WHEN a market softens, it is often best to return to first principles – the core values of condition, market freshness and pricing that can be overlooked when an area of collecting really ‘takes off’.
A decade ago the Clarice Cliff market had really 'taken
Staffordshire's most famous exponent of the Art Deco enjoyed
rise-upon- rise into the 1990s, and the appearance of a truly
iconic piece at Christie's South Kensington in May 2003 ushered in
a remarkable auction record. The £34,000 tendered for a 'unique'
charger in the coveted May Avenue pattern was almost double the
previous high (£18,000 bid in December 2001 at Phillips for a
Windmill pattern charger) and remains the high watermark for
Clarice at auction.
But since those heady days, the Clarice Cliff market has lost
some of its biggest bidders, its annual South Kensington showpiece
sale and its erstwhile reputation as a solid
investment. It's no bad thing for
those collectors who were previously priced out of the market, but
negative price readjustments are never as easy to digest as the
When leading collector Sevi Guatelli turned vendor in March to
sell his 'Iconic Clarice Cliff' collection at Bonhams, it was
difficult to avoid the conclusion that prices for even the best
Clarice are down 50 per cent or more on previous
How much would a May Avenue charger be worth today?
Surprisingly, Fieldings of Stourbridge were
offered the opportunity to answer that question at their third
Clarice Cliff Collectors' Club sale on May
It was late last year when specialist Will Farmer received an
email titled simply Clarice Cliff Valuation. It's not an unusual
request for a man who began his personal Clarice Cliff odyssey as a
member of the CCCC aged 14, but a digital image unquestionably
revealed another 18in (46cm) ribbed charger in the May Avenue
pattern. It had been bought new (c.1933) by a forebear of the owner
and, despite years under a table-tennis table, it had survived in
fine condition with only two small paint flakes and a number of
faint small linear scratches to its
Nothing close to £34,000 was expected this time round (for a
start, there are now four known examples and a smaller pool of
potential buyers) and Mr Farmer was content to suggest an estimate
of £20,000-25,000. It proved spot-on when a dealer bought it on
behalf of a client at £20,500.
There were two other pieces of May Avenue in the sale, an 11in
(23cm) high Greek shape jug (estimate £3000-3500) and an 8in (20cm)
waisted vase (estimate £4000-6000), but both failed to sell. An
example of the latter had made £4500 at the Guatelli
But when estimates were keener, so was the competition. Many of
the 100-120 'Cliffies' in the room at Fieldings would have liked to
acquire a cauldron vase decorated in the Sunspots pattern c.1931
within its estimate of £400-600 - a modest sum for a rare piece
with just two minor paint scuffs.
The 11 pieces in this scarce pattern offered by Sevi Guatelli at
Bonhams carried much higher estimates and eight panels of abstract
design. This transitional piece from the Original Bizarre range
probably dates from c.1928-29.
A buyer was also found at the low estimate of £3000 for an
Inspiration Persian wall plaque
Decorated with an Isnik-inspired scroll and foliate pattern in
tonal turquoise, blue and ochre, the scale and execution of this
charger indicate that it may well have been intended as an
exhibition piece, perhaps in South Africa where this pattern was
originally exported. There were 21 conical sugar sifters in the
sale and, with some latitude on the part of the auctioneer, all of
It was a much better return than seen at Gardiner Houlgate of
Bath in November when just 26 of a 68-lot collection of sifters got
Pricing and good condition was again the key: all the examples
mentioned here were undamaged.
At £1800 (the estimate was £2000- 2500), the most highly rated
sifter was in the Mountain pattern. It was a very strong,
well-painted example, with a larger than usual mountain and
cottage. From the same year and the same Fantasque range is
Summerhouse, a quirky pattern originally made for the South African
The sifter in this pattern, only the third of its kind to come
on the market, sold at £900. Sifters in the striking Green Erin
design, c.1933, (£630), Red Gardenia, c.1933, (£1000) and Flower
Wave, c.1934, (£920) also sold
Lower down the price scale the market was weaker than at
Fieldings' two previous Clarice events, but collectors appreciate
the breadth of these sales that offer plenty in the £30-300 price
bracket. There were new buyers at this sale including contributions
fromNorth America and Australia.
Some of the best entry-level pieces on offer, all undamaged,
included: an Umbrellas pin dish (£80); a small conical jug with
rust-red banding, c.1936, (£38) and an Original Bizarre tazza,
c.1928, painted to the interior well with a radial abstract pattern
The buyer's premium was 15%
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