When Bonhams embarked on their first dispersal of the mammoth Zorensky collection of First Period Worcester, there were murmurings in the trade (and presumably some crossed fingers in the saleroom’s ceramics department).
How would the market respond to such a large influx of material from just one period of one factory? Moreover, this material wasn't always in the best condition and, under European Union regulations, coming from America it attracted an additional five per cent VAT on the hammer price.
In the event, any scepticism, however understandable, proved unfounded.
Thanks to some sensitive estimates and a carefully orchestrated and orientated promotional strategy, Bonhams managed to pull it off. They brought in porcelain aficionados seeking rarities to plug gaps in their own collections and those keen to acquire a souvenir of a much-publicised ensemble familiar through the pages of John Sandon and Simon Spero's landmark 1996 reference work, Worcester Porcelain 1751-1760, The Zorensky Collection.
This enabled them to find buyers not just for the unusual pieces but also for the many standard elements that inevitably crop up in a collection where the owners were aiming to acquire an example of every First Period pattern the factory had produced. The final result, just five lots unsold out of 416 and a total just shy of £490,000, speaks for itself.
But last March's sale was just the first of a trilogy of Zorensky auctions and it had the advantage of novelty. Would Bonhams be able to accomplish the same feat twice over? Zorenksy mark two would test their mettle again. The second sale took place on February 23, Milton Zorensky having sadly died just a few days earlier.
The audience gathered for this offering was smaller than for the first and telephone activity was also down on last year's sale, a reflection perhaps of diminished American interest with the dollar still weak against sterling. But most of the key players, whether private or trade, did turn up again (as before, Simon Spero, Jupiter Antiques and Mark Law were all much in evidence).
And Bonhams also had 18 completely new buyers. 'Solid' would by my adjective of choice to sum up the performance of this second sale. There were arguably fewer fireworks either pricewise or in individual rarities.
Although Bonhams aimed to provide a similar cross section of wares in each sale, exact duplication wasn't possible and there were rather more of the less exceptional teabowls, saucers and other tablewares purchased as exemplars of the factory's plentiful stock of different patterns.
Despite this, there was none of the initial toe-in-the-water hesitancy that dogged the first 20 lots of early period pieces in part one. Prices for the rarities seemed more consistent, while the standard material appeared to find buyers with just as much ease as before, indicating no fall-off in those wanting a Zorensky souvenir.
The final statistics underlined this. At 385 lots, Part Two was slightly smaller than Part One yet it made slightly more at £505,130. Again just a handful of entries, four lots, failed to sell.
The six highest-priced pieces give a good idea of how demand extended across the breadth of the collection. Three were the early pre-1755 rarities, currently Worcester's most fashionable sector. Two were larger, later, 1770s entries: one blue-scale ground, the other rococo inspired. The sixth was a Zorensky favourite, a piece of mid-1760s yellow ground ware.
Leading the list at £26,000 was a rococo teapot of c.1752. This rare, much-published piece last went through the same rooms (then Phillips) in 1988 selling for £6750 to Earle Vandekar, from whom the Zorenskys acquired it. This time around it was battled out by an absentee bidder on Fergus Gambon's phone and by Simon Spero, with the hammer falling to the latter at £26,000.
A rare concave fluted teabowl and saucer dated to the same year, painted with a spare pattern of oriental influence, was another battle for Mr Spero against the phone, selling to the London dealer for £10,000.The third early rarity was a tiny 3in (8cm) high mug of c.1752-3, finely press-moulded with eight fluted panels and painted with delicate sprigs.
This was fought out by Robyn Robb, Simon Spero and a commission bidder, the hammer falling to Robyn Robb at £10,500.
It is years since blue-scale wares of the 1770s have been considered the apogee of fashionable collecting taste in Worcester, but the first Zorensky sale saw something of a revival of their fortunes thanks to some new collectors for this ware. Demand continued here, its most dramatic illustration being a pair of 71/2in (19cm) high Sèvres-inspired wine coolers that were taken to £15,500 against an £8000-10,000 estimate.
Significantly, their condition was very good with just one minor bruise and a few retouched flakes to the gilding. More surprising, perhaps, because it was not heralded by the Part One results, was the interest in a 151/2in (40cm) high pair of rococo-taste hexagonal frill vases and covers of c.1770- 72, extensively applied with piercing, swags and flowerheads. Rare pieces but with body cracks, base chips and the usual losses one finds on applied ornament of this type, Bonhams had reckoned on a price of around £3500. They ended up going for £13,500.
Yellow ground wares have always been very much North American taste in Worcester and these could have been disadvantaged by the dollar's weakness.
However this sale showed that demand is emerging from elsewhere. The pierced and lattice moulded basket that made the day's second highest price was contested by Mark Law, Simon Spero and a private UK collector who finally secured it at £16,000. Quality, condition (just one short firing crack to one pierced panel) and its appearance on the dust jacket of the Zorensky book, all played their part in this result.
The buyer reckoned it was the best piece of yellow ground ware he had seen and was determined to add it to his collection.
Of course, not every high-flyer took off. There were a number of pieces selling short of estimate, like the early 73/4in (19.5cm) so-called Dutch jug of c.1757-8 decorated with an extensive landscape and puce monochrome flowers and a gilt EAY cipher. This went for £5800 against expectations of £6000-8000. Similarly a pair of 10in (25cm) high damaged and restored 'dragons in compartment' vases sold to one of the sale's bigger spending private buyers for £8000 against predictions of £11,000-14,000.
Even where pieces came in on estimate, this didn't always represent a profit for the Zorenskys, as the 83/4in (22cm) high c.1770 bocage figure of a gardener confirms. It cost the Zorenskys no less than £9500 in the high profile 1986 Rous Lench auction. Entered here with an estimate geared to more realistic times at £6000- 8000, it sold for £8200.
Just as significant as the top lots was the performance of the standard material. Bonhams' judiciously cautious estimates were key. They ensured enough competition to send some of this well past predictions. A factory decorated 61/4in (16cm) high tea canister of c.1778 with restored chips and a replacement finial sold for £420 for example and a 51/2in (14cm) high sparrow beak covered jug that made £480 were cases in point.
Equally there were plenty of modest pieces making modest sums, particularly in the blue and white section. However, one has to ask whether, in a routine sale shorn of a Zorenksy provenance, such standard fare would sell at all?
There is one more Zorensky sale to go. Bar some dramatic intervention, there seems to be no reason why it should not fare as well as the first two. Indeed, the 'last chance' factor could even boost prices.
As Simon Spero pointed out, the 1996 publication of the entire collection means that people know what has gone and what is left to come. Rather like players in a poker game, this knowledge can only heighten the participants' sense of anticipation.