Q: I inherited pottery that’s part of a valuable collection. It has been in storage for years; it is too valuable to keep and I don’t want to display it in my home. How can I sell? Will selling be a problem, as the pieces were part of a collection?
A: This reader has a unique situation, yet there are lessons here for all smart collectors.
We’re not told when it was amassed, but there is mention in the reader’s message of a letter from a fairly recent steward of the collection. We thought that seeing a copy could be informative. Indeed it was.
Briefly, the collection involved many, many pieces of 18th-century English pottery. Some 1,300 pieces of slipware, delftware and stoneware from the collection are now housed in the permanent collection of a Kansas City art museum. Knowing how museums work, pieces were selected according to museum needs. Several books have been written on the collection and are still available.
In 1952, someone involved with the collection — a friend of the reader’s family — sent a typed note to the reader’s grandmother. In it, he asks if she has room for a “small set of old Worcester porcelain.” He adds that the 23 pieces date from about 1760 and have a crescent mark. Included is a mug marked W, a rare mark for Worcester at the time. The letter states that “if you are short of room, the cups with no handles and saucers can be stacked in separate piles.” Such anecdotes are priceless.
The note also mentions (now deceased) family members. Written on letterhead paper, it is hand-signed by the writer.
Right there we see valuable written provenance linking the reader and her family to how she came to have the collection. But it gets better: This was an archived collection. Images sent show several pieces with tags intact, identifying them as part of the larger collection. Plus, each has a lot number. All that documentation is pure gold.
In sum, what our reader has is porcelain valuable in its own right, made more so by documentation linking it to a significant collection. We should all be so lucky.
But that luck carries responsibility. Our reader must proceed with due diligence. She has just one chance to sell smart.
Databases of prices realized at auction in the past year for similar and lesser pieces were about $500 apiece. In today’s market, the best sells first and it sells highest; what we see in images can easily top those.
With that kind of history, the whole is often worth more than selling off individual pieces.
I suggest photographing each item from several angles. Next, shop the collection to auction houses with a worldwide reach. Be sure to include the letter. The audience for such goods is worldwide. Approach every big regional house, as well as the majors. Consider your prospects at each house and carefully examine selling costs at each.
Please let me know what you decide to do and how it goes.