Extremely Important West Troy, NY Stoneware Elephant Crock

July 18, 2015 Stoneware Auction

Lot #: 1

Price Realized: $166,750.00

($145,000 hammer, plus 15% buyer's premium)

PLEASE NOTE:  This result is 9 years old, and the American ceramics market frequently changes. Additionally, small nuances of color, condition, shape, etc. can mean huge differences in price. If you're interested in having us sell a similar item for you, please contact us here.

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July 18, 2015 Auction Catalog

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Exceedingly Rare and Important Four-Gallon Stoneware Jar with Large Cobalt Elephant Decoration, Stamped "WEST TROY / N.Y. / POTTERY", New York State origin, circa 1880, cylindrical jar with rounded shoulder, applied lug handles, and flared rim with narrow opening, the jar's front decorated with a brushed and slip-trailed design of a stampeding elephant atop a heavily slip-trailed ground with stylized shrubs. Cobalt highlights to maker's mark and capacity mark.

This jar features arguably the finest depiction of an elephant in American stoneware known. Its unusually-large-sized design dominates the horizontal space of the jar's front, measuring an outstanding 11" long by 9" tall. The decoration, utilizing slip-trailed and brushed decorative techniques throughout, also includes sgraffito-style carving of the cobalt slip delineating the eye and ear of the animal. An exuberant, folk art quality is created with the heavily daubed and striped cobalt details throughout the elephant's body. Adding interest to the design is the animal's distinctive boot-like feet, an anatomical inaccuracy, which imparts a whimsical tone. Coupled with the appealing subject matter and charming style of the design is a wonderful sense of motion, conveyed with the creature's raised trunk, running stance, and arched tail. This decoration was most likely inspired by the rise in popularity of the American circus during the latter half of the century, in which elephants such as Jumbo delighted large audiences. West Troy, in fact, was known for its raucous circus atmosphere, one period observer noting that in the town "the police [are scarcely] strong enough to break up ... regular circus riots." (Circus Life and Circus Celebrities, by Thomas Frost, 1875, pg. 209.) In August 1882, P.T. Barnum actually visited Troy along with Jumbo and the rest of his troupe of elephants. During an outdoor procession four of these managed to escape and one large elephant named Emperor injured many people, even resulting in the death of a local woman. It was perhaps the arrival of the famous Jumbo to the city that piqued the interest of this jar's decorator.

The jar's unusual, narrow-mouthed form is similar in style, but unrelated to, the butter churns produced at this operation, and may have been designed for a specific use. This recently-discovered American ceramic work ranks as one of the most significant discoveries in New York State stoneware of the last decade or more. Provenance: A fresh-to-the-market example, recently found in New England. Excellent overall condition with two innocuous surface flakes to bottom edge of jar, a minor nick to interior of rim, and a thin 3 1/4" crack on underside, which continues approximately 4" up reverse side of jar. H 14 1/2".

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