Sgrafitto redware tops $350K at Pook & Pook

DOWNINGTON, Penn. – Among the tens of thousands of pieces of redware created in the mid-Atlantic region during the late 18th to mid-19th centuries, a limited number of them bear the slip decoration so highly coveted by modern collectors, and even fewer are found with the rarest sgrafitto decoration.

Potters were generally creating pie plates, loaf dishes and jars for primarily utilitarian purposes. As such, it is no great surprise that American pieces with these ornate, originally European, sgrafitto designs, command the highest dollar from redware collectors.

Proving the point, on Friday, Jan. 11, Pook & Pook, Inc., set a new auction record of $351,000 (including 17 percent buyer’s premium) for a vary rare sgrafitto plate attributed to one of the most famous potters, George Hubener.

Early on in the day, at lot 143, the Montgomery County, Limerick Township, Penn., sgraffito redware dish dated 1785 crossed the auction block. Descended in the family of pioneer collector, Arthur Sussel, the plate is adorned with a three tulip vine and floral pinwheels on a yellow ground with green splotches. Pook-Pook Sgrafitto 2-6.jpgThe 12 1/4-inch diameter plate has an inscribed border, which was translated for Pook & Pook by retired Lutheran minister and Pennsylvania-German historian, Rev. Frederick S. Weiser, to read: “If it weren’t for the boys and the roosters, then cradles and hen houses would be empty.”

The bawdy verse was just a bonus to the vibrant surface with a yellow and green glaze over the deep toned earthenware body and the pristine condition as the plate had sustained only a very few small flakes over its 222 years.

Estimated at $50,000-$70,000, Pook & Pook auctioneer, Kellie Seltzer, opened up bidding in the salesroom at $40,000 and guided a lone phone bidder and multiple bidders in the room through 31 bid increments to end at a final hammer price of $300,000. American folk art dealer, David Wheatcroft of Westborough, Mass., who was bidding in the room, was the winner to hushed exclamations of the audience.

The Hubener plate record more than triples the previous auction record for a sgrafitto plate, which had lasted only nine months and was also held by Pook & Pook. In April 2007, Pook & Pook handled the landmark Americana collection of Dr. and Mrs. Donald A. Shelley. It was their Bucks County, Penn., earthenware charger, attributed to Isaac Stout, bearing the date 1790 and central decoration with a leaping stag, flanked by tree, flowering vine, and fence, which then sold to a collector in the salesroom for $111,150.

When asked post-auction about the results and Wheatcroft’s monumental purchase, a collector from Pennsylvania stated, “Things have sure changed. Ten and 20 years ago no one would have dreamed of six-figure redware sales. The big collectors and dealers keep pushing the spending ceiling for the truly amazing pieces higher and higher.”

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