Some 350 pieces bearing the famous ‘sunburst’ logo of the south Derbyshire firm represented more than 30 years of collecting by the late Carolyne Stanforth.
She first started to buy Bretby pots while a student at Newcastle University in the 1970s when (much as today) the similar wares of Christopher Dresser’s Linthorpe factory in Middlesbrough commanded much higher prices.
The large offering, covering the history of the factory from the years of the Henry Tooth and William Ault partnership in the 1880s to the inter-war period, was sold in 143 lots on May 26 for a total close to £14,000.
Confirming Bretby’s reputation as the most affordable of decent Victorian art pottery, most items were pitched at and sold for well under £50. Groups of up to a dozen typical monochromes proved good dealer lots, pricing out at £10 or so for each piece.
In the avant garde
However, more was expected for wares that follow the avant-garde designs used at Linthorpe (where Tooth had worked before his move to Derbyshire).
Some of these, such as a pair of double-gourd vases estimated at £150-250 or a twin-handled jardiniere in the Egyptian revival taste estimated at £100-150, are well-known Dresser models. They took £170 each.
Some of the better pieces from the factory’s popular trompe l’oeil range also performed well – a model of tomatoes on a plate sold at £180 (estimate £50-80) – as did some of the bronzed and jewelled wares c.1900-10 that were heavily influenced by European Art Nouveau.
A tobacco jar with a cover formed as the head of a maiden with flowing locks sold at £150, while a 14in (35cm) vase in similar guise copying a Continental bronze made £180.
The top-estimated lot was a Bretby exhibition piece, a one-off square-section tapered vase with the model number 600 and patent lace-work decoration standing 2ft 5in (72cm) tall. Pitched at £300-500, it made a more modest £220.
Instead, the best-selling lot was a large 16in (44cm) blue-glazed spill vase in the form of a monkey clutching bamboo akin to the products of the rival Burmantoft factory. In good overall condition (like most of the pieces in the collection), it took £460 (£200-300).