AFTER three auctions and more than 1200 lots devoted to porcelain from one factory one might have thought there was a chance buyers would have tired of the Zorensky collection of Worcester porcelain. Not so.
It would seem that the 'last chance saloon' factor held out over
the 'spoiled for choice' argument.
This third and final 403-lot session, offered by Bonhams
(20/12% buyer's premium) on February 22, netted £557,530,
more than either of the two previous similar-sized sessions with
only two lots left unsold and some even more bullish prices.
The sale again attracted a full room. It wasn't as packed as the
first session but all the main players were there, both trade and
private. Equally there was none of the toe-in-the-water trepidation
that had characterised the opening lots in Part One - buyers had
the two preceding sales to provide a benchmark.
Although many dealers were bidding there was dogged pursuit by
collectors and of the 85 successful buyers only 16 were trade. In
the event, the lion's share of the sale probably went to four
buyers. Three were collectors (one of whom also bought heavily in
the previous Zorensky auctions).
The fourth was the well known dealer Jupiter Antiques who have
also been active at all three sales Trade worries about flooding
the Worcester market, voiced when it was first announced that the
American collectors Jeanne and Milton Zorenksy were putting their
mammoth collection on the market, must surely have abated after
Above: a c.1757-60 Japanese inspired Imari decorated cup and
saucer that fetched £1500 in the third Zorensky auction at
The whole exercise proved that potential difficulties can be
countered with careful marketing and judicious estimation. In the
property's favour was the collection's renown.
Publication by the Antique Collectors' Club of a detailed volume
written by Simon Spero and John Sandon meant the world was well
aware of what the Zorenskys 25-year collecting odyssey had
unearthed and Bonhams correctly assumed that a souvenir-hunting
element would come into play.
Condition presented a potential problem for less fashionable or
standard wares - the Zorenskys desire to be comprehensive meant
that much of the material had damage and repair - but attractive
reserves were set to counter this. As Simon Spero, a man with much
experience of buying Worcester at auction under his belt observed,
"large estimates don't just intimidate prospective buyers, they
deter them from joining in".
One of the success stories of this series of sales has been the
re-evalution of the hitherto unfashionable later First Period
porcelains: the rococo designs with coloured grounds like scale
blue and yellow and the Sèvres patterns.
The top priced lot of the collection was a pair of hexagonal
'shagreen' and iron-red ground covered vases of c.1765-8 with
'dragons in compartment' decoration that sold for £29,000 in the
first sale. But Part Three followed not far behind at £28,000 with
another pair of the same shape and similar date shown
These were slightly larger at 14.75in (38cm) and featured a rare
powder blue ground and so called fancy birds decoration. This was
double Bonhams' estimate although the fact that it was some way
short of the £44,000 paid for a better preserved pair offered in a
various owners' sale in the same rooms last September, shows that
buyers are not utterly thrown by a celebrated provenance and are
If the resurgence of interest in scale-blue was a factor in the
Zorensky auctions, even more of a surprise was the interest in
Imari decorated pieces. This is generally viewed very much as
American market material and is particularly popular with
transatlantic decorators but hitherto has not been highly
collectable on this side of the Atlantic. Given this, Bonhams had
placed very modest estimates on these pieces.
However interest from British and Japanese collectors ensured
they were well beaten. Perhaps the most dramatic instance was a
coffee cup and saucer of c.1770. This had rare decoration -
apparently an exact copy of a Chinese Imari original and as such
was perhaps made to replace an element in an existing
But rarity in unfashionable fields doesn't always equate to high
cost, especially as in this instance the saucer was cracked.
Bonhams estimated cup and saucer at £160-240, not much more than
the £120 or so that Simon Spero reckoned he had charged the
Zorenskys for it 20- odd years ago. The final price of £2000, paid
after a battle between a collector and overseas bidder, made
mincemeat of that.
The same was true two lots later. A cup and saucer of c.1757- 60
also shown featuring an early example of Japanese-inspired floral
decoration within a Chinese style border again suggested a Chinese
Retrospectively John Sandon admitted his £250-300 estimate was
too modest for a piece of such early date but the final price of
£1500 from an English collector was still dramatic.
Like the previous two Zorensky sales this tranche had a good
supply of fashionable earlier Worcester wares whose fortunes have
been much more predictable in recent times. Leading this list of
choice and desirable rarities was the little 2.5in (6.4cm),
c.1752-3, cream jug, painted with the so called 'strutting bird'
pattern and moulded with a female mask to the lip.
With just a handful of other examples featuring the same mask or
a similar pattern this certainly qualifies for cataloguer John
Sandon's "exceptionally rare" description. The nearest comparable
piece is probably the mask-lipped jug in the Klepser
For price comparison we have Billie Paine's jug with near
identical strutting bird decoration but simple sparrow beak lip
bought by Steppes Hill Farm Antiques at the 2003 sale of her
collection for £6200. Bonhams had estimated the Zorensky jug at
£10,000-12,000. It was a bullish sum but proved justified when it
sold to a phone bidder at £13,500.
Following it at a mid-estimate £9500, paid by London dealer
Robyn Robb, was an even smaller fluted jug of the same period
delicately painted in Chinese style enamels with a figure passing a
fence and typical shrubs issuing from rockwork.This compared to the
£6500 that it fetched in 1990 when Christie's offered the second
instalment of ceramics from the Rous Lench collection.
The day's second highest price was paid for another Rous Lench
purchase this time from Sotheby's benchmark first sale of 1986.
This was a pair of 6.75in (17cm) white figures of gardeners of
c.1768 which the Zorenskys had bought for £9000 plus premium 20
years ago. Bonhams hadn't set their £7000-10,000 estimate any
higher (white figures can be problematic in today's market and the
bullish Rous Lench prices have proved difficult to replicate), but
the pair improved to £14,000.
The total for the entire three sales brings the final tally for
Jeanne and Milton Zorensky's collection to just under £1.6m.