The Cotswolds’ newest auction house – Kinghams (23% buyer’s premium) – set out its stall last month with a sale of British art pottery that topped £535,000.
The name above the door is familiar: George Kingham recently bought out business partner Gary Orme, changing the name of the firm from Kingham & Orme while moving the saleroom from Evesham to Moreton-in-Marsh.
A Fine & Decorative Arts auction had been held on March 5-6. The 234 lots (of which 75% were sold) offered on April 17, however, were themed around the factories and designers championed by veteran London specialist dealer and publisher Richard Dennis. Marking 50 years since his first Doulton exhibition, he lent his name to the sale and consigned a small percentage of lots.
The Martin Brothers, inevitably, dominated the top of the sales sheet but other favourite names in strong demand included the likes of Christopher Dresser, Della Robbia and William De Morgan.
Best of Dresser’s nine Aesthetic Movement pieces for Minton was a c.1870 ‘owl’ vase. Standing 7½in (19cm) tall, it was estimated at £400- 600 but sold to a UK collector at £3800.
A 17in (44cm) tall, c.1897, sgraffito decorated pottery vase by Cassandra Annie Walker for Della Robbia, had taken £2100 at Christie’s South Kensington. Pitched at £800-1200 at Kinghams, it went to a German bidder at £4600 hammer.
Pieces by the Passenger brothers, two of De Morgan’s trusted staff who resurrected the company in 1922 five years after de Morgan’s death, met contrasting fates.
A 13in (33cm) twin-handled amphora-form vase by Fred, c.1885, stalled shy of estimate at £13,500. However, Charles’ best piece, a c.1890, monogrammed 13¼in (34cm) tall double lustre ‘Antelope and Fruiting Tree with Lizards’ dish more than doubled top estimate in selling at £5000.
The buyer, again a German collector, was part of the considerable international interest in the May 17 sale.
Bids came from Europe, the USA, Asia, New Zealand and Australia but it was largely UK private buyers who took the top lots.
Doulton remains rather out of favour, with even Hannah Barlow meeting resistance for anything pitched in four figures. The best of her 14 lots was a pair of 14in (35.5cm) high, c.1906, stoneware vases sgraffito decorated with goats and donkeys which went a shade below hopes at £900.
Hannah’s sister Florence fared a little better. Her c.1883, 11½in (29.5cm) tall stoneware pâte-sur-pâte footed vase decorated with a band of flamingos sold on its lower-estimate of £1500 to an online buyer.
It was left to current market favourite George Tinworth to fly the flag for Lambeth with the c.1885 stoneware mouse Guy Fawkes figure group.
The 4¾in (12cm) tall group incised with a monogram and I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot is seldom seen for sale. It doubled the lower estimate, going to a Midlands collector at £8000.
Doulton’s Burslem period was dominated by art director Charles Noke who launched so many of the firm’s most popular ranges including the HN series of figures and character jugs.
One early design for the HN series was a variation of his ‘Two Heads Are Better Than One’ Double Jester (HN3655). Designed in 1920, this 16¾in (42.5cm) tall figure was unusual in that the figure held a Mr Punch marotte, absent from most figures carrying this number. It sold on the lower £7000 estimate.
Noke himself was always prouder of inventing, with Bernard Moore, the famous Royal Doulton flambé glazes which first appeared in 1904. These developed into the Sung wares, introduced in 1919, and then, in 1925, the rare Chang wares.
Once hugely popular, these technical triumphs are a little less sought today. Best of the seven Sung works was a c.1928 ovoid shouldered ginger jar and cover by Arthur Eaton. Painted in the round with a romantic landscape, the 12½in (32cm) tall vase went below estimate at £3600.
Best of the Chang lots to get away was a c.1925 high-shouldered form vase by Noke and the great Doulton artist Harry Nixon. Standing 7¼in (18.5cm) tall, it took £1600 against an estimate of £1000-1200.
Flambé glazes were championed by other factories in the first quarter of the 20th century.
At the Cotswolds sale a 10in (25cm) tall electric blue and purple ovoid high fired vase by the Ruskin Pottery in 1913 doubled the top estimate at £2400 and an apparently unrecorded, c.1925, 6½in (17cm) long flambé bear, a model by Francis Arthur Edwardes and William Moorcroft, went within estimate at £4500.
Demand and prices for Fairyland lustre bowls by Daisy Makeig Jones for Wedgwood have slipped in the last couple of years. A 10in (25cm) diameter octagonal bowl, painted with the Fairy in a Cage pattern to the interior and the Woodland Elves VII Toadstools pattern to the exterior, took a within-estimate £1300.
Her vases can fare better. A large 14in (36cm) tall rouleau form vase was in the flambé pattern and, against a £1500-2500 estimate, made £3400 from an online buyer.
Homage to Martin Bros…
Among the modern pieces there were 14 by David Burnham Smith (1937-2019) one of the many potters Richard Dennis has promoted during his 50 years at his Kensington shop.
Top-seller was a 1990 signed 11¾in (30cm) tall porcelain sculpture of a head encased in two intaglio moulded detachable blocks which took £4200 against a 2000-3000 estimate.
Among Burnham Smith’s output were what would be described as homage works – his Martinesque birds in porcelain rather than earthenware, providing an affordable alternative to the pieces produced at Southall a century and more earlier.
The best-seller was a 9½in (24cm) tall jar and cover modelled as a longbilled bird dated July 2011. It took a top-estimate £2200.
…and the real thing
The 23 sellers from 29 offerings of Martinware prices started at a trebleestimate £280 for a 1909 stone and silver-mounted inkwell by Edwin Martin.
The serious five-figure bids came for the iconic grotesques by Robert Wallace Martin, 11 out of 13 of which got away totalling £352,000 – all going to an overseas collector.
Bird jars led the day. One, 14¾in (37.5cm) tall, was incised to the head Martin Bros, 9-1898, London & Southall, and to the body R W Martin & Brothers 9-1898. With a characteristically evil half wink, it was pitched at £25,000 but took £42,000.
Also taking £42,000, just above lower estimate, was a similarly sized and marked bird jar.
A less familiar bid was an earlier work resembling a penguin. The 12in (30.5cm) tall bird marked for 1880 went a shade over estimate at £36,000.
A non-avian creation, a stoneware sculptural grotesque monk jar from 1900, was the projected star but failed against hopes of £60,000- 80,000.
Martinware pieces did not have to be birds to get away, however. Others included a (13cm) tall grinning dog, or at least recognisably canine, figure which took a lower-estimate £40,000.