Regular readers of ATG saleroom reports will be all too aware of the recent price explosion of Minton’s pâte sur pâte ceramics. This highly distinctive, almost cameo-like form of carved slip decoration was perfected by Louis-Marc Solon who had his own special iconography of nymphs and putti engaged in a bewildering array of quirky pursuits.
A critical mass of material for enthusiasts to collect and the emergence on the market of some blue-chip examples (not least those in Bonhams' two dispersals from the Minton Museum) has drawn some big spenders into the market. Pâte sur pâte has fans across the world with collectors in the US, UK, Australia and the Far East and the determination of these deep-pocketed enthusiasts to secure their prizes has resulted in telephone number prices.
Last month we were treated to a new price hike when the monumental 3ft 2in (1.67m) high vase, pictured right, sold at Christie's in New York, for $260,000 (£144,440), getting on for double the previous high of $160,000 set in the same rooms only last October by a pair of chocolate ground Solon-decorated vases delighting under the titles of Fires Lit and Fires Extinguished.
But there is an even more interesting coda to this latest record breaker. This was an international exhibition piece. One of a pair titled Frise D'Enfant in Solon's workbook, they have massive bodies featuring putti demolishing iron chains to replace them with rose garlands set on bases fashioned as four platinum-finished putti. Combining the talents of Albert Carrier-Belleuse for the shape and Solon and two assistants who carried out the many hours of decoration, they were conceived as a grand showstopper for the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle to put Minton's name on the international map. The factory duly won the Exposition's Grand Prize and, as Christie's specialist Melissa Bennie pithily explained last week, "put Minton and Solon in the driving seat".
According to Bernard Bumpus, the pair was separated virtually at birth. Tiffany's bought this example directly after the Exposition while the other returned to the well-known London retailers Thomas Goode where it remained until 1991.
At some stage the vase offered last month at Christie's passed from Tiffany to the Daourd Collection in Atlantic City from whence it was acquired by Christie's vendor in 1975.
But what of its companion chez Thomas Goode's? A spokesman for the firm said he recalled this and all the other period ceramic pieces at the retailers being acquired by a Swiss-based purchaser, probably in the 1990s, although he could not elucidate further. One rumour in the trade is that it is now in private hands, perhaps in the Far East. The Goode's vase also appeared as the photographic 'pin up' for June on the Minton factory calendars for 1999. Now, though, the trail seems to have run cold.
There are, however, a number of people who would like to know its whereabouts, among them Melissa Bennie, who would understandably love to offer another version for sale, and the Kent dealer John Andrews of Scottow Antiques, who paid the record-breaking sum last month on behalf of a British-based collector and would dearly like to reunite the long-separated duo.