Kelly Young Collection: Moravian Animal Bottles

Two exciting redware (or earthenware) animal bottles will cross the block in our January 30th auction of the William Kelly Young Collection. Both were purchased by Mr. Young in 1993 at Christie’s in New York City, in a sale that included several other fine examples of American redware and some stoneware. Both of these bottles were produced in Salem, North Carolina, sometime during the early part of the 19th century, by German-born potter, Rudolph Christ (1755-1833). Christ took control of the shop of deceased potter, Gottfried Aust, in Salem in 1789 and continued to work there until 1821 (Bivins, p. 30). He is most well-known for producing a variety of wonderful molded animal forms (along with a line of wheel-thrown vessels), including squirrels, owls, turkeys, crayfish, chickens, bear, sheep, foxes, and several sizes of fish.

Moravian Redware Squirrel Bottle by Rudolph Christ, Salem, NC. To be sold in the Wm. Kelly Young Collection on 1/30/10.
Moravian Redware Squirrel Bottle by Rudolph Christ, Salem, NC. To be sold in the Wm. Kelly Young Collection on 1/30/10.

The first redware bottle of the two to be sold, in the form of a standing squirrel holding a nut, is decorated with daubs of manganese and copper over a yellow slip and covered in a clear lead glaze. The reddish-orange color of the underlying clay is visible on the underside of the bottle’s recessed foot. Interestingly, manganese is brushed in a figure 8 pattern on one leg. Whether this treatment was implied to mean the number 8 or whether it was merely the haphazard brushwork of the potter, we will never know. The glaze is remarkably similar to the “multi-glaze” or “polychrome glaze” used by the Bells and Eberlys of Strasburg, Virginia, several decades later. In fact, I have seen a few Moravian pieces misattributed to the Shenandoah Valley for this reason. In actuality, this glaze was meant to mimic a glaze popularized by the English potter, Thomas Whieldon, during the mid 1700’s (Bivins, p. 209). The second Moravian bottle is more stylized, in the form of a portly bear. The figure’s small mouth reveals a few tiny sharp teeth, and its right foot rests upon a slain animal, possibly a sheep or pig. Its surface is covered in a dark brown glaze composed of lead and manganese.

Until recently, the most exhaustive study of North Carolina’s Moravian redware was John Bivins, Jr.’s book, The Moravian Potters in North Carolina, which was written in 1972. This book is an excellent source of information, and I encourage anyone interested in this fascinating school of pottery to take a

Recessed base of the squirrel bottle, revealing the iron-rich clay underlying the bottle's slip coating.
Recessed base of the squirrel bottle, revealing the iron-rich clay underlying the bottle's slip coating.

look at it. However, new information has come to light since then, particularly in the last three years. At the time the book was printed, for example, the author’s knowledge of some of Christ’s rarest forms could only be gleaned from period inventory lists and the existence of the objects’ original molds. Regarding an owl form, Bivins notes “since no finished examples are available, we do not know for what use the owls were intended (Bivins, p. 204).” The same is mentioned regarding a fox mold. However, both finished forms have surfaced since that time, adding to our knowledge of this potter’s work.

The 2009 edition of Ceramics in America, published by the Chipstone Foundation, is dedicated entirely to the Moravian potters of North Carolina, offering a current look at their work with several new discoveries.  Edited by Robert Hunter and Luke Beckerdite, the book includes the following articles:

Eighteenth-Century Earthenware from North Carolina:
The Moravian Tradition Reconsidered

Luke Beckerdite and Johanna Brown

Staffordshire in America: The Wares of John Bartlam at
Cain Hoy, 1765–1770

Moravian Redware Bear Bottle made by Rudolph, Christ, Salem, NC.
Moravian Redware Bear Bottle made by Rudolph, Christ, Salem, NC.

Lisa Hudgins

Staffordshire Ceramics in Wachovia

Robert Hunter

Tradition and Adaptation in Moravian Press-Molded Earthenware
Johanna Brown

Salem Pottery after 1834: Henry Schavner and Daniel Krause
Michael O. Hartley

The Mount Shepherd Pottery Site, Randolph County, North Carolina
Alain C. Outlaw

Making a Moravian Faience Ring Bottle
Robert Hunter and Michelle Erickson

Making a Moravian Squirrel Bottle
Michelle Erickson, Robert Hunter, and Caroline M. Hannah

The front cover of this edition pictures an incredible copper-glazed figure of a fox clutching a chicken (which in my opinion is one of the finest examples of early American pottery I’ve seen in some time). Looking at this piece, it is easy to understand why there is such great interest in Moravian pottery among historians and folk art collectors alike. I recommend anyone interested in the charming and useful objects created by Christ and others from this tradition to take a look at Ceramics in America‘s latest installment, a great contribution to our knowledge of Southern decorative arts.

