WHEN Bonhams embarked on their first dispersal of the mammoth Zorensky collection of First Period Worcester, there were murmurings in the trade (and presumably some crossed fingers in the saleroom’s ceramics department).
How would the market respond to such a large influx of material
from just one period of one factory? Moreover, this material wasn't
always in the best condition and, under European Union regulations,
coming from America it attracted an additional five per cent VAT on
the hammer price.
In the event, any scepticism, however understandable, proved
Thanks to some sensitive estimates and a carefully orchestrated
and orientated promotional strategy, Bonhams managed to pull it
off. They brought in porcelain aficionados seeking rarities to plug
gaps in their own collections and those keen to acquire a souvenir
of a much-publicised ensemble familiar through the pages of John
Sandon and Simon Spero's landmark 1996 reference work,
Worcester Porcelain 1751-1760, The Zorensky
This enabled them to find buyers not just for the unusual pieces
but also for the many standard elements that inevitably crop up in
a collection where the owners were aiming to acquire an example of
every First Period pattern the factory had produced. The final
result, just five lots unsold out of 416 and a total just shy of
£490,000, speaks for itself.
But last March's sale was just the first of a trilogy of
Zorensky auctions and it had the advantage of novelty. Would
Bonhams be able to accomplish the same feat twice over? Zorenksy
mark two would test their mettle again. The second sale took place
on February 23, Milton Zorensky having sadly died just a few days
Above: three bidders chased this fine example of yellow
ground Worcester from c.1765, taking it to £16,000 at the second
Zorensky sale at Bonhams.
The audience gathered for this offering was smaller than for the
first and telephone activity was also down on last year's sale, a
reflection perhaps of diminished American interest with the dollar
still weak against sterling. But most of the key players, whether
private or trade, did turn up again (as before, Simon Spero,
Jupiter Antiques and Mark Law were all much in evidence).
And Bonhams also had 18 completely new buyers. 'Solid' would by
my adjective of choice to sum up the performance of this second
sale. There were arguably fewer fireworks either pricewise or in
Although Bonhams aimed to provide a similar cross section of
wares in each sale, exact duplication wasn't possible and there
were rather more of the less exceptional teabowls, saucers and
other tablewares purchased as exemplars of the factory's plentiful
stock of different patterns.
Despite this, there was none of the initial toe-in-the-water
hesitancy that dogged the first 20 lots of early period pieces in
part one. Prices for the rarities seemed more consistent, while the
standard material appeared to find buyers with just as much ease as
before, indicating no fall-off in those wanting a Zorensky
The final statistics underlined this. At 385 lots, Part Two was
slightly smaller than Part One yet it made slightly more at
£505,130. Again just a handful of entries, four lots, failed to
The six highest-priced pieces give a good idea of how demand
extended across the breadth of the collection. Three were the early
pre-1755 rarities, currently Worcester's most fashionable sector.
Two were larger, later, 1770s entries: one blue-scale ground, the
other rococo inspired. The sixth was a Zorensky favourite, a piece
of mid-1760s yellow ground ware.
Leading the list at £26,000 was a rococo teapot of c.1752. This
rare, much-published piece last went through the same rooms (then
Phillips) in 1988 selling for £6750 to Earle Vandekar, from whom
the Zorenskys acquired it. This time around it was battled out by
an absentee bidder on Fergus Gambon's phone and by Simon Spero,
with the hammer falling to the latter at £26,000.
A rare concave fluted teabowl and saucer dated to the same year,
painted with a spare pattern of oriental influence, was another
battle for Mr Spero against the phone, selling to the London dealer
for £10,000.The third early rarity was a tiny 3in (8cm) high mug of
c.1752-3, finely press-moulded with eight fluted panels and painted
with delicate sprigs.
This was fought out by Robyn Robb, Simon Spero and a commission
bidder, the hammer falling to Robyn Robb at £10,500.
It is years since blue-scale wares of the 1770s have been
considered the apogee of fashionable collecting taste in Worcester,
but the first Zorensky sale saw something of a revival of their
fortunes thanks to some new collectors for this ware. Demand
continued here, its most dramatic illustration being a pair of
71/2in (19cm) high Sèvres-inspired wine coolers that were taken to
£15,500 against an £8000-10,000 estimate.
Significantly, their condition was very good with just one minor
bruise and a few retouched flakes to the gilding. More surprising,
perhaps, because it was not heralded by the Part One results, was
the interest in a 151/2in (40cm) high pair of rococo-taste
hexagonal frill vases and covers of c.1770- 72, extensively applied
with piercing, swags and flowerheads. Rare pieces but with body
cracks, base chips and the usual losses one finds on applied
ornament of this type, Bonhams had reckoned on a price of around
£3500. They ended up going for £13,500.
Yellow ground wares have always been very much North American
taste in Worcester and these could have been disadvantaged by the
However this sale showed that demand is emerging from elsewhere.
The pierced and lattice moulded basket that made the day's second
highest price was contested by Mark Law, Simon Spero and a private
UK collector who finally secured it at £16,000. Quality, condition
(just one short firing crack to one pierced panel) and its
appearance on the dust jacket of the Zorensky book, all played
their part in this result.
The buyer reckoned it was the best piece of yellow ground ware
he had seen and was determined to add it to his collection.
Of course, not every high-flyer took off. There were a number of
pieces selling short of estimate, like the early 73/4in (19.5cm)
so-called Dutch jug of c.1757-8 decorated with an extensive
landscape and puce monochrome flowers and a gilt EAY cipher. This
went for £5800 against expectations of £6000-8000. Similarly a pair
of 10in (25cm) high damaged and restored 'dragons in compartment'
vases sold to one of the sale's bigger spending private buyers for
£8000 against predictions of £11,000-14,000.
Above: a rare bocage figure of a gardener of c.1770 cost the
Zorenskys no less than £9500 in 1986. This time it sold for
Even where pieces came in on estimate, this didn't always
represent a profit for the Zorenskys, as the 83/4in (22cm) high
c.1770 bocage figure of a gardener confirms. It cost the
Zorenskys no less than £9500 in the high profile 1986 Rous Lench
auction. Entered here with an estimate geared to more realistic
times at £6000- 8000, it sold for £8200.
Just as significant as the top lots was the performance of the
standard material. Bonhams' judiciously cautious estimates were
key. They ensured enough competition to send some of this well past
predictions. A factory decorated 61/4in (16cm) high tea canister of
c.1778 with restored chips and a replacement finial sold for £420
for example and a 51/2in (14cm) high sparrow beak covered jug that
made £480 were cases in point.
Equally there were plenty of modest pieces making modest sums,
particularly in the blue and white section. However, one has to ask
whether, in a routine sale shorn of a Zorenksy provenance, such
standard fare would sell at all?
There is one more Zorensky sale to go. Bar some dramatic
intervention, there seems to be no reason why it should not fare as
well as the first two. Indeed, the 'last chance' factor could even
As Simon Spero pointed out, the 1996 publication of the entire
collection means that people know what has gone and what is left to
come. Rather like players in a poker game, this knowledge can only
heighten the participants' sense of anticipation.