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?




How to Know What Pottery is Worth

collection of Southern PotterySomething is only worth what someone has paid for it. Offering a item at a price is not the same as selling an item at a price. Someone must pay $X for ‘Y’ pottery in order to know a similar piece of ‘Y’ pottery is worth $X. To know what is similar and what is not similar is not easy.

Ebay, and other online auctions are for the most part shams, not because of the platforms, but because of the sellers. Avoid online auctions at all costs. Antiques Roadshow and other similar shows are about ratings, and ratings are driven by convincing viewers of the likelihood of having similar items in their attics. Things are valuable when they are rare. Rare means rare.

Condition is key. You can’t see condition in pictures. Often the condition as described in catalogs is somewhere between wrong to completely dishonest. You also need to know how to ascertain its condition and/or repairs. Condition and how rare it is affects value. Repairs, even good ones, usually hurt value. Seeing bad repairs makes it unattractive, and seeing good repairs makes buyers suspicious of what they may not be seeing.

Marks or lack of marks and other readily verifiable attributes on pottery pieces also affect value. The more certain you are of who and where a piece is from the better. Again, not easily done.

Values vary by collector. Value depends on what they know, or don’t know, and what type pottery they want and value.

All these factors are usually in play simultaneously.

Find a dealer or collector you trust and then trust them. Don’t try to get something of value for free. Free advice is worth every bit of its cost.