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Wm. Kelly Young Auction: Spitting Snake Jug Slithers Into Sale

Last August, when my father, brother, and I, traveled down to Ft. Worth, Texas, to take possession of Mr. Young’s collection, an interesting stoneware harvest jug sitting on his living room table caught my eye. According to Young’s daughter, it had been purchased by Mr. Young at an antiques show in New York City during the early 1990’s, where it had been erroneously described as a piece of Indian pottery.

Albany Slip Decorated Stoneware Harvest Jug with Rattlesnake Handle. To be sold in the auction of Wm. Kelly Collection on January 30.
Albany Slip Decorated Stoneware Harvest Jug with Rattlesnake Handle. To be sold in the Wm. Kelly Young Collection on 1/30/10.

The form of the jug itself was in the typical domed or beehive style characteristic of 19th century American stoneware harvest jugs. Yet the vessel was made extraordinary by the addition of a large applied rattlesnake, which curved around the body of the vessel and formed its handle. I was really taken with the look of the snake. The style was different than that of the Kirkpatrick brothers, who produced the majority of 19th century stoneware snake jugs. The head was not executed in the usual flattened, closed-mouth form characteristic of the Kirkpatricks’ work. Instead, the animal assumed an almost comical expression, as its large open mouth curved into a slight smile, exposing numerous applied teeth. The creature’s body was further embellished with numerous slashes of brushed Albany slip, and its tail ended in a thin rattle. I believe the jug was possibly made in the Midwest, where the majority of harvest jugs and snake vessels were produced during the 19th century. Yet the subject matter suggests it is more likely a product of the Southcentral U.S., possibly Texas, where the rattlesnake was a very familiar animal.

While cataloging this piece, I was wondering about its unusual form. The vast majority of harvest jugs known have two spouts, one on each side. One spout, which was larger than the other, was designed for pouring liquid into the vessel. A smaller spout on the opposite side was designed for pouring liquid out of the jug. This harvest jug, however, only had one spout, and nothing on the other side. As I studied the jug, I noticed a hole inside the back of the snake’s mouth. Seeing that the snake’s head rested on the jug’s finial, I wondered if the hole might connect through the finial to the interior of the vessel. I decided to do a test with water. After pouring a small amount of water into the tubular spout on the jug’s side, I carefully leaned the jug over a sink. Voila! The water began to flow from the snake’s mouth! Hence, a smaller,

The harvest jug's snake head spout in action.
The harvest jug's snake head spout in action.

pouring spout did exist on this jug. . . only in the form of the snake’s head!

I am impressed with the ingenuity of this jug’s potter, whoever the person was. By the addition of a clay snake, he created a handle and a pouring spout, as well as significant decorative appeal to an otherwise simple form. I, for one, am sold on the piece! We’ll see what the bidders think on January 30th.

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Big Tulips: John Bell Stoneware

    Extraordinary early three-gallon John Bell stoneware jug, to be sold October 31 by Crocker Farm, Inc.
Extraordinary early three-gallon John Bell stoneware jug, to be sold October 31 by Crocker Farm, Inc.

Many agree that John Bell was one of the most creative American potters of the 19th century, with a highly diverse product line unlike most of his contemporaries. His career spanned over fifty years in Hagerstown, MD, Winchester, VA, and Waynesboro, PA, and during that time his products included cobalt-decorated utilitarian stoneware, simple and high-styled redware in a wide variety of forms and glazes, various molded household objects, and molded and hand-modeled animal figures. Bell’s works are included in some of the nation’s finest private folk art and museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Henry Ford Museum, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and Winterthur. This icon of American folk pottery is perhaps best known for his distinctive dotted tulip decoration, usually consisting of circular or oval petal flanked by thinner petals and accented with a series of brushed cobalt dots lining the top edge of the blossom.

The dotted tulip motif is commonly found on Bell’s salt-glazed stoneware, often applied over a kaolin slip to improve the color of the clay and decoration. The design is also frequently found applied in manganese on the unglazed exteriors of some of his redware jar forms. It is also seen, albeit very rarely, applied in cobalt on Bell’s redware over a glazed surface, most notably on his celadon-glazed redware jugs and pitchers. One such jug bears the initials “C F B,” indicating it was likely made by Bell’s son, Charles Frederick Bell. Two other examples of this style can be seen on p. 31 of George and Connie Manger’s Pottery of the Shenandoah and Cumberland Valleys.

Opposite side of John Bell jug.
Opposite side of John Bell jug, to be sold October 31.

