Lowestoft porcelain specialist and Suffolk auctioneer Russell Sprake marked 50 years in the auction business last month with perhaps his finest ever sale – and a record price for the factory at auction.
A 9in (23cm) high guglet and a 9¾in (25cm) basin c.1764-5 sold on the evening of October 28 ranked among the finest pieces favourite Russell Sprake has offered since he began stand-alone sales of Lowestoft porcelain in 1984.
Decorated in underglaze blue with multiple vignettes of the town, 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). Local historian David Butcher aided in the identification of the views that, in addition to St Margaret's Church, scenes of shipping at high and low tide and the Roads of Lowestoft, included a view of the Battery Green (part of the town's sea defences) and the sailing cutter Argus.
Labels to the footrims show bottle and basin were number 87 of the 200 pieces of porcelain secured for the bicentenary exhibition at Ipswich Museum in 1957 mounted by leading authority and Ipswich auctioneer Major 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 Colman 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 Colman, who evidently once owned two of these iconic pieces.
The pair offered by Mr Sprake had some condition issues: the base to the bottle was broken and re-glued and there was a stress crack to the body while the basin had a hairline and chips to the underside of the rim.
Nevertheless, with the estimate set at £24,000-27,000, six bidders registered their interest before it sold in the saleroom (Lowestoft's Beaconsfield Club) at £30,000. As agreed prior to the sale, the successful bidder (a Corton, Suffolk boy who now lives in the West Country) left immediately with his purchase and travelled home by his usual method - helicopter.
As he was bidding for a friend it was agreed the payment could be made later and a cheque duly arrived with a letter of thanks the following week.
The previous auction high for the Suffolk factory was the £24,000 (plus 20 per cent premium) bid at Bonhams in June for a 5½in (14cm) high flask painted with four sailing ships to one side and, to the other, an unusual shipbuilding scene, from the collection of Geoffrey Godden. The fine quality painting to the flask was possibly by Richard Powles, (d.1808), who, like Robert Allen, was taken on by the factory as a boy.
Mr Sprake's motto is that Lowestoft porcelain always makes more in the town where it was made. Just three unsold lots were counted among the 84 lots from 15 vendors offered here.
Also from the primary consignment - more of which will be offered in May 2012 - was a 7in (18cm) high pear-shaped jug with a sparrow beak and scroll handle. Painted with flower sprays and a trellis border, it was inscribed within a rococo cartouche Thos Davy, Fressingfield, 1782.
Although it has a horizontal crack it is important as a vessel including a name, a village and a date (Davy is buried in the local churchyard), and it too had been at the bicentenary exhibition at Ipswich Museum in 1957, a decade after it was bought at the Colman sale for £42. A distant descendent of the original owner of the jug was the buyer at £8000 (estimate £4000-6000).
Three (or rather what turned out to be two) pieces of Lowestoft from the collection of A.J.B. Kiddell (1894-1980), were sold by Sworders of Stansted Mountfitchet on September 20. The latterday doyen of the ceramics world, a former president of the English Ceramic Circle and a founder member of the Porcelain Circle, willed the pieces to the present owner on his death.
A 4in (10cm) cream boat c.1761-3, moulded on each side with sheep or cows with details picked out in underglaze blue, similar to another pictured in Bernard Watney's English Blue & White Porcelain sold at £3200 (estimate £1000-1500) while a 2in (5cm) polychrome model of a recumbent ram resting on a grassy mound c.1770, took £3100 (estimate £1500-2000), despite missing a piece missing at the rear.
However, a 5in (13cm) high porcelain figure emblematic of summer, catalogued as Lowestoft and estimated at £2500-3500 despite a repair to the neck, was later reattributed to Bow. This 'downgrading' saw it fail even at a much-revised estimate of £100-150.
More Lowestoft at Hale, near Altrincham on September 17 when Patrick Cheyne sold a miniature blue and white sauce boat decorated with a variation of the Little Fisherman pattern. Catalogued as First Period Worcester, it was later reattributed to the Suffolk factory. It took £420.