It was the most important consignment of work by the Rhead family to come onto the market in years. But would the respect in which the remarkable dynasty of potters are held translate into remarkable prices?
Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (19% buyer's premium) at
Exeter on January 21-22, the collection of the late Richard Harry
Rhead Cronin, grandson of the pater familias Frederick Alfred
Rhead, came up with a positive answer.
Each of the 42 pottery pieces sold
bringing a total of £64,250 against a total high estimate of
A substantial part of this was
provided by two pieces of the highly prized pâte-sur-pâte porcelain
produced by Frederick Alfred Rhead (1856-1933).
His signed, 12in (30cm) tall cylindrical
vase decorated with an angel and text from Omar Khayam took £17,000
(estimate £1500-2000) and was
reported on last week's front page.
The second was an 8½ x 13¼in (22 x
34cm) plaque, signed F. Rhead 1900-1901, decorated with
The Flatterer and the net, a scene taken from an
illustration by his brother George Wooliscroft Rhead (1854-1920) in
an edition of Pilgrim's Progress illustrated by
Frederick, George and their brother Louis (1857-1926).
Estimated at £2000-4000, it sold at £15,000
to the same Home Counties collector who bought the 'Angel' vase and
also bid a triple-estimate £3400 for the oil Rhead painted of the
subject which was among 34 pictures from the same source,
When it came to estimating the
collection, BHL's specialist Nic Saintey, stayed on the
conservative side. The heirs to the estate wanted it sold and, with
some spectacular exceptions, the Rheads - particularly Charlotte -
remain respected but not wildly expensive.
"One reason, I think is that books are
very thin on the ground for such a fascinating and prodigious
family," said Mr Saintey. "There's Bernard Bumpus's Collecting
Rhead Pottery published in 1987 (his reference collection was sold
by Halls of Shrewsbury in February 2010) but not much
He decided to 'dip his toes into the
market' with a limited first tranche of the consignment - some 50
lesser, later works by Charlotte - with an auction back on December
17. That was well received but so was the January 21-22 catalogue
of A-list material.
"We were indundated with inquiries
from collectors," said Mr Saintey. "Six of them told me they were
the biggest Rhead collector in Britain."
They may well have believed their
claim - come sale day more than 75% of the Rhead pieces went to
collectors, all the top ones shared among half a dozen of
The collection included pieces by most
of the talented Rhead family including Frederick Alfred's son,
Frederick Hurten Rhead, who found fame and fortune in America and
whose peacock tile panel set a record for American Arts and Crafts
when it took $495,000 (£325,600) hammer at Rago Arts of New Jersey
in October 2012 (ATG no 2070).
One of his pieces at BHL was a signed,
12in (30cm) tall tapering tube-lined vase illustrated with two
turtles and inscribed Two tired turtles trying to trot to
Examples of this design are known
among young Frederick's American output but this vase was dated
1902, the year he handed over the running of the Wardle factory to
brother Harry before emigrating. American bidders are not really
interested in Frederick's English output and the vase, estimated at
£600-800, went to a UK collector at £1150.
For some collectors, however, the
Rhead of greatest interest is Charlotte. Her prolific tube-lined
output has tended to keep her work affordable but the 30 pieces at
BHL were particularly attractive because they were frequently of
unrecorded patterns and, as importantly, early works.
"In later years the commercial
operation meant that the tube-lining would have been painted by
factory employees, as was the case with Clarice Cliff," said Mr
Saintey. "The ones in this collection were done by Charlotte
All signed with the familiar
L.Rhead (L for Lottie as Charlotte was known), the
tiles were shared among six collectors - "the Charlotte mafia" as
Mr Saintey now knows them.
All the tube-lined tiles went well
above estimate, with three lots illustrating the price
Two 5½ x 4in (14 x 10cm) examples
decorated with portraits of a girl in an interior wearing an ornate
cap, with a backstamp for T&R Boote Ltd and in
gilt frames sold at £750 (estimate £150-250).
A single 12 x 6in (30 x 15cm) tile
decorated with The Arming of Christian - from George
Wooliscroft's illustration for the aforementioned Pilgrim's
Progress - in a parcel-gilt frame had some glaze
imperfections but made £1400 against a £200-300
Offered with her father
Frederick's signed watercolour of the subject, a 12¼ x 6in (31 x
15cm), a tube-lined large tile decorated with a Dutch girl in a
kitchen interior drinking from a cup was estimated at £300-40 and
sold at £2700.
That's not too far from the auction
record for Charlotte Rhead, the £3100 bid for a Burleigh Ware
pottery charger decorated with an exotic pheasant perched in a
fruiting pomegranate at the Ilkley, West Yorkshire salerooms of
Andrew Hartley in August 2004.
The BHL sale has underlined a very
strong market among dedicated Rhead collectors.
And there is every likelihood that the
dearth of literature will soon be addressed. "Three of the major
buyers told me they were near to completing books," said Mr