A rare 'Scratch Cross' group Worcester vase from the Kenber collection – £9500 at Bonhams.

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The catalogue archives are full of memorable names in this field such as Geoffrey Godden, Bernard Watney, Billie Paine and the Zorenskys.

On December 15 the auction house continued this tradition with an auction dedicated to the collections of two Worcester porcelain enthusiasts: John Alchin and Ralph Kenber.

Alchin has been collecting for over a quarter of a century with a particular fondness for small-scale pieces: miniature vases, small coffee cups and creamboats. Kenber built his collection over a 20-year period from the early 1990s focusing on pieces in the first years of the factory’s production (the early 1750s) and unusual shapes and decoration.

The two ensembles therefore complemented rather than duplicated each other.

Both men were advised in their collecting by the well-known English porcelain dealer Simon Spero and many of the components of their collections were acquired through him.

Bird and Snail vase

The sale produced a 70% take-up by volume with most of the top prices provided by Kenber pieces, although his ensemble also had proportionately more of the unsold lots.

Topping the bill was Kenber’s particularly early 6in (15cm) high beaker vase from the so-called Scratch Cross group, dated to c.1754.

Many of the best-known English ceramics collections have included specimens from this sought-after group. This vase is one of four known examples painted with the same Bird and Snail pattern, decoration inspired by Kakiemon porcelain via Meissen.

Two others are in the Ashmolean and the third was in the Jeremey Lever collection, then in the Crane collection when it was sold by Bonhams in 2010 for a premium-inclusive £9600. Kenber acquired his version from Simon Spero. Bonhams estimated it at £7000-9000 and it went just over that guide to take £9500 (£12,113 including premium).

Other rarities in the Kenber collection included a 5in (12.5cm) high dry mustard pot from c.1753-4 delicately painted with honeysuckle in Chinese style; a 5¾in (14.5cm) high early Scratch Cross mug, transfer printed with a variety of birds including pheasants and herons and a 5½in (14cm) wide covered butter cooler of c.1756-8 painted with Meissen-style flowers.

The mustard pot comfortably exceeded its £1200-1600 estimate in selling for £3200. The mug, acquired from Spero and formerly part of the E&J Handley collection, made a mid-estimate £2600 and the butter cooler, which was formerly in the Zorensky collection, sold for £3800 against a £2000-2500 guide.


An early Worcester fluted coffee cup from the John Alchin collection – £2200 at Bonhams.

The most expensive piece in the Alchin collection was one of the small 2½in (6.5cm high) fluted coffee cups of which he is so fond: a rare and early example of c.1752-3 painted in vibrant famille verte colours with a long-tailed bird perched on a flowering branch.

Formerly in the Cohen Collection (exhibited at Albert Amor in 1992), then with Simon Spero, it sold here within estimate at £2200.