Prices of ceramics soar


June 02, 1991|By Lita Solis-Cohen

Less than a month after the antiques world reeled at the high prices paid for French porcelains at the sale of the collection of the late Elizabeth Parke Firestone, more plebeian 18th century English pottery brought astonishing high prices as well. There is no recession in the market for antique pottery and porcelain.

A Sevres porcelain billiard score marker sold for a whopping $99,000 at the Firestone sale on March 22 at Christie's in New York. The 16 1/4 -inch plaque decorated in a trompe l'oeil technique to simulate a marble bracket had a royal provenance: the billiard room at Versailles.

A European collector paid $132,000 for a foot-high Vincennes lapis blue, two-handled vase and cover of 1755, and $99,000 was paid for a pair of white Vincennes potpourri vases with applied trailing flowery branches, nearly 14 inches high.

On April 19 in the same salesroom, ceramics from the collection of the late Joan and Herbert Klee of Chicago brought astounding prices. The Klees bought in the 1950s with great taste. The forms were rare and appealing and generally in fine condition. "There wasn't even a chip on their slipware plate," said Ellen Jenkins, who heads Christie's porcelain department.

From the Klee collection, a pair of Staffordshire creamware figures of water buffalo with mottled brown glaze, each with a Chinese man sitting on its back, made circa 1760, fetched $99,000. An earlier, c. 1710, Staffordshire slipware dish decorated with St. George slaying the dragon in brown slip on a cream ground and the initials S.M. for the potter Samuel Malkin, sold for $88,000. Then a solid agate tureen and cover, made of marbleized clay of different colors, circa 1750, with a lion finial and a shell border, crossed the block at $63,800, five times expectations. A more common pectin-shell shaped solid agate teapot sold for $9,900, still nearly double its high estimate.

A pair of salt glaze soup plates fetched $35,200, nearly as much as a plum pudding mahogany four-pedestal dining table they might have graced. The salt glaze soup plates 9 1/2 inches in diameter, made of thinly potted white clay, glazed with salt thrown in the kiln, were each decorated with a Chinese figure in a purple tunic and yellow trousers hanging from a tree being buzzed by a large butterfly.

"Americans love English pottery. The market is here, not London," insists Letitia Roberts, who heads Sotheby's Porcelain department. "English delft and Staffordshire is just folky enough to look good with American furniture, and much was imported here in the 18th century, so it is historically correct."

At Sotheby's the day before Christie's sale, a collection of English delft put together in the last five years sold for astonishingly high prices, frustrating London dealers who had come to New York for the sale, many with bids in their pockets from American clients.

An American collector who had left bids with the auction house went off with the majority of the decorated tin-glazed earthenware known as delft (with a small d), after the city of Delft in Holland where the potting methods were developed. The absentee bidder got a charger with a blue -- border and a portrait of King William, c. 1684, for a whopping $19,800, nearly double its high estimate, even though it was chipped, repaired and had a hairline crack. With delft, condition doesn't matter that much.

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