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Monday, December 5, 2011

Auction Roundup: A Rough Weekend for Rookwood, and other notes

I could look at Rookwood pottery for days on end.  I like the company's history of innovation, the quirky designs of pieces from almost all eras, and I think the company did a great job of navigating the tricky space between an industrial concern and the artistry people expected in the late Victorian era into the arts and crafts.  The market for Rookwood, however, is changing as evident by recent sales results.  

The annual sale (or two) of Rookwood has been something of a tradition, certainly in Cincinnati and for a long time the Cincinnati Art Galleries did well by this sale.  But changing tastes, a general drop in the Arts and Crafts market mid-level wares, and an economy in flux seem to have conspired against this past weekend's sale at Humler and Nolan.  The offering--465 lots of (mostly Rookwood) on Sunday, December 4th--was an ambitious array of Rookwood, but one has to wonder whether this type of monolithic sale makes sense in a market that is changing.    

First, the good news:

232 of the 465 lots offered for sale either met or exceeded their pre-auction estimate.  

The strongest sales, not surprisingly, were among the rarest pieces, and Amelia Sprague's Aerial Blue vase of 1895 led the sale, going for $14,000, or comfortably within the 12-15K estimate.  William Hentschel's carved mat vase went for slightly less ($12,000), but this figure doubled the low estimate.  Matthew Daly's exceptional Indian portrait vase met its estimate selling for $8,250, but this seems a far cry from the prices these pieces were commanding at the height of their popularity.


Less welcoming news was that 233 lots fell below their pre-auction estimates or failed to sell.  

Buyers were particularly unenthusiastic about Rookwood's standard ware, with pieces that less than a decade ago would have been quickly snapped up failing meet estimates, or even sell.  The general mood of the sale (at least if one is to believe the numbers reported by LiveAuctioneers) was one where astute buyers were able to snap up good deals, but where big money sales failed to materialize.  Particularly disappointing were the failure of lots 1152 and 1178 to sell, since these two pieces had estimates in the 20-30K dollar range.  

A rare electroplated vase decorated with bats and carved poppies that was exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1900 failed to sell.  While there was some wear on the unusual plating (gold over copper), the provenance of the piece alone might have attracted bidders in the past.  Lot 1178, photo from Live Auctioneers.   

A similar fate befell the rare tiger eye vase decorated by Mary Taylor (lot 1342) which apparently did not attract enough interest to meet its reserve, as well a sweet little silver overlay teapot made in 1892.    

The news from Treadway's sale (as far as Rookwood is concerned), was equally mixed.  The top selling lot, a large scenic vellum plaque, went for $17,000, but this was well under the 20-25K estimate.  

Lot 258, photo from Live Auctioneers.  This large scenic landscape plaque fell below it's estimate.  By comparison, a similar sized plaque done in the same year by the same artist sold at David Rago's in March 2004 for $50,000. 

A number of lots passed, and many went for under their pre-auction estimate.  The Treadway sale was buoyed, in part, by a more diverse offering of wares and strong performances by two Dirk Van Erp Lamps.  The modern offering performed more unevenly, and by the day's end there were a number of larger lots that failed to sell.  Notable in this regard were lot 809 (Nakashima table, est. 18-24K); and lots 592-3, two works by Sam Gilliam.

On the horizon, there's a particularly nice selection of ceramics and good arts and crafts coming up for sale at Sotheby's December 15 Important 20th Century Design Sale.  Sotheby's and Christies seem to have adapted to the shifting market by offering less wares, but presenting a bit more of a highly curated (and cultivated) selection.  Both sales kick off with a set of similarly designed Thomas Jeckyl Andirons, Christies' pair is in iron, the Sotheby's pair in brass.  

1 comment:

  1. The pieces featured in this blog are absolutely amazing. The selling prices are not much of a shock to me.

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