Now that the dust has settled on the remarkable sale of the Rhead-Cronin collection, I thought I’d take the opportunity to pick out a few of the highlights. The second of the two auctions ended this time last week, at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter, and it’s probably fair to say that the collection exceeded expectations all round.
To give some background for those unaware of it, the collection was made up of a large number of items produced by several different members of the Rhead family, including paintings, engravings, ceramics and assorted ephemera. It had belonged to a late nephew of Charlotte Rhead, Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin, who had lived in Honiton, Devon. His mother was Marie Rhead, Charlotte’s sister, who because she was not involved in the artistic pursuits of her family, was relatively unknown – (Bernard Bumpus mentions in his book that Frederick Alfred Rhead and his wife Adolphine had six children, but does not mention Marie by name). The items put into the sale had been held by this branch of the family for many years, so essentially, they were all new to the market. From a collector’s point of view, any ‘undiscovered’ pieces such as these are the holy grail. I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Exeter for a sneak preview of the collection prior to the sales and it was a unique experience. To see the breadth of items included, not to mention the quality of the majority of it, was (and excuse the hyperbole) staggering!
The first sale took place in December 2013, and consisted of items that are perhaps more familiar to casual collectors of Rhead pottery. There were several Crown Ducal pieces, as well some nice early Wood & Sons Bursley examples. Perhaps the most appealing lot was a Burleighware Fruit Set, which appeared to have been designed by Adolphine ‘Dollie’ Rhead (another of Charlotte’s sisters), as it featured her facsimile signature to the reverse side. I’ve previously blogged about this set – click here to read it, but it is of particular interest as the pattern has never been seen before. The set (minus the ginger jar shown below) had a hammer price of £210 – which was a bargain for whoever got it!
Other highlights included a lovely Bursley Ware ewer in the 456 Pomona pattern, selling for £240 + fees and a pair of water-colour sketches of Native-American squaws, attributed to Charlotte Rhead, which formed the basis of a design for tube-lined tiles that she completed later, (£480 + fees). As you can see from the image on the left, the ‘Aztec’ pattern that later appeared on Charlotte’s design for Crown Ducal is evident. Finally, there was an interesting teapot, designed by Frederick Hurten Rhead for Wardle in around 1900 (£65 + fees). Again, these items do not come up for sale often and would no doubt have attracted interest from American collectors, given that he spent the majority of his working career over there.
Hidden away towards the end of this sale was a small collection of family photographs and small watercolours, one of which was by another of Charlotte’s sisters, Katherine. The gems in here were the photos though, as they included early ones of Harry and Dollie, but most intriguingly one of Charlotte herself. I think it was taken in around 1910 when she would have been 25, and she has a small dog on her lap. Photos of Charlotte are very scarce – she was notoriously a shy and private person. All the photos that we do know of show her not looking directly at the camera, and in this one, she (sort of) is!
The second sale, which took place in January 2014 contained the more unusual (and valuable) items, including a great number of pictures and sketches as well as some framed tube-lined tiles and museum quality ceramics. Although the focus of this site is clearly ‘pottery’, it’s worth recording some highlights from the pictures sale, as there were some great examples. Having never really paid much attention to the art produced by the family, I must say I was blown away by some of the paintings in this collection. Having always associated Frederick Alfred Rhead with pottery, it was a surprise for me to see the quality of some of his paintings – perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a shock given his undoubted talent, but I think it was because I just hadn’t seen it before. The sale also featured some work from Frederick’s brothers & children. For some examples, see the small gallery below, (all prices shown are excluding commission):
The ceramics section of the sale was perhaps the most exciting (for me anyway), and it got away to a stunning start, with one of the first lots reaching a hammer price of £17,000 – against an estimate of £1500 – £2000. It was an amazing pâte-sur-pâte vase by Frederick Rhead, probably for Minton, depicting an angel holding a large bowl and some text around the bottom taken from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is in fact linked to one of the pieces of art shown above, from which it draws clear inspiration – the question is, did both pieces go to the same buyer?! Following that lot, I think everybody in the room realised that any bargains were going to be few and far between, with many hastily re-assessing their budgets for bidding on the rest of the sale. Or perhaps that was just me……
One of the biggest surprises of the collection was a vase by Bretby – not a name one would associate with the Rhead family. It featured a galleon in full sail, which (funnily enough) is something that you would link to Charlotte Rhead. So, why did Charlotte decorate a Bretby vase? I still don’t know and it has baffled other collectors that I’ve spoken to. Nic Saintey of Bearnes has asked the same question in his excellent series of blogs – answers on a postcard please! This vase sold for just £200 plus fees, perhaps reflecting some damage on it, but in hindsight, this looks like a very good price. The chances are that there isn’t another one anywhere else in the world.
The main part of the sale contained a large number of tube-lined tiles, mainly by Charlotte, which I shall write about in a later blog as they deserve further discussion. For now though, I’ll finish with this lovely vase produced by Frederick Hurten Rhead for Wardle. It is a tube-lined decoration featuring two turtles and the words “Two tired turtles trying to trot to Tutbury”, signed and dated to 1902. This was just before he left to begin life in America, so was possibly one of the last examples of his ‘English’ work. It sold for £1,150 plus fees. Again, it would be intriguing to know where this ended up – did it stay here or follow Frederick across the pond?
As I’ve mentioned above, I’ll write more soon about the Rhead-Cronin tiles, but in the meantime I’d like to thank everybody at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (especially Nic Saintey) for giving me the opportunity to get up close with the collection. I will be eternally grateful!