NO-ONE seemed to be in doubt about the quality of Sevi Guatelli’s Clarice Cliff collection.
Over a relatively short period of time (less than two decades)
the Swiss, Scottish-based oil industrialist had put together a top
Using what he termed his BRCV principals (Beauty, Rarity,
Condition and Value), he'd "applied museum standards" to the finest
examples of the Staffordshire designer's best work. The result was
a small select gathering of just over 100 pieces of the most
striking and rarest patterns and the most successful shapes.
Plainly enamoured with the pottery, he'd also gone on to crystalise
his holdings in The Best of Clarice Cliff, an
assessment of her work illustrated with many of the pieces from his
collection. Of course, such a rapidly acquired enthusiasm doesn't
come cheap. Mr Guatelli wanted the best and he'd been prepared to
pay top dollar to acquire it. He had brought mostly via the
specialist trade, who in turn had acquired these pieces in
specialist Clarice auctions.
But dispersing a single-owner collection at auction can
sometimes prove a different story - particularly when a major buyer
turns vendor as Mr Guatelli did when he offered his collection at
Bonhams (20/12% buyer's premium) on March 18.
Mr Guatelli had been a major force in driving values for the
best Clarice Cliff wares in what is a relatively small buying pool.
This was not a collection that took in the more standard,
middle-of-the-road Clarice that is within the range of a broader
Add to all this a sense that Clarice values in 2009 are not what
they were a decade or so earlier and this was a test of the top of
There was plenty of pre-sale publicity. Bonhams promoted the
collection taking a selection of the pieces to their New York
rooms, where Eric Knowles gave a lecture to enthuse the American
market. Come sale day, the turnout looked reasonable at around 50
people, but did the audience include the next Guatelli who would
step up to the plate?
In total, approximately 60 per cent of the content found buyers
to net £180,480, selling to a mix of bidders in the room and buyers
from Florida, Australia, Switzerland and South Africa via the
phone. But the 39 lots that failed included many of the most
expensive wares. And for the 64 lots that did change hands, more
were selling at the low end or just under estimate than over.
Significantly, failures included eight of the 11 lots in the rare
Sunspots design, a field where, with only 20 known
pieces, Guatelli had cornered the market.
The failures included a shape 358 vase he had bought at CSK in
October 2006 for £17,000 that was one of two examples unsold here
with low estimates of £7000. In the event, it was Red
Café rather than Sunspots that came out
on top. Of the four lots in this pattern in Guatelli's collection,
Two of them, a 9in (23cm) high Meiping shape vase and a 71/2in
(19cm) high triangular section vase led proceedings, selling under
estimate at £7500 apiece. The third entry, a 71/2in (19cm) high
vase of tapering stepped outline realised £6500, just inside the
Another Red Café triangular section vase, failed
at £7000. With no provenance details in the catalogue it is
difficult to make price comparisons, but one assumes at least some
estimates were pitched well below the prices Mr Guatelli had
But - as the Sunspots vase suggests - it seems
many were still too high for today's collectors.
This was reinforced by apparently greater interest in buying up
to the £2000- 3000 mark, which is the more natural ceiling of most
Clarice collectors. Indeed, at this level one even saw the odd
bidding skirmish, as when an 8in (20cm) high vase shown here (shape
464) decorated in the Solitude pattern, guided at
£2500-3500, was contested by a phone, a commission bid and dealer
Andrew Muir to £4000, or the rare 21/2in (6.5cm) high miniature
vase, painted with the Green House pattern estimated at
£700-900, which two bidders grappled to £2200. Another strong price
came when a Stamford shape part tea-for-two, decorated with the
appliqué Red Tree pattern overtook a £2000-3000
estimate to sell for £5800 after a battle between a phone
underbidder and a lady seated in the front row.
Even when things sold below predictions prices might not always
have been that low. As Bonhams' director of design, Mark Oliver,
noted: "Our estimates were as punchy as they could have been," and
given that Clarice's stylish inter-War designs are not in the same
financial league as top French Deco, he observed: "The prices are
right up there in terms of British ceramics."
Bonhams said Sevi Guatelli was pleased with the result in the
current market conditions and the unsolds from the sale will be
re-offered at the appropriate time.