Two early examples of John Bell redware pictured in H.E. Comstock’s The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region are decorated with a tulip design, which can be viewed as a precursor to his dotted tulip motif. Both were made before 1845, when he began producing stoneware.  A very rare large-sized redware jar, pictured on page 116, plate 4.96, is decorated with an extensive cobalt tulip design over a whitish slip. A phenomenal tin-glazed teapot, pictured on page 126, plate 4.132, is decorated with a similar, vertical design in brown and green slip. Both of these early examples feature a ball-shaped petal flanked on each side by two very thin petals. Neither exhibits the dotted embellishment known on pieces produced years later.

As is the case with most stoneware decorators, it is unknown what inspired Bell to make this his trademark decoration, though it bears a resemblance to PA toleware decoration of the period (Comstock, p. 117). It appears that Bell’s tulips did not go unnoticed. Dotted brushwork on the floral designs of stoneware produced by John Young from Harrisburg, PA, circa 1854, and Samuel Irvine  of Newville, PA, circa 1865,  indicate that Bell’s style was probably being emulated by competitors in the state.

Front of John Bell jug.
Front of John Bell jug to be sold October 31.

We have been consigned a very fine example of tulip-decorated John Bell stoneware for our October 31 auction, a three-gallon jug marked simply “JOHN BELL,” which descended in a Hagerstown, MD family. Its taller, thinner  spout and shapely form, which is slightly more ovoid than most of Bell’s stoneware jugs, suggests it may have been produced in the very early years of his stoneware production in Waynesboro, PA, circa 1845 to 1850. The form closely relates to an extremely rare early Bell stoneware jug sold through Crocker Farm in May 2008, which bears the abbreviated mark “J. BELL.” It is pictured below. That jug is the only example of Bell stoneware we have seen bearing this early mark, usually found on redware pieces made before 1850. The clay color and cobalt band around the spout are also noticeably similar to the jug we will be offering in October, further supporting the notion that both jugs were made early into Bell’s stoneware venture.

Very Rare Early Stoneware Jug, Stamped Simply "J. BELL," circa 1845-1850. Sold by Crocker Farm, Inc., May 2008.
Very Rare Early Stoneware Jug, Stamped Simply "J. BELL," circa 1845-1850. Sold by Crocker Farm, Inc., in May 2008.

Most noteworthy about the jug is its elaborate cobalt slip decoration extending vertically from base to shoulder on each side. The design consists of two long stems bearing two smaller tulips, swags, and stylized dashed brushwork, each culminating in a very large dot-embellished tulip at the shoulder. These tulips are two of the largest I have observed on a piece of John Bell pottery, measuring about five inches wide each. Such profuse decoration is rarely seen on Bell’s jugs, suggesting this piece may have been made for a special client. The decoration on a standard Bell jug of this size is usually relegated to the shoulder area, typically having a tulip on each side and a third design on the front. An example of a fairly typical Bell jug, made circa 1860-1875, is pictured below.

Typical John Bell stoneware jug, showing different form, decoration, and spout treatment, circa 1860-1875.
Typical John Bell two-gallon stoneware jug, circa 1860-1875, showing standard form, decoration, and spout style. Sold by Crocker Farm, Inc., in May 2008.

Another interesting feature of the jug to be sold on October 31 is a small incised design, composed of two leaves connected by a stem, which underscores the three-gallon capacity mark. It may have been impressed rather than incised, made as part of the jug’s three-gallon capacity stamp.  I do not recall seeing this treatment on another piece of Bell pottery.

Since handling nearly four-hundred pieces of Bell pottery from Waynesboro, PA, the work of this master craftsman never ceases to amaze me in its variety, quality, and artistry. It is clear that Bell’s purpose for this jug was two-fold, as was the case for so many 19th century potters. While designed to be used as a household good, the jug’s highly decorative nature  reveals Bell’s intent to impress its owner with a thing of beauty.

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Gorgeous Gemel to Cross the Block in October 31 Auction

The pottery form known as a gemel, also gemel jug or gemel bottle, is one of the rarest forms in American stoneware. The word is derived from the Latin word “geminus,” meaning twin, double, paired, or half-and-half. The plural of this same word, “gemini,” is used to refer to the constellation composed of  twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, of Greek mythology. The words “twin” or “double” definitely come to mind when one thinks of a pottery gemel, which is composed of two wheel-thrown jugs, joined together with clay between the two. A single handle is applied to carry and pour the paired jugs, though the positioning of this handle can vary from potter to potter. Variations of the form were also produced by American glass makers. Occasionally, the form is taken one step further, involving four connected jugs. Such pieces are referred to as “double gemels.”

Stoneware Gemel with Incised Bird Decoration to be sold in our October 31 auction. Height 6 1/4".

Stoneware Gemel with Incised Bird Decoration to be sold in our October 31 auction. Height 6 1/4".

