Elers tea jar or canister – £4200 at Mellors & Kirk.

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Settling near Burslem in Bradwell Wood, the source of a fine iron-rich clay, for almost a decade from c.1691-97 they produced sophisticated vessels in imitation of Yixing redwares that were sold into the London luxury market from a shop on Poultry, Cheapside.

The Elers Brothers concern was influential – similar vessels were made by imitators in Staffordshire well into the 18th century – but it was not financially successful.

In recent years considerable progress has been made in identifying Elers wares based on an understanding of their distinctive manufacturing technique. It is now accepted that, coming from a metalworking tradition, they used slipcasting in plaster moulds and lathe turning for all their wares.

Their apparent ignorance of the technique of throwing pottery on a wheel made production expensive and led to bankruptcy by 1700.

Good condition

The 4½in (11cm) tea jar or canister offered by Mellors & Kirk in Nottingham on December 14 ranks among the very earliest English tea caddies (the earliest silver caddy is dated 1682).

The form is taken from larger jars made at Yixing that the East India companies were importing into 17th century Europe. However, the diminutive size reflects the very high price of tea leaves in this period.

Similar examples with four panels of relief-moulded chinoiserie decoration are illustrated in the collecting literature with another in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

That one has its original silver gilt cover, as does another that was sold by dealer Jonathan Horne in 1995. Many surviving pieces of Elers stoneware are or were once mounted in silver or gilt metal – the mounts quite possibly provided by the brothers themselves.

Although now missing its cover, the Nottingham discovery was in good condition with firing stresses and a small flat chip contemporary to manufacture.

The days when such a rare vessel might bring a five-figure sum are perhaps behind us, but it did surpass the guide of £1000-1500 to bring £4200 (plus 24% buyer’s premium).