WHEN auctioneer Mark Oliver climbed down off the rostrum after completing a 650-lot marathon double sale of British art and collectors’ pottery, Bonhams had netted just shy of £720,000.
That's no mean feat and testimony to the continued strength of
this particular sector of the ceramics market.
Some £424,000 of this was provided on the morning of September
21 by their Ceramic Design from 1860 sale, the
second of the year including their annual foray into contemporary
ceramics that are specially commissioned for the sale. Twenty of
these were Sally Tuffin creations from the Dennis Chinaworks and 77
lots were created by 11 other artist potters.
But this year the coffers were swollen by an additional
£290,000, courtesy of a single-owner afternoon consignment of
Moorcroft pottery - the collection of Richard Wright.
While the larger mixed-owner sale certainly had its popular
highs (Martinware birds, Doulton flambé, Fairyland and other lustre
and the Sally Tuffin 'specials'), it also had its lows. Some of the
Doulton figurines and Ruskin ware are plainly not flavour of the
month and it was these more sticky areas that resulted in 135 of
the 424 lots (32 per cent by volume) failing to secure a buyer.
But Mr Wright's Moorcroft, assembled by a passionate collector
over a 25 year period, clearly chimed with fellow enthusiasts. All
bar 33 of the 289 lots got away to raise a total that was in line
with the projected figure.
Enthusiasm for the subject, the thrill of the chase and the
acquisitive urge is something that all serious collectors have in
common and Richard Wright succinctly summarised this (and the
particular attractions of Moorcroft) in his catalogue
"It was a chance encounter with Moorcroft pottery at a local
auction that led me along the path to collectors' heaven" he said.
"I quickly realised that here was an art form of such diversity and
artistic merit that would satisfy my urge for collecting for the
rest of my life. Its eclectic range of shapes and sizes, together
with innovative colourways and patterns mean that a lifetime of
collecting can only scratch the surface of an art pottery that has
The auction at Bonhams was his second dispersal through the
salerooms following a dispersal of (largely damaged) wares through
Gorringes in the early years of this century.
Mr Wright took his collecting odyssey around the world, buying
in auctions at other Moorcroft-rich corners of what was once the
British empire. Bonhams replicated this international quest when it
came to marketing the collection, promoting in South Africa,
Australia and in Canada where Mark Oliver held a two 'study days'
in their Toronto saleroom.
Above: the Claremont pattern (a favourite with the vendor)
produced several of the highest prices including the £7000 bid for
this 16in (41cm) jug overlaid in silver. The mounts, applied after
export to America c.1910, are inscribed FCT and it was reportedly
acquired from a member of the Tiffany family in the
Equally important for saleroom success, the collection was
offered with realistic guides including estimates that were pitched
lower than the prices Mr Wright paid. And along with rarer and more
desirable patterns carrying four figure estimates, there was a good
range of more affordable material offered with estimates in the low
hundreds which opened the sale up to buyers at lots of different
Indeed it was Bonhams' agreement to give adequate recognition to
the lower value pieces (and lot them singly rather than as groups)
that was instrumental in them securing the sale.
Certainly there was a good turnout with around 60 people in the
room plus commissions and phone bidding (including contributions
resulting from Mark Oliver's promotional trip to Canada.) And there
seemed to be plenty of interest at all levels on the day.
However, as so often the case, there was one major player. The
British Moorcroft dealer Wayne Hopton had set his sights on much of
what was on offer here and succeeded in carrying off a sizeable
slice of the collection. That said, he often faced keen
competition. A spectacular case in point included the
Moorcroft Pomegranate exhibition display plaque
for which an almost equally determined phone underbidder drove him
In other instances the American dealer Arron Rimpley, who was
also bidding strongly on selected patterns, proved a strong and
The best of the Claremont pattern pieces, a 12in
(31cm) high flambé glazed vase was eagerly contested by Hopton and
Rimpley but it was a determined major Moorcroft collector who
chipped in at £11,000 to secure it for her collection. These and
other high-flyers are pictured here.
Vases and jars and other vessels in the Claremont,
Blueand Eventidepatterns were predictably
popular with plenty selling in the £1000- £2000 bracket but, for
those with smaller budgets, there were plenty of smaller plates and
pieces in the patterns like Blue Pansy or more
recently created material. Especially popular were the handful of
lots offered with no reserve which got multiple paddles waving.
Additionally, the fact that every lot the sale was illustrated
means that the catalogue will serve as a published memento for Mr
Wright and a record for the many Moorcroft collectors. Of the
30-odd lots that did not get away, Mr Wright said he was most
surprised about the failure of a Hazledene biscuit
box. It failed to get to more than £1700 on the day against a
£2000-3000 estimate. "I was pleased to see it return" he
The buyer's premium was 20/12%.