25/10/2015 : Alan & Pat Firth Collection Auction Report
It was quite a day at the Cheshire Saleroom on 16th October when the Alan and Pat Firth collection went under the hammer.
Interest had been building for weeks and especially following a successful preview of part of the collection in London at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre on Great Russell Street. This was very well attended and encouraged many more people to bid than would otherwise have been the case, and for some London-bound folk helped put Macclesfield on the map!
Jason Wood, Specialist Consultant in Studio Ceramics, was keen to maximise publicity in other ways, collaborating with Ceramic Review magazine and Antiques Trade Gazette on a PR and advertising campaign, including feature articles and new items in the run up to the sale.
The online catalogue went live four weeks ahead of the auction, and the printed catalogue was available in time for the London preview. The catalogue was distributed widely and was very well received. A record number of telephone bids and registrations to bid online were processed. About 150 people attended the sale in person.
Alan and Pat Firth had an extraordinary good eye and from the 1970s built up one of the best private collections of studio ceramics and modern and contemporary craft and design in the country. Opportunities to sell such a quality collection don’t come round that often … and in such quantity. How many times is one likely to see twenty-one Hans Copers and sixteen Lucie Ries in the same sale?
It was clear the auction was going to create a lot of excitement among experts, collectors and enthusiasts and it all added up to a memorable, ten-hour marathon, with some fantastic prices realised. The total hammer price for the sale was £861,460, with over one hundred lots reaching a price of £1,000 or higher.
The ceramics accounted for about three-quarters of total, making £668,770 and exceeding the upper estimate by £141,310. This was mainly due to some exceptional prices paid for the Copers and Ries which together totalled £549,250. Bidding was fiercely competitive for some of these, with agents bidding in the room and on the phone on behalf of several serious collectors.
The large 'winged' spade form by Coper (lot 167), purchased by the Firths from Coper himself in 1975 for just £40, sold for £47,000 (estimate £30,000 - £40,000). The hammer came down at £43,500 on an equally impressive lobed ovoid form by Coper (lot 176) (estimate £25,000 - £30,000). Star among the Ries was a porcelain straight-sided vase with flared rim and blue slip sgraffito decoration (lot 140), again bought direct from the artist in 1975. It made £32,000 against an estimate of £12,000 - £16,000. Another Rie, this time a tall stoneware bottle with an undulating flared rim (lot 134), made £19,000 (estimate £10,000 - £15,000).
Other ceramics that sold well above estimate included those made by the Martin Brothers, Mary Rogers, Ewen Henderson, Michael Casson, David Roberts and Martin Smith. Many other ceramics made higher than expected prices, often exceeding their upper estimate, indicating perhaps that their association as part of the Firth collection was attracting a premium.
The total hammer price for the non ceramics was £192,690, exceeding the upper estimate by £26,130. The furniture sold well, the strongest prices being for Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson, Alan Peters and Richard La Trobe-Bateman; as did the wood and woodworking tools with high prices for David Pye, Mike ‘Chai’ Scott and Jim Partridge, and especially the planes by Preston and Norris. The textiles totalled more than £30,000 over the upper estimate. This was wholly due to some exceptional prices paid for the work of Peter Collingwood, especially the six macro gauzes which unexpectedly made £41,400. For example, a particularly fine cream hanging (lot 406) sold for £10,400 against an estimate of £350 - £500. Interest was presumably fired by the record price (£18,000) paid for a Collingwood at a recent Phillips auction in London.
Despite much pre-sale interest, the jewellery collectively made slightly less than the lower estimate. Older pieces by renowned makers and those in precious metals made good prices but adventurous pieces made of acrylic or resin that the Firths purchased late in life, and at gallery prices, sold under their estimates. The silver and other metalwork sold well over the upper estimate, with strong prices for Alex Brogden, Chris Knight and Hiroshi Suzuki. The glass sold over the upper estimate, the pieces by Tessa Clegg exceeding expectations.
The Firths kept a meticulous archive of receipts, correspondence and photographs of everything they bought. Pat, in particular, was a great list maker: she even had a list of things unwittingly missed off earlier lists which she called her ‘list of unlisted items’. ‘Pat’s book’ comprising these lists proved enormously helpful in identifying what the collection contained, the provenance and original prices paid for each item, and also information such as loans to exhibitions or inclusion in publications. All this was referenced in the sale catalogue, but as provenance means a lot to collectors, copies of material relating to the lots is being made available to the relevant purchasers on request. Courtesy of Alan Firth’s relatives, this precious research archive, together with a rare ceramic work by Martin Smith, will be donated to York Museums Trust and housed at the new Centre of Ceramic Art where it will be available for future generations to study.
The next Studio Ceramics and Design auction will be held at the Cheshire Saleroom on Friday 18 March 2016. Consignments are invited before 15 February. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.