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Amassed in different decades but dispersed in the same month this year, the collections of Anne and Frederick Vogel III (sold at Sotheby’s New York on January 19) and Pelham Olive (sold at Bonhams Bond Street on January 31) represented an exceptional opportunity for the collecting community.

An outstanding collection remains an outstanding collection whenever in the peaks and troughs of a market cycle it happens to be dispersed. And the collections of early English ceramics and vernacular furniture assembled by Anne and Frederick Vogel (at Sotheby’s New York on January 19) and Pelham Olive (at Bonhams Bond Street on January 31) were both outstanding.

Though amassed in different decades and with different emphases, they shared many common characteristics – including a positive response from the collecting community.

It is no great revelation to discover that the demand for English pottery is weaker in 2019 than it was a generation ago. Perhaps more surprising is just how much life remains in these most traditional of markets.

The Vogel collection

Like other leading US collectors of their generation, Anne and Frederick Vogel III furnished their Milwaukee home in textbook early colonial style.

Accordingly, the $4.2m (£3.2m) collection dispersed at Sotheby’s New York (25% buyer’s premium) during ‘Americana Week’ on January 19 included not just a stellar array of New England furniture from the Pilgrim century but also the sort of Old World chattels that would have been in a typical high-status American home.

Two catalogues were produced for the sale. One volume comprised early Americana and related European domestic objects. The other, numbering 131 lots of early British pottery, will sit comfortably alongside those created for Harriet Carlton Goldweitz (Sotheby’s 2006), Simon Sainsbury (Christie’s 2008) and the Longridge collection of Syd Levethan (Christie’s 2010-11).

The Vogels’ British ceramics and associated Westerwald stonewares were all types known in colonial America – many of them matching sherds excavated at Jamestown or Williamsburg or pieces in keystone collections such as Historic Deerfield, Massachusetts, or the Chipstone Foundation in the Vogels’ native Milwaukee. As referenced by provenances in the catalogue, most had been bought from London dealer Jonathan Horne in the collecting heyday of the 1980s. There were some blue-chip items among them.

The Vogels’ British ceramics and associated Westerwald stonewares were all types known in colonial America

Only half-a-dozen pieces are known that share the same body type as a c.1705 brown stoneware half-gallon tankard with striking polychrome enamel decoration. These include tankards in the High Museum of Art, Atlanta and the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, a punch bowl in the St Louis Art Museum and a coffee pot in the Chipstone. All appear to have been produced in London (probably Fulham) with the enamelling completed by a single artist or workshop.

This tankard, last sold at Christie’s in 1984 and acquired by the Vogels from Horne in 1988, is decorated with the coat-of-arms of the Worshipful Company of Bricklayers and Tylers and other floral flourishes. The silver mount is a 19th century addition (London, 1824). Estimated at $10,000- 15,000, it sold at $17,000 (£13,100).

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A c.1705 enamel-decorated brown stoneware half-gallon tankard – $17,000 (£13,100) at Sotheby’s sale of the Vogel collection.

A selection of Nottingham brown saltglaze stonewares from the same period included a rare 4in (10cm) high double-walled jug with pierced foliate decoration c.1700-05 that doubled hopes at $9000 (£6900). A surviving trade card for ‘carved’ wares issued by the Nottingham potter James Morley includes the line drawing of a similar mug. One in the collection of

Massachusetts connoisseur Harriet Carlton Goldweitz took $6000 (£4500) at Sotheby’s New York in January 2006.

The Vogel collection also included a number of slipware press-moulded dishes of the type found when historic sites in Philadelphia were dug in the bicentennial year of 1976.

These are typically associated with Samuel Malkin (1688-1741) of Burslem, but the initials of other potters appear to some examples.

A 12in (30cm) dish with a stag picked out in brown slip is one of at least four dishes marked with the initials IC. The example decorated in dark and mid-brown slip from the Goldweitz collection was sold at $30,000. The Vogel dish, also in good condition and last sold at Sotheby’s in March 1990 for £11,000, took a more modest $24,000 (£18,500).

A similar dish decorated with pomegranates, fleur-de-lis devices and central lotus bloom with the initials IS, probably for John Simpson, was estimated at $12,000-18,000 and sold at $19,000 (£14,600). It had last sold at Sotheby’s London in 1988 for £4800.

Sold just below estimate at $38,000 (£29,300) was a 13in (33cm) Staffordshire slipware bragget pot with the inscription The Best Is Not Too Good For You and the date 1697. The word ‘bragget’ derives from the Old English word meaning malt and references an ancient British liquor that comes from fermenting honey and beer together. These kinds of cups (this one with a section of good quality ‘spray and paint’ restoration to the rim) were probably given at weddings or other festive event.

