less than 20 of whom
were dealers, so an unusually high proportion of buying came from
collectors. And judging by the faces in the room that were
unfamiliar to many of the 'regulars', some of those hoped-for new
buyers appear to have emerged. Some of the Zorenskys' family
attended the sale and they seemed pleased with the outcome with
their son Mark observing at the halfway mark that the sale was
progressing along the lines that his parents had predicted.
So, objective achieved in terms of an overall result, but how
did the individual pieces fare? What's hot and what's not in the
Worcester enthusiast's world?
No surprises about the sale's best-seller, the pair of 11.5in
(30cm) high iron-red and shagreen ground hexagonal mid- to
late-1760s vases featuring Japanese kakiemon-inspired decoration of
dragons coiled around bamboo. They had always been billed as the
most expensive pieces in the sale, with an estimate of
£14,000-16,000 (although this was not much more than the £13,000
the pair fetched when they were purchased by Steppes Hill Farm
Antiques at Christie's auction of the Phelps Collection in
Three telephones were lined up for these and there was a
commission bid as well, but most of the competition came from the
room. Bidding opened at £10,000 and swiftly rose to double
predictions, with the competition coming from London dealers Simon
Spero and Robyn Robb against Mark Law, who managed to secure them
Mr Law said the pair would feature in the summer exhibition in
his St James's shop Albert Amor this June. A prime attraction was
their good condition and their rarity. (Mr Law reckoned it is 20
years since Amor's last featured a comparable pair, in their 1984
exhibition of the Wills Collection).
Following in price was a much earlier piece, a c.1754-56
polychrome-decorated sauceboat inspired by a rococo silver shape
moulded with prunus flowers and decorated with two Meissen-type
landscape vignettes to the exterior and scattered sprigs and
insects to the inside. The object of a bidding battle between a
collector and the successful purchaser, London dealer Simon Spero,
acting in this instance on behalf of a client, this sailed past the
£4500-5500 predictions to reach £13,000.
Significantly, condition was not a factor with either of these
entries, the vases being undamaged and the sauceboat having just a
minute rim chip. These and the blue scale
coffee cup and saucer illustrated on the front page of last week's
ATG were some of the most dramatic instances of the premium
attached to perfection, others being illustrated here.
On the other side of the coin, condition problems could plainly
be seen to hold back some pieces. This was most notable with the
first 20-odd lots of polychrome pieces dating from 1751-55, not
least because this early academic period has been voguishly
collectable for some time.
All else being equal, one might have expected prices to mirror
those seen in the Billie Paine sale, but there was a general
post-sale acknowledgement that the mood was reticent in this
A 5in (13cm) tall wine funnel of c.1754, polychrome painted with
a Long Eliza figure standing by two pine trees, was
surely one of those Zorensky purchases Simon Spero had in mind when
he noted in the catalogue introduction that "no rarity was ever
rejected on grounds of damage". This was broken and restuck with
three filled missing sections, but was an early rarity nonetheless.
He was able to purchase it for £1050, comfortably under the £1400-
At least there was enough demand to see it sell, unlike the
opening lot of the day, a small cylindrical coffee cup of c.1756,
finely pencilled and painted in bright enamels with a continuous
Chinese landscape. A patch of misfiring above the foot and a small
rim chip seemed to make an estimate of £4000- 5000 too much for the
room to wear, and the piece was bought in (although it sold after
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the lukewarm response to a
covered sucrier of c.1753 decorated with sprigs and flowers. True,
this had several chips plus restoration to the rim and knop, but it
was a piece with a double pedigree, having been acquired by the
Zorenksys from Sotheby's landmark 1986 sale of the Rous Lench
collection. Then, catalogued, incidentally as Lund's Bristol /early
Worcester, Jeanne Zorenksy paid £1850 for it. This time Bonhams had
hopes of £7000-9000, but Simon Spero took it for the relatively
bargain price of £4800.
Talking after the sale, John Sandon felt that the shape and size
of this piece might not have been in its favour. "Today's buyers
like little coffee cans and cream boats that do not require much
display space," he said.
Size certainly did seem to matter, with small definitely
favoured over large. One of the biggest pieces in the sale was a
101/2in (26.5cm) high cabbage leaf mask jug of pale lemon
It had some restoration to the spout but it featured on the
catalogue cover and on the frontispiece where the Zorenskys were
shown holding it, while the very fine quality puce chinoiserie
landscape panels on its body were reproduced on the catalogue
No shortage of exposure for this piece then, but Mark Law ended
up buying it for Amor's against a London collector for a
One of the more interesting features of the Zorensky sale was
the strong performance of some of the less fashionable,
non-academic Worcester. The strength of the blue scale wares has
already been noted, but some of the later, 1770s and 80s French or
Sèvres-inspired teawares were also shooting away and cups and
saucers generally seemed to be much in demand.
A reeded teabowl and saucer with Sèvres-style decoration of
turquoise caillouté panels and mignonette swags, an attractive lot
but not an exceptional rarity and with minor chips and enamel wear,
doubled estimate at £1100, a price that seemed well up on retail. A
little earlier, two 1780s trios of French shape trebled and doubled
their respective estimates to sell for £1400 and £1200.
These both went to someone who had left what were obviously
hefty commission bids.
Of course not all the non-academic things flew away. A 1770s
white garniture of three covered Worcester vases with pierced
shoulders, applied cascades of flowers, bird finials and underglaze
blue sprigs, was secured by Mark Law for a lower-estimate
There were repairs to some of the covers and one rim and minor
chipping to the extremities, but again their large size - the
biggest stood at 16.5in (41cm) - was probably their biggest
Above: this 5.75in (15cm) high cylindrical mug is the only
known example painted with the Arcade pattern normally found on
smaller teawares which helped it to £3800.
But even if some of the prices for the standard or unfashionable
pieces weren't head-turning, the fact that they managed to find
buyers at all is noteworthy, especially given the degree of damage.
One wonders if this would have been the case in any mixed-owner
regular ceramics sale. At least some of that high take-up must be
down to the "Zorensky effect", the attraction of owning a
high-profile provenanced piece that has been published in a notable
Talking after the sale, Simon Spero felt this was a key factor.
"There is one thing that makes this auction unique. When people
viewed the sale they were familiar with it before hand", he said.
They had been able to look through the Zorensky book and see what
pieces they might like to own, a feature which seems to have
greatly appealed to collectors.
Collectors undoubtedly had a big impact on this event. To see
private purchasers contesting and carrying off more than a dozen
pieces is not common at auction. It would be wrong though, to leave
the impression that the trade were inactive or that they didn't
come away with anything for their shops.
Apart from the dealers already mentioned, other busy players
included Jupiter Antiques, active throughout the sale; Stockspring
and Roderick Jellicoe, who was particularly busy in the section on
pieces with Chinese-influenced decoration, stocking up for a
special exhibition in his shop later this year.