Rufus Foshee Antiques
Spatterware: Much Myth, Little Evidence
by Rufus Foshee
Antique Pottery Specialist

Everybody knows what Spatterware is, don’t they? People sat around and put every dot of color on individually and then somebody put a peafowl or a tulip on it. This is the way it used to go...

Not so long ago, collectors did want some color of Spatterware with motifs on it. Those examples with just beautiful stripes and swags of up to five colors, and in one instance at least six, were not desirable to “real collectors.” Real collectors had to have a motif, and for many for decades, and for many still, aesthetics is secondary.

In recent decades, with more scholarly and sophisticated dealers working in consultation with more and more sophisticated collectors, much has been learned. The more enthusiastic the collectors, the more fired up were the dealers.

Spatterware has been much sought after for many decades, its collectors many, their interest focused on different aspects ofcollecting this beautiful, colorful pottery, mostly made between 1780-1830.

This article is intended for beginning collectors, as well as for those who are advanced. In writing or talking with a client for the first time, it seems wise to approach the subject of Spatterware from the bottom. A dealer does not have any way of knowing how much the client knows nor has any sensible way of filtering what is known and what is not.

In the past some writers have confused collectors, or potential collectors, by trying to be too complex in their explanations of what Spatterware is. Even now, there is no universal agreement among those knowledgeable about this pottery, but there are some guidelines.

Let us begin. Spatterware is a simple pottery, basically water and clay. The earlier examples are shown below:

image

There are seven plates here, the five most clearly shown are all fine examples, three blue edge, two green. Notice that four of the birds are turned to the left. If you could see the two plates, back, left and right, they have magnificent green thumb prints,and birds much like the one, center, turned to the right. If one were looking for a perfect example of this type of early Spatterware, this would be the plate.

As for applying the spatter, there is always a heated discussion among those who believe they know how it was done. As I said in a discussion with Martha Stewart on NBC, “I don’t think anyone really knows how it was done.”

What one does know is how highly skilled the craftsmen musthave been. Consider the following carefully:

image

One is able to see that the color is applied and one color never touches another. On the extremely rare occasion that this is on a flat piece, each band of color must become a pie slice, more and more narrow when it comes to the center.

What one does know is how highly skilled the craftsmen were who decorated spatterware. Look at the following examples, Courtesy of “Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana:”

image image

The rainbow pitcher, front, is very rare, but not the only example. The craftsman took a few privileges and for it all the better. She or he did deliberately touch the colors, therefore making other colors or shades. In addition, adding a solid stripe of aqua.

image

Among the rarest of all known Spatterware examples, shown with Martha Stewart on NBC. This example is marked ENOCH WOOD AND SON (1818-46) the piece c. l830-40.

These extraordinary designs may for many seem impossible. All the more reason to value them. These examples were done more than a hundred years before abstract art. Can one avoid the apparent influence?

There is no one “way” to collect Spatterware, as opposed to another. If you have been collecting Spatterware or are about to begin, ask yourself this question: “What do I want my collection to be?” Few words but a large question.

image

Will the question be any of the following:

  1. Do I want a large comprehensive collection regardless of quality or condition?
  2. Do I want a limited collection of my favorite patterns in excellent condition?
  3. Do I want a collection of carefully chosen examplesof my favorite pattern?
  4. Do I want to live with my collection, attractively displayed?
  5. Do I want to sell my collection in a few years and be proud that I have done better than in the stock market?
  6. Do I want a collection that a public institution of repute will want for their permanent collection.?

There are other questions and answers. There are those who pose as collectors. They buy, get right on the computer to sell. It is a game, it definitely is not collecting.

Below are selections from the most comprehensive collection of Spatterware known to me:

image image

The greatly varied selection shown in the cupboard is only a small part of the collection. The five Yellow examples with red thistle are just one of several special mini collections within the whole.

One of the mythologies is: Much Spatterware was made by Wedgwood. If so, that mark means no more than that of any other of the period. There are many marked examples of Spatterware, happily, giving all a better sense of its dates. See the ENOCH WOOD AND SON wash bowl and pitcher shown above. Whether a Wedgwood mark means anything entirely depends on which Wedgwood and when!!!

In trying to decide how made, who made, what mark, what pattern, often the most important aspect of pottery gets overshadowed.

For example, look at the following examples, showing a variety of Spatterware plates, carefully:

image image *

The difference in age in these six plates spreads about twenty years. The quality varies as well. You are at a disadvantage seeing only electronic images, when what really matters, along with one’s eyes are the hands, our second pair of eyes. The earliest and most refined plate is the blue peafowl one, c. l810-15. It is also a rare size. The latest plate is probably the red and blue rainbow one with tulip, c. 1835.

Take the two School House plates above: The red one is fine from every view point. It is c. 1820-30, beautifully potted and as well decorated as any such plate is likely to be. The blue one may be as early, but I suspect it was made by a maker whose workmen were not so talented. One might argue that it has a better house, and its roof is yellow (blue is the rarest of all). But its decoration is lacking in imagination and skill.

image

Yellow Spatterware has always been highly sought by collectors. All the examples here are rare except the cup and saucer.

image

One may, without too much effort, assemble the three major examples such as the above, but notice that the cream jug has a different peafowl. Does it matter? It does if you think it does. But the most important aspect of collecting Spatterware, or any pottery, is not the matching.

image image

The six Spatterware cream jugs shown together are all balaster shaped but the green barrel one. The blow-up of the single one shows a very rare three color, blue, red and green rainbow example with peafowl, at left and right of top row.

image

A few years ago, a major collector agreed that I had the liberty to make a surprise purchase for her (there was a limit). I found just the thing in a highly hyped auction with a distinguished collection of many things. I found a wonderful blue and green rainbow cup and saucer with a not so distinguished flower there.