The delft divide

Delftwares contributed both some of the strongest and the more modest prices in the sale.

Among the more recent additions to the collection was a large 16in (40cm) London blue dash charger c.1660-70 painted in yellow, ochre, blue and green, with tulips and carnations issuing from a vase within a wide border of pomegranates and oak leaves.

It once formed part of a large collection of British pottery owned by the banker, Cecil Baring, 3rd Lord Revelstoke (much of it sold by Puttick & Simpson, London in 1934) but was last sold by Sotheby’s in 2013 for £22,000. Just a few years later it led the Vogels’ ceramics offering at $75,000 (£57,700).

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London blue dash charger c.1660-70 – $75,000 (£57,700) at Sotheby’s sale of the Vogel collection.

Another strong delft performer – alongside the 6in (16cm) cat form jug c.1670 sold at $65,000 (£50,000) pictured in ATG No 2377 – was a 7in (18cm) white glazed ‘bossed’ tankard decorated with five rows of pushed-out bosses c.1660-70 which took a double-estimate $35,000 (£26,900). A white mug of this form sold for just $14,000 as part of the Longridge collection sale at Christie’s New York in 2011.

It was, nonetheless, very representative of the current market that decent rather than exceptional pieces offered achieved bargain sums. Of the 484 lots, 345 were offered with estimates below $5000 and the absence of reserves at the low end meant that buyers with only a few hundred dollars to spend walked away with more than just a catalogue.

Many pieces were hammered down well below guides, including an unusual London blue and white plate with scalloped rim and chinoiserie figure decoration c.1750. It was probably made by William and Abigail Griffith who operated from the delftware pothouse on Lambeth High Street from 1747-61. Fragments of this border type were found by pioneering scholar FH Garner during digs on the site in the 1930s. It was estimated at $800-1200 but was allowed to sell on the opening bid of $100 (£77).

An 11in (28cm) octagonal dish c.1690 and possibly Brislington, was ex the Louis Lipski collection and had sold for £1600 back in 1981. Close to 40 years later the hammer price was just $300/£230 (estimate $2000-3000).

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Delft octagonal dish c.1690 – $300 (£230) at Sotheby’s sale of the Vogel collection.

The Olive Collection

Unlike the Vogels, who were forming their pottery collection on a rising market in the 1980s and ‘90s, Pelham Olive was buying in the 21st century when some of the main protagonists had left the market.

The son of a Wiltshire antiques dealer, Olive has sustained an interest in early English vernacular antiques throughout his professional life – a varied career that embraced asset finance, local authority leasing and then medical equipment services.

As the collecting bug took hold, early pottery, oak furniture, treen and country artefacts were assembled over a relatively short period (mainly in the first decade of this century) to fill a large country house and aid in the furnishing of the 16th century Merchant’s House in Marlborough.

Having made the recent decision to undertake “a clearing of the decks” (his latest venture is “combating the effects of climate change with an eco-estate in Scotland” and “racing an Edwardian racing yacht”), the outcome was a 264-lot auction of the bulk of his collection at Bonhams Bond Street (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) on January 31.

Some of these items came with rich provenances that succinctly plot the movements of the recent collecting market

Some of these items came with rich provenances that succinctly plot the movements of the recent collecting market.

Through his father Pelham Olive knew of Louis Lipski, the scholar who helped renew interest in English and Irish delft with the publication of key reference works and a four-part sale at Sotheby’s in the early 1980s.

The equally impressive array of early pottery in Tom Burns’ Rous Lench collection sales in 1986 and 1990 and delftware collected by John Phillip Kassebaum in 1991 provided more material. Prices for early pottery were on a rising trajectory fuelled by demand from wealthy collectors, particularly the aforementioned Syd Levethan and Simon Sainsbury, who bought through London dealers Jonathan Horne and Alastair Sampson.

The deaths of Sainsbury and Levethan and the subsequent sales of their collections at Christie’s between 2008-11 brought large quantities of top-flight items back onto the market.

At the time of the Levethan sales in particular there were huge opportunities for new collectors: material was suddenly plentiful and prices were being revised.

Olive managed to acquire a number of pieces including some inscribed and dated examples that are ‘grail’ pieces for collectors.

Topping Bonhams’ sale was a 7½ (19cm) high London ‘bossed’ tankard painted in blue with a crowned cartouche inscribed BGW and dated 1653. It cost £20,000 in the June 2010 Levethan sale. Offered here with a guide of £30,000- 40,000, it sold for £30,000.

