The Twinight Collection of British porcelain sold by Bonhams (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium)* in London on September 29 was just one slice of an impressive porcelain ensemble amassed by the US collector Richard Baron Cohen over a relatively short 20-year period.
Cohen and his items were well known in ceramics circles and in the introduction to Bonhams’ catalogue he succinctly summarised the objective behind his project.
“If you were a porcelain collector or dealer during the 20-year period commencing 1994 through 2014, I am certain that you were aware of my Twinight Collection”, he wrote. “At that time, I visited the salerooms of England and mainland Europe in search of the finest neo-classical European porcelain.”
That “extensive foray into late 18th and early to mid-19th century neo-classical porcelain” involved acquiring tablewares from many European factories including Sèvres, Royal Vienna, KPM Berlin and Meissen.
With these pieces it was the quality of the painted decoration that was the chief attraction, whatever form it took. The collection went on to be the object of public exhibitions across the world: in Berlin, Vienna, Paris and New York, although the English pieces have never been on view.
In 2018 and 2019 Cohen turned to German auction house Lempertz to sell most of the Continental porcelain from his collection in two single-owner sales (see ATG Nos 2374 and 2384).
This year it was the British element that came up for sale and he chose to sell it through Bonhams where he acquired many of these pieces between the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The 103 lots encompassed porcelain spanning the 1790s through to the first part of the 19th century. It took in the later incarnations of the Worcester factory, Derby and Pinxton and the Welsh factories of Swansea and Nantgarw. It featured tablewares with topographical decoration, with flora and fauna, armorial pieces and special commissions.
They had been painted by a number of known decorators such as Thomas Baxter, William Billingsley, Thomas Pardoe and William Quaker Pegg as well as by talented but unidentified artists.
The sale was rounded off by a slightly later, 1880s, selection of cabinet plates and vases from the Copeland factory finely painted by CF Hurten.
Cohen was a vigorous bidder when he was building up the collection and was prepared to pay top dollar for his purchases. Like many traditional fields, the values of classic English ceramics have stagnated or even fallen over the past couple of decades but Fergus Gambon, Bonhams’ specialist for the sale, said that he did not have to base estimates on what his vendor had paid.
“Right from the start he was realistic…. he wasn’t going to insist on getting the purchase price back in each case”, Gambon told ATG. This allowed the specialist to set the levels at what he felt the pieces were worth. He thought that it worked with everything finding its level, some things selling for more than he paid and others for less, as illustrated in this report.
The overall final statistics were encouraging with 81% of the lots getting away to net just a shade under £300,000. The patchiest area of the sale, with a higher proportion of unsold lots, proved to be the Welsh porcelain where Gambon felt that demand has slackened off with fewer new buyers.
For the results overall it helped that Cohen did not focus on any one factory but rather on different types of decoration across a specific timeframe.
Regency porcelain also has more of an immediate decorative appeal than some of the more academically interesting wares from the earlier 18th century English factories.
All of this gave more variety to the sale and the different subjects attracted bidders beyond the limited arena of the specialist ceramics collector.
The potential buyers were “absolutely not necessarily just porcelain people… some of them were asking questions which showed that this was probably one of their first forays into the world of Regency ceramics”, said Gambon.
He also noted that there were a couple of Chamberlain pieces in the sale finely painted with canine subjects which attracted a lot of interest from people buying because of the dogs.
The bulk of the bidding came in absentee form via commissions, online or by phone and was predominantly a mix of UK and US, with some from Japan.
Copeland and Garrett best-seller
Topping the auction with a price of £42,000 were two rare and historical Copeland and Garrett presentation cabinet cups and salvers dated 1833.
They were made for Copeland and Garrett as commemorative pieces using the bones collected from an ox roast at a dinner held to celebrate the signing of the partnership between the two men. Each cup is decorated with fruit, flowers and butterflies on a turquoise ground and has an armorial to the centre of the salver while the undersides of the salvers have gilt inscriptions giving details of the event.
Both cups were part of the Copeland collection and they made the same sum when sold by Bonhams as part of the auction of the contents of Trelissick House in July 2013.
The second-highest price went to a Flight Barr and Barr Worcester centrepiece that was beautifully painted by Thomas Baxter with a still-life of shells, coral and a sea urchin.
Shell decoration was a speciality of the artist (his renditions are so accurate that marine biologists can usually identify all the specimens). This particular piece, which measured 13in (33.5cm) in width and features an impressed crown and FBB mark as well as a Coventry Street printed mark, dated from c.1814-16 and was acquired by Cohen at Bonhams in 2005 for £20,000. This time around it realised £30,000 against a £10,000-15,000 guide.
The collection also featured half a dozen pieces from a Chamberlain’s Worcester commission known as the Abergavenny Service which was ordered in 1813 by the Earl of Abergavenny.
Comprising armorial decorated tea, coffee, dinner, dessert and breakfast services and a series of vases, this was the factory’s most important commission.
The most expensive Abergavenny piece in the Twinight sale was a 10¾in (27cm) high covered vase that was painted with a scene from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII to one side and the full Abergavenny arms to the other and had gilt ram’s head handles and a pineapple finial. It made £15,000, which was double the estimate, and compared to a price of £9000 realised when it was acquired at a Bonhams sale in December 2007.
The second most expensive piece from the service was a large 14in (35.5cm) wide oval covered soup tureen and stand painted with white and gold flowers on orange borders and the Abergavenny armorials.
This realised £8000, which was the lower end of its £8000-12,000 estimate and less than the £11,500 it realised in June 2007.
In terms of overall values, British porcelain does not have the same broad international collecting base as some of the best-known Continental factories and prices do not compare with the top end of Meissen or Sèvres.
This does mean, however, that examples of British porcelain from this era with very finely executed decoration and can represent relatively good value compared to their Continental counterparts, especially as this continues to be a soft market.
The Twinight sale had plenty of pieces priced at under £2000 as well as some in the three-figure range and examples of these are pictured here alongside the top lots discussed above.
* As the collection was imported from the US, VAT at 5% is payable on the hammer price unless exported back outside the UK.