I was certain that I could buy it for about $3500, less than my limit.

The bidding stopped somewhere around $13,000 and I never got my bidding paddle in the air. It was not the flower, it was the green and blue rainbow, as the plate shown above.

The brown and black rainbow cup and saucer is also rare (poor image, sorry).

image

This is the kind of specialized selection of rare and unusual Spatterware that collectors of many patterns and colors assemble within their larger collection. The four examples of Tulip, as a group would be very difficult to find and were not found together. The Morning Glory cup and saucer is very uncommon too.

image

In the same 1994 auction where the $13,000 cup and saucer came up for sale was a plate, very rare yellow, red and blue rainbow, as the above example (colors too pale) shown here.

I balked at the price and passed.

But the image of this plate kept haunting me. I learned that there had been five and were being sold off one at a time.

Eventually I was able to acquire all, one at a time also. Other than these plates, I know of no other examples with this color combination.

The color combination does matter. See below:

image

The combination of blue and yellow rainbow is highly valued by collectors and the plate above is very rare. Caution here: When one finds a tulip tipped in blue as may be seen above, as opposed to red, on several examples of yellow above, examine the blue tips carefully. Not exclusively on Spatterware motifs, but on pottery in general of this period, something chemical evidently deteriorates the blue. There is nothing wrong with having a piece that has been restored, as this example has, but one needs to know that before purchasing.

image

To date, this is the only Spatterware beaker known to me. It is an early creamware piece, probably Leeds, c. l785. So, from all aspects it is rare. In addition to the yellow and blue, there is brown.

image

What often seems simple, is very uncommon or rare. Finding another such cream jug would be a challenge.

image

If you are an advanced collector, feeling perhaps that you have seen everything, pull back and think again. Only late in 2006, I received an e-mail from an auctioneer that I had not heard of, and as he reminded me, “I am not new.” The above pot was coming up for sale, estimated at only a fraction of its worth. I was the fortunate bidder bringing home one of the great rare examples, not because of its pattern, but because of the pattern on a punch pot.

image image

The most common colors of Spatterware are blue and red. The rarest of all peafowl plates known to me is yellow. But there are other colors - purple, raspberry (also considered purple but I differentiate the two). Above is a sugar bowl in the Fort pattern that I suggest you compare to the green Tepee plate above. This green one is much rarer than if it were blue, purple or red.

It is the barrel cream jug that is the rarest of the three peafowl examples above.

image

Highly stylized to be sure, but a pineapple, a symbol of hospitality throughout history in the modern world. Too rare to be eaten for a long time, pineapples were rented to hostesses for a day to perk up their social status. This is a rare honey pot. Imagine how rare if it were any other color.

Shown below with a very rare blue and yellow rainbow Spatterware serving dish with tulip.

image
image

In an obscure advertisement in an obscure auction house, in a town not known for quality auctions, is where I found this extremely rare coffee pot. The combined colors of red, yellow and green are very appealing to many and always rare. This collector’s example would be the focus of any collection.

image

Though many consider five color rainbow examples the ultimate, they are not the rarest nor necessarily the most beautiful.

The teapot and the miniature cup and saucer, both four color examples, are stiff competition for anything. The pot has all the colors but black and the cup and saucer, no blue but black.

Quite likely you would not find two such pieces in one collection twice?

Spatterware is a category of pottery that is about decoration - about patterns - the pattern is everything, the pottery is of little interest. This is how collectors have chosen to make thier particular world.

This is true of other pottery types as well: Gaudy Dutch and Mocha Ware, to point to two of the camparative examples.The three categories, Spatterware, Gaudy Dutch, and Mocha Ware are almost all on Pearlware, a simple form of pottery.The patterns of Gaudy Dutch are very limited, in number as well as colors. Those of Spatterware and Mocha Ware seem endless.

What kind of Spatterware collection should you, as an individual collector, have? You decide that but you may eventually have a much better collection if you do the collecting with some very responsible guidance.

Not one of us knows too much and there is always something to learn. For example, many makers made these wares and they were not all the same.There is the quality of the spatter on each piece, there is how carefully, or not, the pattern has been applied, there is the color intensity, and the quality of the glaze that are prime considerations.

The above considerations take time to learn carefully. Just because one may have a rare pattern, does not insure that it is fine quality.

Two old fashioned sayings have been, “It is museum quality,” and “It is a textbook quality.” These are dangerous measuring sticks.It would depend on which museum and which text book. There have been irresponsible curators and authors, and even more irresponsible editing.

If you have a large collection how much is its insurance value?

If your collection was destroyed, and you had it insured, would you be willing to collect at least as much as you had invested in the collection?

If properly selected as you collect, and if you have collected over many years, it should be insured for much more than you have invested. You should have it insured for its current value. How would you determine that?

For example, when many people buy, they insist upon a discount just out of the blue. They collect, therefore are due a discount! If granted by the dealer, and let’s say the price of an example is $2750, and you actually pay $2500. For how much would you insure your acquisition?

Collecting Spatterware is a wide wide world of excitement. Remember it is all in the details.