The purpose of a gemel was to hold two liquids that were frequently used together in individual chambers. The form obviously made using such liquids more convenient than carrying two separate jugs. It is believed that many gemels were designed to hold oil and vinegar, which were commonly used in foods together, but needed to be kept separate. In other instances, a gemel may have held two different types of movie iBoy 2017 now

While many gemels exist bearing little or no decoration, some are known with wonderful brushed or incised designs, indicating they were likely made as specially-ordered or presentation items. Most signed or attributed stoneware examples were produced in New Haven, CT, by Absolom Stedman, or during Stedman’s partnership with one of the Seymours, around the year 1831 (Ketchum, American Stoneware, p. 58). Several are known bearing maker’s marks from this pottery, including some with distinctive incised bird designs accented with impressed circles.

Redware examples are also known from elsewhere in the country, including a few produced in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which are pictured in H.E. Comstock’s The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region. A small example by the highly-regarded potter, Anthony Bacher, who worked in Adams County, PA, Winchester, VA, and Thurmont, MD, circa 1850 to 1885, is glazed in cream and brown and features a horizontal handle. A gemel by Winchester and Strasburg, VA potter, Solomon Bell, consists of two molded male figures holding mugs. Clay hats serve as the containers’ lids. Gemels were no doubt produced in nearly every region of 19th century American utilitarian pottery production, though few have survived.

We have been consigned an exceptional stoneware example for our October 31 auction, which was given as a gift to an early Hanover, PA antiques dealer in the first half of the 20th century, and has never been offered for public sale. Measuring 6 1/4″ tall, the double jug is decorated with two incised birds filled with bright cobalt slip. Both birds are embellished with incised crests and ringed necks, and their wings are outlined in unusual incised wavy lines. Each are perched on a scallop-edged leaf or stem, connecting at the center with a three-petaled flower resembling a bow. In this way, the connected design mimics the conjoined structure of the jugs.

The cobalt-highlighted letters M and B are impressed below the spout. According to the consignor, this piece originally descended in a New York State family by the name of Brewster. The two letters, therefore, may be the initials of its original owner, with the “B” referring to Brewster. However, it seems more likely that the letters refer to the contents of each jug. The best hypothesis on the meaning of these letters is that they refer to madeira and brandy. Madeira, a wine produced since the 16th century on the Portuguese island of Madeira, gained much popularity in 18th century America. It was favored by many of the founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Madeira’s flavors and uses varied, largely depending upon the aging process and varieties of grapes used. Interestingly,  the wine’s long travels on ships exposed to the sun’s heat created a taste many found pleasing, and this accidental method of aging was later replicated on the island’s sun-drenched beaches. Brandy, whose name is derived from the Dutch word “brandewijn,” meaning “burnt wine,” was originally created from wine distilled in oak casks prior to shipment. The distillation was designed as a method of preservation and to reduce costs by concentrating the liquid; the product was diluted with water upon reaching its destination by ship. Consumers soon realized, however, that the undiluted wine had a robust and pleasing flavor, which was chemically altered by the distillation process,  and soon began drinking it without adding water. Most of us are aware of 18th and 19th century stoneware jugs and coolers bearing the impressed or incised inscription “BRANDY,” indicating its popularity in early America.

An interesting link can be found between madeira and brandy. Both have been frequently used together in cooking as a base for meat glazes, sauces, and marinades. I have also found a 19th century recipe for a cake made with both madeira and brandy. It is possible that this gemel saw more use as a kitchen accessory than as someone’s personal flask.

As far as its maker is concerned, the fat-bodied birds that adorn the front most closely resemble the work of the Crolius and Remmey family of Manhattan, NY. The  style of decoration on this example is so far unlike the bird designs of the potters of New Haven, CT, who produced most incised gemels known, that we can safely rule them out. Furthermore, the age does not strike me as early 1830’s, but much earlier, perhaps sometime around 1800. The motif of two facing birds may be an early predecessor to later paired bird designs used in Baltimore and Philadelphia by Henry Remmey, Henry Harrison Remmey, and Richard Remmey.

From the very beginning, we have always endeavored to add excitement to the collecting community and offer fresh-to-the-market examples of exceptional quality. 2009 has been a year that has fulfilled this hope of ours. This gemel follows in the wake of two other remarkable incised stoneware pieces we have offered this year, the first being an Albany, New York, cooler with fish and bird decoration, which set a stoneware specialty auction record at $103,500, and the second a Connecticut flask with bird and flowering urn decoration, which sold on July 11 for $40,250. Like these two other pieces, I believe this newly-surfaced gem will further support the claim that ceramics are the hottest commodity in American decorative arts today.

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