Lowestoft porcelain specialist and Suffolk auctioneer Russell Sprake is marking 50 years in the auction business this month with perhaps his finest ever sale.
Upon leaving school in 1961, Mr Sprake was seconded to the Buttermarket, Ipswich firm of general auctioneers Robert Bond & Sons. His father agreed to an initial payment of £300 and the stipulation that his son would receive no salary for two years while he learned the ropes. He worked there until 1968 when he became a partner in Lowestoft firm Notleys, setting up on his own in 1979.
The stand-alone sales of Lowestoft porcelain have been held twice a year since 1984 - most of them portered by Graham Quayle, who worked every R.H. Sprake sale before moving to New Zealand a few years ago.
The business is today run with the help of Mr Sprake's wife Zoe, his daughter and two sons, the youngest of whom was a 'babe in arms' when in 1986 his father was commissioned by the local council to buy a piece of Lowestoft to present to the Queen on the official opening of Broad House Museum.
The guglet and basin c.1764-5, pictured here, rank among the finest pieces Russell Sprake has offered in his half century.
Decorated in underglaze blue with vignettes of St Margaret's Church, Lowestoft Harbour at high and low tide and the Roads of Lowestoft, the artist is Robert Allen who joined the factory at the tender age of 13 and was around 20 years old at the time (he would live to see 90).
Labels to the footrims show they were number 87 of the 200 pieces of porcelain secured for the bicentenary exhibition at Ipswich Museum in 1957 mounted by leading authority Noel Turner.
The lender then was the vendor now: an Ipswich engineering family who acquired them shortly after they were purchased by dealer Hugh Green of Green & Hatfield at the sale of the Russell Coleman collection (of mustard fame) in 1948. The price 63 years ago was £80. Another similar guglet and basin decorated by Richard Phillips are in the Norwich Castle Museum, bequeathed by Russell Coleman, who evidently once owned two of these iconic pieces.
The pair to be offered by Mr Sprake will carry an estimate of £24,000-27,000 when it comes up for auction on October 28. It is one of 84 lots from 15 vendors, including one primary consigment from which a further selection will be offered in May 2012.
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By Roland Arkell