KULPSVILLE, Penn. — As a dealer since the age of 19, London-based Nick Boston has helped build some of the greatest majolica collections. But few collections of 19th-century tin-glazed earthenwares are as large or as varied in scope as that assembled by the property lawyer Edward Flower (1929-2022) and his wife Marilyn (1930-2017).
“Their ‘way’ was a very scholarly way but also a very passionate way, which in my experience is how the greatest collections are built,” Boston recalls. “Rarity, whimsy, history and aesthetics, the Flower collection has it all.”
The Flowers were inveterate collectors: first it was American Impressionism, then artist-signed prints and British art pottery (61 lots sold by Doyle New York in December) and majolica.
Across three sales more than 600 pieces, mostly acquired since the bug bit hard 30 years ago, will be offered by specialists Strawser Auction Group (with a 23% buyer’s premium). The first tranche of 190 lots was presented in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania on August 23.
It is an indication of collecting fashion and the Flowers’ love of all members of the majolica family that a 22in (55cm) Palissy-style ‘art of the earth’ basin shared the top price of the sale.
A large signed and dated example of an increasingly popular type, it sold well above its $2,000-$3,000 estimate to an internet bidder for $40,000 ($49,200 including buyer’s premium). Teeming with life, from a pike laying in a pool of water in the center to a lush border populated by lizards, a snake and a frog, it is inscribed and dated Avisseau, Tours, 1856 for Charles-Jean Avisseau (1795-1861). The French ceramicist, based in Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, is often credited with rediscovering the techniques of Bernard Palissy (circa 1510-1590) although his most ambitious creations often went well beyond those of the Renaissance potter. Similar mid-19th-century exercises in historicism were exhibited by Avisseau at the Great Exhibition 1851.
Also signed and dated 1856 was an Avisseau ‘grotto’ group modeled as a naturalistic forest floor scene with a snake, lizard and frog climbing on rocks and vegetation. Measuring 6 by 10in, it took $18,000 ($22,140 including buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. It had been sold by the auction house in October 2017 for $14,000.
Continental European wares, once the slightly poorer relation to pieces by the best Staffordshire factories, were a strength of the sale. Particularly well-received was a menagerie of large naturalistic models by the Massier Brothers, Choisy Le Roi and Hugo Lonitz factories. All had lived together in the Flowers’ Bay Shore, New York residence.
A 2ft high model of a hawk perched on a rocky ground with ferns and branches, made by Hugo Lonitz circa 1875, was estimated at $20,000-$25,000 and earned $40,000 ($49,200 with buyer’s premium). In fine condition, save a small loss to the tail feather, it is the same model that sold for $30,000 in October 2017. The only other one known sold at Christie’s New York in November 2011, where it realized $56,250.
Also among only two known examples, a Lonitz jardiniere modeled as a hoopoe perched on an open tree trunk brought $10,000 ($12,300 with buyer’s premium).
A floor vase by Hippolyte Hautin Boulanger & Cie of Choisy le Roi, France is one of only three that are known. The 2ft 1in model of brightly glazed male and female golden pheasants strutting around a broken vase is signed for Louise Robert Carrier Belleuse, the son of the better-known sculptor Albert Carrier Belleuse and Hautin Boulanger’s premier modeler. It took $6,500 ($7,995 with buyer’s premium).
Several pieces in the Flower collection were recently featured in the exhibition Majolica Mania: Transatlantic Pottery in England and the United States, 1850-1915, which was launched at the Bard Graduate Center, New York City in the fall of 2021 and traveled to the Walters Museum in Baltimore in early 2022 before ending at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, England in January.
Among the pieces chosen for Majolica Mania was an extraordinary work by Brown Westhead Moore & Co. This 2ft 1in high vase modeled with clouds and a coiling dragon was designed by Mark V. Marshall (better known for his work at the Doulton Lambeth factory) for display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition 1876. An example is illustrated in the second volume of The Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition Illustrated, published in 1876-78. With a professional repair to the top rim, it realized $10,000 ($12,300 with buyer’s premium).
Also from Majolica Mania was a circa-1875 George Jones cabaret set or tete-a-tete with each of the elements designed as cobalt blue drums, with yellow stringing. Drumsticks form the spout of the teapot with a drummer boy’s hat as the finial. One of only two known complete sets with all the elements in good condition, it achieved $37,500 ($46,125 with buyer’s premium).
Among the most popular lots from the George Jones factory was a pair of tulip and butterfly pattern candlesticks – rare elements from a dressing table for which the original George Jones artwork still survives. As each of the pieces could be purchased separately, some of the larger elements or the optional extras were sold in only small numbers. The candlesticks, seemingly the only pair known, sold at $21,000 ($25,830 with buyer’s premium) followed by bids of $6,000 ($7,380 with buyer’s premium) each for a matching single chamberstick and an oval dressing table tray.
After retiring in the early 2000s, Edward and Marilyn Flower attended almost every majolica auction held by Strawser Auction Group. Rarely outbid when they spotted a piece they had to have, they were particularly strong buyers when the collection of Marilyn Karmason, who co-authored with Joan Stacke Graham the 1989 book Of Majolica: A Complete History & Illustrated Survey, was sold by Strawser in 2005.
Some of the best-known Minton models have also fallen from the sums they commanded at that sale.
Sold at $37,500 ($46,125 with buyer’s premium) was a well-preserved version of the celebrated cobalt blue Flat Iron teapot modeled with a frieze of mice to the sides and a large white cat wrapped around the handle. The design has an uncertain attribution to Christopher Dresser. The example in the Karmason collection hammered at $65,000 in 2005.
Bought at Doyle’s in New York in December 2021 as part of the collection of Joan Stacke Graham was a George Jones Sea and Sky Stilton cover and stand modeled with aquatic life in a cobalt sea and avian life in a turquoise sky. A fine form in good condition, it had brought $15,000 in New York and this time made $13,000 ($15,990 with buyer’s premium).