ASHEVILLE, North Carolina—With its green and brown alkaline glaze, thick turned rim and large lug handles at its shoulders, a Monumental “Dave” Edgefield Stoneware Jar by the slave, Dave Drake, 18 inches high, sold for an impressive $184,500 at Brunk Auctions’ February sale. Lot 1210 captured the top price of the sale and set a new auction record for a signed and dated “Dave” Edgefield Stoneware jar.
However, if it had a poem, one of his charming couplets, scratched through the glaze it would have sold for over $500,000. Only 34 of these are know the exists and their existence is of interest because slaves were not allowed to read or write, the so-called anti-literacy laws that in some states extended to all people of color.
The reason for this was the fear that slaves might be able to forge documents of freedom, and indeed some did just that. The punishments varied but included imprisonment and floggings. Dave’s “owners” obviously turned a blind eye to this rule. Dave Drake’s inscriptions detailed his thoughts and reflections on love, money, religion, and life as a slave.
This is an extraordinary example of Southern Pottery; its quality, historical significance, and great overall condition generated significant excitement on the floor and phones, driving the bidding on the “Dave” Jar to nearly quadruple the $40,000-$60,000 presale estimate. It was sold to an American museum.
Born into slavery at the turn of the 19th century, Dave Drake learned the art of throwing, turning, and glazing pottery on the Abner Landrum plantation and later, on the Lewis Miles plantation in Edgefield, South Carolina. This district of South Carolina was one of the few areas in the United States to rely on slave labor to produce utilitarian stoneware needed for storage of food and raw ingredients at plantations.
Dave Drake crafted storage jars, pitchers, churns, and jugs. Less know is that Dave eventually had only one leg, removed by a train when having imbibed too much feel asleep on the rails. In the days of kick wheel this could have ended his role as a potter. But he was paired with another slave that had only one arm, and production continued.
After emancipation, Dave Drake continued crafting pottery until his death in 1870s. Over time, this alkaline-glazed stoneware has been valued for function, intrinsic beauty, and as a vessel for the culture and history of a potter, his community, slavery and record of the American South. For more information visit Cfile posts and read about Theaster Gate’s response to Dave Drake.
The sale at Rago Auctions in Lambertville, New Jersey of turn of the 19th century art pottery did surprisingly well in a difficult climate. It grossed $1,333,455. The sell-through rate was an impressive 89%. The star was $150,000 for Lot 127, a bland vase, Arthur Hennessey and Sarah Tutt for Marblehead Pottery c.1910. The estimate was $25,000-35,000.
It is difficult to understand the high price but the key might be description of the work as “rare”. That is catnip to art pottery collectors. A statuesque Teco vase sold for $43,750, a rare Adelaide Alsop Robineau for $47,500. To our way of thinking the sale only had two artists, studio potters, whose works were unique, Robineau and George E. Ohr.
His Pot-Ohr-Ree (his name) were mostly modest around 4” in height, but a larger piece (lot 228) did sell for $27,500. Simply put, Ohr is under-priced. You can view several of the lots by Ohr below, their estimate and sale price. Our favorite is lot 118 that fetched $10,000. But for only $2,200 (lot 240) you could have bought a 1 ¼ inch diameter Ohr turd. Always the jokester.