Eleanor Staefel, reporting in The Telegraph discusses a forgotten $1.5 million hoard of pots by Hans Coper, Lucie Rie and others with Jason Wood, who was the first to see this work outside the family of its deceased collectors Alan and Pat Firth. The demon art barber of Fleet Street, Jonathan Jones of the Guardian, has a lot to say about the hyperbole surrounding this find. Staefel calls it “one of the most important collections of pottery in the world that could rival the Victoria and Albert museum.”
His displeasure is partly justified but CFile can understand the “wow” moment of entering this Chelmsford bungalow for the first time and its impact on a Coper fan, which Wood is and Jones is decidedly not. You can read Jones’ response here.
Wood’s comments follow:
The family were keen to clear the house, thinking the value was in the property. They got very excited when I told them the value was actually in the collection, which was about ten times more valuable than the house. There were wonderful things wherever you looked but they were all piled on top of one another, precariously in some cases. Friends of Alan had brought down some pieces from the attic and I found more stuff in the garage. At first the garage looked like there was nothing of value, but in amongst spanners and oil cans there was contemporary art wrapped in newspaper and stuffed away in drawers.
Staefel states that the Firths’ meticulous documentation revealed that they spent 27,000 pounds (40,572 dollars) over forty years on the collection Mr. Firth was a senior probation officer and his wife was a private secretary. They had spent all their spare money amassing their collection of studio ceramics, as well as silver, jewelry, glass, textiles and furniture. The marathon 10-hour auction of the 350-piece collection reached 500 online bidders, 480 phone lines and a huge crowd in the auction room.
One decorative porcelain vase by renowned British potter Lucie Rie sold for £36,800 ($54,097) alone. In total, the hoard sold for a staggering £990,679, 9 ($1,488,693) with one of the best-selling pieces – a large stoneware ovoid pot by Coper bought by the Firths for £124 ($189) in 1975 – going for £50,025 ($75,172).
While is its wonderful to have the pots back in circulation and finding new homes, the clear winners were the unknowing heirs and an auction house in rural England, Adam Partridge Auctions of Macclesfield, Cheshire. Be warned their website is like some of their older lots, a malfunctioning antique.
Love contemporary ceramic art + design? Let us know in the comments.