To Dave or Not to Dave, Slave Dated Stoneware

Dave Drake. Dave the Slave. Dave.

In my opinion, there is no more valuable piece of collectable ceramic history than an authentic ‘Dave’.

But.

The stories of Dave: who he was, what he did, what he was, why he was are mostly that; Stories. If you mix a little truth in with a lot of conjecture it comes across as more authoritative. Great for selling artifacts and books and web pages, like mixing a little kaolin in with ordinary mud to create ceramics. But, I guess I’m a Dave agnostic about much of it. I believe that he lived, and that he was a slave in Edgefield , and that he was involved in the pottery business in some manner, and that he wrote on the still wet clay vessels. Everything else is debatable–more like elaborate stories woven from only a few threads of fact. I take much of it with a grain of salt glazing.

There is one book I recommend that is more factual if you are interested in Dave. I had to look for it to find it hidden behind the other Dave fluff. It is Beneath his Magic Touch: The Dated Vessels of the African-American Slave Potter Dave by Arthur F. Goldberg and James Witkowski. It was published by Ceramics in America in 2006. These images below are from that publication. (I borrowed the images and will take them down if asked.)

01-1TableGoldCiA2006

01-2TableGoldCiA2006

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Chipstone.Org Website

As you can see the authors listed the dates and markings of every Dave vessel in existence that they could verify. This is factual. This is so much like engraved stone tablets. This is real.

The Picture

IMG_0258I have a picture of me holding a jar from a few years ago. I use this as a profile picture on this blog and a few other places. The significance of the picture is not me, it is the jar.  I “picked” this piece from a family in central Georgia. Picked is in quotes because I didn’t buy it from them as a picker might have done. I simply helped arrange for them to put it in an auction. I knew it was very valuable.

This family did not know what the jar was. They called it their “Davey Crocket” jar because it had “Dave” written on its side. Crocket? Crockery? Davey? Dave?

An elderly couple owned it. It was a son or grandson who contacted me. When that couple were children, the jar was given to their family by a man whom the family had taken in. The jar, not thought to be worth much, was all this homeless man had to pay them for their generosity. The jar became a curiosity.

I sometimes get calls or emails from people who think they may have something after watching an episode of Antique Roadshow or its like. Usually, it’s no, or it’s just junk, or it’s not nearly worth what you think it’s worth. When I was first contacted about the Davey Crocket jar I was my usual unimpressed. I just asked them to send me a picture. When I saw the picture that changed.
jug1 copyThis was a jar signed and dated by Dave. I haven’t talked about Dave here yet, but I will at some point. For now know that Dave was a slave potter in Edgefield, South Carolina. Anyway, there are only a few signed Dave’s known to exist.  These pieces, based on, aesthetics, condition, and signature variations, can bring as much or more than $40,000. But this Dave–This Dave was also decorated like a Collin Rhodes piece. At some point I’ll talk about decorations and Rhodes, et al. Just know for now that decorated stoneware is a distinct variety of valuable stoneware from Edgefield. The decoration is the slip motif or swags around the jar’s shoulders thought to have been applied by slave women.

It is the only one of its kind as far as I know, though I don’t know everything. The various decorated jars are the same time period as Dave, but not thought to made by Dave. A decorated AND signed and dated Dave? Wow. Historically it’s proof that Dave was involved in a different category of Southern pottery that no one was a ware of.

One of a kind items like this are hard to gauge the value of, because of their unique oneness. No other pieces like them that have been sold. This jar went to an auction and sold for a lot of money, but much lower than I anticipated.

The family asked me what I wanted for driving all the way down and telling them about their Dave. I said take a picture of me holding the jar. That was all I wanted. (In complete disclosure, I did get a percentage of the auctioneer’s normal fees later.) It makes me smile to think about this, because for almost 175 years that jar had probably been treated no better than a mop bucket. Now I wanted to hold their fragile lottery ticket for a picture. Were they a little afraid I might drop it?