Spatterware and gaudy Dutch, the country folks' Sunday-best tableware in the first half of the 19th century, have been fetching prices generally paid for porcelain from palaces. Made in England especially for the American market, it was sold at the better country stores.
Spatterware is glazed white earthenware spattered with color and often decorated with additional designs. Gaudy Dutch, also white pottery, is decorated primarily in red and blue patterns, inspired by porcelains imported from China and Japan and copied by the English factories, particularly Derby and Worcester.
At the sale of the collection of the late Paul and Alma Brunner held at Wolf's auction in Cleveland in mid-November, a group of five red spatter saucers and tea bowls painted with red, green and black fish sold for a whopping $39,600. A gaudy Dutch coffee pot went for a record $11,000. A gaudy Dutch butterfly pattern wash bowl brought the same record price. Back in 1949 a similar wash bowl sold for $6,100.
Collectors have been passionate about spatterware and gaudy Dutch for more than 60 years. Cornelius Weygandt, a University of Pennsylvania English professor, inspired the first collectors when he wrote about the tableware in his books about the Pennsylvania Dutch. In the 1930s and 1940s Henry Francis du Pont collected spatterware, and lined up saucers in different patterns as a cornice all the way around one of the Pennsylvania rooms at his Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Du Pont also collected gaudy Dutch. Both spatterware and gaudy Dutch have continued to appeal to a small group of affluent collectors.
The Brunner sale was the first in a decade to offer such a fine collection of spatterware and gaudy Dutch. At the 1980 landmark sale of the estate of Helen Wetzel, a well-publicized on-the-premises Sotheby's auction in Reading, Pa., prices for spatterware and gaudy Dutch were strong. At that sale the octagonal platter with a yellow spatter border and a red and green thistle in the center for $2,500. At the Brunner sale it sold for $8,360, more than three times what it brought 10 years ago.
The yellow spatter plate with a peafowl in the center, which the lTC Brunners bought for $3,000 at the Wetzel sale, sold at the Brunner sale for $3,850. A blue spatter honey pot painted with a red schoolhouse fetched $6,800 -- more than double the $3,100 it brought at a Pennypacker auction in 1979. In 1973 a very rare blue spatterware cup and saucer with a drawing of a cannon on it brought $5,600 at the sale of James Pennypacker's collection in Reading, Pa.
The Brunner sale prices made new highs, but not without precedent, and taking inflation into account, they were generally not that dramatic.
The five fish cups and saucers that brought $7,920 apiece are very rare. The buyer, dealer Bea Cohen of Easton, Pa., said she had never seen others.
"I remember Paul Brunner telling me he bought six of them in the 1940s and found them in a general store, in a barrel never unpacked," said Mrs. Cohen, who for 40 years has been buying and selling English pottery made for the American market. One saucer apparently has disappeared; its tea bowl, damaged, sold as a separate lot for $2,420.
Since little spatterware or gaudy Dutch has been found in England, historians believe it was decorated mainly for export to America. The naive designs and bright colors appealed to the Pennsylvania Germans. Spatterware created a rainbow in their cupboards, and gaudy Dutch, with its red and blue Japan palette, added a splash of even richer color to their houses.
Spatterware comes in blue, red, green, purple, yellow, black and brown, in order of rarity, starting with blue, the most common. Yellow is the most desirable. Gaudy Dutch comes in many variations.
Condition, along with color and rarity of pattern and form, determine the value. For example, a gaudy Dutch coffee pot in the single rose pattern with restoration to the lid and under the handle sold for $5,720, about half the price of the butterfly pattern coffee pot in good condition. An 8-inch-high Grape pattern pitcher sold for $2,420 even though it had a slight repair to its rim, while a larger War Bonnet water jug, with major restoration, sold for only $302.50. A spatterware sugar bowl striped with yellow and black spatter, in perfect condition, sold for $2,860, while another identical but damaged one went for only $330.