On February 27, a stoneware Cycladic form estimated at £4000-6000 sold to an online bidder at £305,000 (plus 21% buyer’s premium) – a record for British studio pottery.
The Cycladic series – made in Frome in the mid-1970s at a time when debilitating disease began to limit his output – represents Coper’s last and most critically acclaimed body of work.
‘Arrow head’ forms were fired in two pieces and then joined by a short metal pin with most variations on the theme limited to just four or five examples.
The lady who brought this 12in (30cm) example to a Devon valuation day in a shoebox knew its pedigree – her husband had collected studio pottery in the ’70s – but had been delighted with the estimate, which she voiced might even be a little ambitious.
In fact, bids on the book arrived up to £20,000 and seven phone lines were active until around £60,000 before a dealer in the room, taking instructions from his mobile, and a UK collector bidding online via thesaleroom.com fought it out.
With premium, an online bidding charge and the Artist’s Resale Right, the successful buyer “won’t have much change out of £400,000”, said auctioneer Nic Saintey. It is the largest successful bid tendered via thesaleroom.com (a sister brand to ATG), bettering the £300,000 taken for a Qing jade table screen at Tennants in 2014.
Vessels of this form and size – this one admired for its matt ivory-glazed body and manganese base – do appear for sale sporadically. Another dated 1975 sold for £49,250 (inc premium) at Phillips in September 2011, while the two examples in the Firth collection sold by Adam Partridge in Macclesfield in October 2015 took £37,500 and £25,000 apiece.
Accordingly, such a massive bid represents a record by some distance – the previous high for Coper was the Swinton School Wall Mural sold for £181,250 (again in September 2011) – and suggests a return to the fever pitch levels of the 1990s when Coper prices spiralled. Then, at Phillips in December 1999, a straight-shouldered black-glazed vase fetched £88,000.
In recent years, prices for Coper have been overshadowed by those of Lucie Rie, whose artist record stands at the $170,000 (£133,900) taken at Phillips New York in 2016 for a bowl c.1978.