Friday - 31 October 2014

Rhead family collection brings unrecorded wares to the market

04 February 2014Written by Terence Ryle

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?

Offered at 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 £19,000.

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,  reported separately.

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 else."

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 them.

Frederick Hurten Rhead

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 Tetbury.

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 herself."

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 range.

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 estimate.

 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 Saintey.

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