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Dave the Slave, Thomas Chandler, Gordy pottery pieces to be sold at auction May 28 in Jefferson, Ga.
Dozens of examples of highly collectible Southern pottery by such renowned artisans as Dave the Slave, Thomas Chandler, and W.T.B. Gordy will be sold on Memorial Day, May 28, by Cagle Auction Company, at the Jefferson Civic Center in Jefferson, Ga.
By: Ken Hall
Between 300 and 400 quality lots will cross the block in a range of categories, to include country store and advertising items, petroliana (gas station memorabilia)
Dave the Slave was the name most commonly used for the enslaved African-American potter who was born around 1801 and died in the mid-1870s. He lived in Edgefield, S.C., and produced stunning examples of alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery that are in very high demand today. One of his pieces sold at an auction held by modern potter Billy Ray Hussey for $197,000.
Cagle Auction’s Memorial Day sale will feature three works attributed to Dave the Slave. One is a two-gallon jug signed “L.M.” (for Lewis Miles, the man who owned the pottery workshop where Dave worked and in fact owned Dave for a time) and authenticated by Steve Ferrell, a revered authority on Southern pottery pieces. The jug should sell for $8,000-$12,000.
“This jug is rare and unusual because Dave the Slave didn’t make many jugs and was much more known for his large, lug-handled jars, most of them five-to-seven gallons,” said Nathan Cagle of Cagle Auction Company. “To see a two-gallon, single-handled jug is highly unusual and something you rarely see come up for bid.” Cagle dated the jug to around 1850.
The second Dave piece is, in fact, a two-gallon jar, much more customary for the artisan. It is unsigned, but has all the hallmarks – lug handles, characteristic glaze and form – that would suggest it's a Dave the Slave. The jug has a pre-sale estimate of $4,000-$6,000. “Dave carried a crude form throughout his work and it’s relatively easy to spot a true example,” Mr. Cagle said.
The third piece, however, is a bit of a mystery. It is a red jar that some experts say is by Dave the Slave (an impressed, or scratched, horseshoe mark at the top, and a collared mouth all suggest Dave the Slave). But other experts claim it is an English jar made around 1630. English characteristics include an extruded handle and iron body. It is estimated to bring $2,000-$5,000.
But who is correct? “It almost doesn’t matter,” Mr. Cagle remarked. “If it’s English, then it’s a survivor that made the trip over on a ship in the 1630s and was then copied by the earliest Edgefield potters. That makes it extremely historically significant. If it’s by Dave the Slave – well, that makes it automatically desirable. Scholars will debate this piece for years to come.”
One lot that could well end up being the surprise star of the auction is an unsigned two-gallon pitcher by Thomas Chandler in superb condition. Chandler was one of just a handful of highly skilled turners who worked at the Phoenix Pottery in the Edgefield District (S.C.). He was one of the area’s first potters and was known for his tall, ovoid jars and decorated stoneware.
The pitcher will attract keen interest for several reasons. First, it’s a pitcher, and Chandler made very few pitchers. Second, pitchers were typically fragile and didn’t survive well through the ages. To see one in this condition is remarkable. And, although unsigned, it does have Steve Ferrell’s authentication. If signed, it could fetch $10,000. Unsigned, it should hit $2,500-$5,000.
Another Chandler piece – an alkaline glaze jar, unsigned but with decorations and marks that are undeniably Chandler’s – has a pre-sale estimate of $3,000-$6,000. The jar is large, either four or five gallons, and is unusual because of its alkaline glaze. “Chandler didn’t do a lot of alkaline glazing, so we think this piece will attract strong bidder interest,” Mr. Cagle commented.
Also sold will be examples by W.T.B. Gordy, the Georgia potter and father of W.J. “Bill” Gordy, who enjoyed much success in his own right. Pieces by the elder Gordy to be sold include a rare, double-handled syrup jug, unsigned but showing the characteristics of Gordy (est. $800-$1,400)
The sale also boasts several pieces from Crawford County, Ga. These include a rare, one-gallon fluid jug with a great script signature “E.L.” (for Elijah Long of the Long pottery family), made circa 1835-1840; a large, pumpkin-shaped, two-gallon jug signed “W.B” (for Washington Becham), with outstanding glaze and in excellent condition; and a double-handled syrup jug signed “C.J.B” (for Columbus Jackson Becham), a four gallon size and turned around 1880.
Items to be offered that are unrelated to pottery include an awesome fruit basket from Massachusetts and a handsome Paris Clipper sled, with 1909 price list. “It’s important for folks to know that while pottery will be the main attraction in this auction, the vast majority of lots are in other categories,”
Internet bidding will be facilitated by LiveAuctioneers.com, and phone and absentee bids will also be accepted. Preview dates and times have not been officially announced, but will be posted on the Cagle Auction Company website, at www.cagleauction.net. All winning bids will be subject to a 10 percent buyer’s premium and a 7 percent Georgia sales tax (unless exempted).
Cagle Auction Company is always accepting quality consignments for future sales. To consign an item, an estate or a collection, you may call Nathan Cagle at (404) 849-7379; or, you can e-mail him at nathancagle@
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Ken Hall writes pre-sale and post-sale press releases for auction houses, for a fee. He writes, submits and tracks stories for clients. Submissions are published in trade magazines, posted on industry websites and appear in local newspapers.