THOMAS Grant Dixon formed his Worcester collection from 1940-70. This discerning collector was a great friend of H. Rissik Marshall, the famed Worcester collector and author whose collection now resides in the Ashmolean at Oxford.
The two often hunted their ceramic quarry together,
sometimes splitting pairs.
Guided by the well-known dealers the Tilleys,
Grant Dixon refined his holdings to create an attractive and
balanced collection which, on his death in 1971, he bequeathed to
Ampleforth Abbey, Yorkshire to help one of its number, Father James
Forbes, further his studies on 18th century porcelain.
The Benedictine monastery deemed it unsuitable
for an institution dedicated to religion, education and the simple
life, so instead the collection was sent by Father James to the
Ashmolean - only to be returned to Ampleforth in 1989. The trustees
recently made the decision to sell it at auction.
These days Bonhams Bond Street has become the
first port of call for single-owner sales of 18th century English
porcelain in general and first period Worcester in particular (the
Zorenksy, Sir Jeremy Lever and David Butti auctions being amongst
the most recent). Indeed, this week sees Bonhams holding their
spring auction of British ceramics, an event that includes two
single-owner collections of Lowestoft, one belonging to Geoffrey
However, collections do turn up in the other
London rooms and this time it was Sotheby's (25/20/12%
buyer's premium) who were entrusted with the Grant
Dixon Worcester collection.
But, despite being fresh to the market and with
a good provenance, the collection which ran to just 80 lots was too
small for a stand-alone sale. Instead it featured as the central
section of a 482-lot auction at Sotheby's Bond Street on April 13
that also took in furniture, works of art, silver and clocks - the
type of large, mixed-discipline auction that is increasingly used
by Sotheby's and Christie's as a selling format.
Above: this vase decorated with a Long Eliza figure led the
Grant Dixon collection sale at Sotheby's, selling at
Given that nothing in the Grant Dixon sale had been
acquired more recently than 1970, this 80-lot collection was
surprisingly not 'old school' taste. True there were some of the
later coloured ground pieces from the 1770s that no longer chime
with collectors quite as they did a couple of decades ago, but
there were also plenty of the currently fashionable simple famille
rose and kakiemon-decorated wares and a good slice of popular
outside-decorated material from the Giles Workshop.
These features, plus the good overall condition, all
stood in the collection's favour. Less so, perhaps, is the current
market with demand less robust than it was a few years ago.
This is something which auctioneers have to
micro-manage when assessing values and pitching reserves. Sotheby's
usually have a £3000 minimum lot value but in a field like English
porcelain this can be steep even for good pieces. Fortunately their
specialist Philip Howell was given some flexibility on this
Around 30 individual pieces carried guides under
that level and other items of more modest individual value were
offered as group lots to bump up their value.
Even so, some of the guides proved too steep for
current tastes - 23 lots were left unsold although Mr Howell said
that a high proportion found buyers post sale - but then this was
an erratic results sheet with some pieces making very high prices
and others performing rather below par.
Perhaps the best illustration of this was the sale's
opening lot. This was a very rare and early documentary piece, a
4½in (11.5cm) high bell-shaped mug inscribed EL 1754
which was formerly in the Dr H.E. Rhodes Collection, had been
published in the ECC transactions and exhibited in 1981 by Albert
Amor in their exhibition: Worcester Porcelain the first Decade
Two similar dated mugs with the same decoration
have passed through Sotheby's but that was back in 1965 and 1972
and they are now in the V&A and Colonial Williamsburg. The most
recent comparison we have are two undated waisted cylindrical vases
bearing the same decoration that were sold from the Jeremy Lever
and Paul Crane collections in 2007 and 2010 for £13,000 and £8000
On this basis Sotheby's £10,000-15,000 estimate
on the Grant Dixon version was not unreasonable. Yet it failed to
find a buyer.
Similarly, two other bell-shaped mugs got away more
cheaply than predicted. One was the very early 3½in (9.5cm) high
creamy paste example of c.1752-3 painted in delicate shades with a
Long Eliza Chinese figure by a balustrade with a sailing ship to
the reverse. Estimated at a bullish £10,000-15,000, it got
away at £8000.
The other was slightly later at c.1758 (five years
are key during these early production years) and around an inch
taller. Its main attraction was the finely painted decoration in a
lilac/ purple camaieu of a Chinese man with a small dog walking in
a garden underlined with rococo scrolls.
Grant Dixon had acquired this in 1967 for the then
substantial sum of £550. This time it came with a guide of
£5000-8000 but ended up going for £4500.
Contrast the prices for the mugs with the very
substantial £14,000 paid for a tiny 3¼in (8.5cm) high baluster vase
of c.1754 painted in kakiemon style with a ho-ho bird on rocks. It
was a very rare shape and the kakiemon decoration, while not as
unusual, is highly desirable, but this was still a substantial
Above: The kakiemon vase that took £14,000 in Sotheby's sale
of the Grant Dixon Collection of Worcester.
Equally, the £8500 paid for a 9½in (24cm) diameter
yellow ground junket dish from 1770s seemed very bullish for a less
than fashionable class of Worcester. The brilliant rainbow of
coloured enamels used for the scallop shell and flowerhead
decoration were unusual so perhaps that is why bidders pursued it
to more than double the estimate.
The top lot in the sale was another early piece
decorated in the famille rose palette with a Long Eliza figure, a
7½in (19cm) high vase of slender baluster form c.1754-55 which
realised £20,000, double the pre-sale guide.
Scale blue ground Worcester, while not from the
earliest production period, has some keen adherents, as do the
sought-after pieces decorated in the James Giles workshop. When the
two elements are combined appeal increases as in the cases of a
1770s, 10½in (26cm) wide heart-shaped dish of Lady Mary Wortley
type finely painted with Giles's 'fancy birds'
that realised £4500; or a powder blue ground coffee
cup and saucer from the Lord Dudley service c.1765-68, painted in
the Giles studio with European musicians and female dancers,
butterflies and gilt flowersprays at £5500. A single 7½in (19cm)
diameter Giles plate decorated with his fancy birds and butterflies
on a white ground was also pursued to a very substantial £3800.
Worcester figures are much rarer than tablewares
and the Grant Dixon collection offered two pairs, both dating from
c.1770: a 6½in (16.5cm) high gardener and companion and a 5in
(13cm) high Turk and companion.
The nearest saleroom comparisons come from the
Zorenksy collection sold across three auctions at Bonhams from 2004
to 2006. There a white pair of gardeners took £14,000 and a single
coloured gardener figure with a bocage £8200.
The Zorenskys also owned two pairs of Turks, one
with paler toned costume sold for £4800, the other with brighter
clothing at £8200. For the Grant Dixon sale the gardening group
(the man with a restored hat and spade), came in at £15,000 but the
Turks, guided at £6000- 8000, failed to get away.
Meanwhile, Christie's South Kensington's (25/20/12%
buyer's premium) Interiors auction on May 10 offered the
opportunity to acquire two 1768 Worcester blue ground teapots on
stands with decoration of birds and flowers not dissimilar to that
seen on some of the Grant Dixon lots offered at Sotheby's the month
Both were in good overall condition with only minor chips to the
extremities and wear to the stands, although one teapot cover had a
crack to the flange. Offered with guides of £1000-1500, they sold
for £1100 and £1000.