A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Saturday, October 16, 2010


“Madness is badness of spirit, 
when one seeks profit from all sources”

Having done the "dealer thing" I know how slim profit margins can be in antiques. I don't think, however that gives the dealer license to do whatever he needs to increase those profits. There are such things as ethics and something called greed.

I'm reminded of the very first majolica auction I went to. It was held at a local auction house that had a reputation for getting the finest Etruscan Majolica in the area. This day there was a rather large majolica collection under the hammer. I was both excited at all the wonderful things that were available and nervous because I had never bid at auction before. I set my sights on a really lovely Etruscan Cauliflower cup and saucer that had come from a famous collection. I got my bidding number and waited patiently for the lot to come around. When it came time to sell the cup and saucer, the auctioneer decided to break the set up and sell the two parts individually. I was really upset but I had set my sites on the Cauliflower pieces and I was not going home without them.

First up was the saucer. I put my hand up and never put it down. My thinking was that if I got the saucer the bidders would defer to me on the cup. I paid the, then outrageous, price of $125 plus commission on the saucer. I was upset that it had gone so high but was happy to have the first half of my prize. Then the cup came up for bid.
The bidders did not defer to me in the least. The cost of the cup skyrocketed to $225, more than I could possibly afford at the time. I was devastated. I went home with my super expensive saucer and sulked. 

I learned a lesson that day-- to never bid on part of a set, because the chance of getting the matching part is anything but certain. To this day I will not bid on a part of a set that has been unethically split apart to milk maximum profit.

This brings us back to today.
This afternoon I was looking on line and I saw two listings of Wedgwood on sale on one of the on line auction services. One listing was for a Wedgwood salad bowl. The second listing was for the matching majolica salad servers. My stomach twisted into a knot. I was so appalled that a dealer out of sheer greed would split the lot in two, as did the auctioneer with that cauliflower cup and saucer, to maximize their profit. It made me nauseous. What's next, selling the lid and the base to a cheese dome separately to make a bigger profit?

I have seen more and more of this sort of thing at auction lately and it disturbs me. To destroy a historically sound set for the sake of profit is the lowest type of profit grabbing and tells us something about the ethics of these times. 

Yes, we are dealers, but we are also purveyors and guardians of our collective history. To destroy part of that history for the sake of profit is repugnant and something that we have an obligation to future generations to avoid.

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