The 1766 dated delft hunting mug pictured in ATG No 2378 doubled its Levethan price at £14,000. However, prices did not always represent an increase on the original purchase price, particularly for the pottery which made up almost half the content.

The market for oak and vernacular furniture has a wider spread of buyers. Coupled with sustained demand for rarities brought about by greater scholarship, this means that values have been on less of a roller-coaster ride. Prices for furniture and works of art “have continued to rise” says Bonhams’ furniture specialist David Houlston.

Oak furniture

Much of Olive’s oak furniture had come from British auctions. He had been guided in many of his purchases by the late Victor Chinnery, oak expert and – like Olive’s father – a founder member of the Regional Furniture Society.

Christie’s South Kensington’s 2009 benchmark sale of the stock and collection of the well-regarded dealer Roger Warner provided a sizeable slice but auctions at Dreweatts, Christie’s and Sotheby’s also fielded some highlights.

This was a collection that was returning relatively quickly to market so judicious estimation was key. Bonhams, which has long-standing specialist departments for early furniture and pottery and extensive knowledge of the clientele, was well placed to set them in the context of the current climate.

Bonhams’ ceramics specialist John Sandon said that when he went through the individual pieces he did not look at what it had made before, but instead put on what he thought it was worth. This helped towards a high take-up. Of the 264 lots that went under the hammer, 222 (84%) found new homes to generate a total of just over £783,000 and aftersales have further reduced the unsolds.

As to who was buying, Houlston said that 82% of the oak and works of art went to private buyers, many them existing clients but also some new people. John Sandon said the pottery went largely to English-speaking clients with British and Americans predominant but also bidders from further afield. There was some trade purchasing from specialist ceramics dealers and some buying by specialist collectors of pottery but many bidders, he said, were making purchases across the vernacular disciplines buying pottery, oak and works of art.

The most expensive item in the sale was a high-status piece of furniture: a 5ft (1.5m) wide elaborately carved oak and walnut livery cupboard from c.1530.

The panels include a diverse range of subjects but ones that are are united by rope-twist borders while a series of drawers are supported by both frame and base boards to allow for smooth running. The cupboard sold for £62,500 to a bidder that Houlston described as “an existing English private collector”.

Boarsney House table

Following the livery cupboard in price was a rare carved and joined oak table of c.1530-50 with a folding top opening to reveal four compartments supported on a gateleg to the reverse. It is very similar to an example sold by Sotheby’s back in 1971 from the collection of Sir Edward Barry of Ockwells Manor which – with a lockplate pierced with the Arms of France and Brittany – was described as French from the reign of François I.

The Olive table was missing its lockplate (there is a void in the front face where it would presumably have sat). Last under the hammer at Dreweatt Neate in 2006, then it made £60,000 as part of the Boarsney House sale. Guided here at £30,000-50,000, it sold at the upper end of that estimate to another of Bonhams’ existing English private collector clients.

When the first sale of Levethan’s collection went under the hammer in June 2010, his group of treen (which, unlike his pottery, had not been published) proved to be something of a revelation and was subject to strong bidding.

One of the stars of his collection was the so-called Hickstead Place wassail bowl. This large and early turned sycamore vessel goes back to the reign of Elizabeth I or James I and is reputed to have come from Hickstead Place in Sussex, parts of which date to the 15th century. The cup is elaborately decorated with pyrographic circles and intersecting lines. This made £22,000 in 2010. At Bonhams this year, on resale it realised £18,000.

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The Hickstead Place sycamore wassail bowl – £18,000 at Bonhams' sale of the Olive collection.

While many pieces sold with predicted levels, some items outstripped expectations by considerable margins.

Purchased for £6500 at the two-day 2009 sale of the stock and collection of Roger Warner, a burr oak chest from c.1760 with a boarded rather than joined construction, realised £11,000.

Also from the Warner sale was an 18in (45cm) 17th century leaded bronze cauldron with marks reminiscent of those used by James or John Fathers of the Fathers foundry in Montacute, Somerset, or the founder known as Flowersee of Salisbury. Bought for £1400, at Bonhams it sold for £2500.

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A 17th century leaded bronze cauldron – £2500 at Bonhams' sale of the Olive collection.

Affordable lots

As well as hard-to-find rarities, the Pelham Olive collection sale at Bonhams on January 31 featured more standard material such as delft tiles, jars and plates, country chairs and rustic metalwares. Pictured  below are three examples.

£1 = $1.30