Bargain hunter buys broken teapot for �15 – then sells it for half a million at auction

Bargain hunter buys broken teapot for �15 – then sells it for half a million at auction

By Agency Staff

The blue and white teapot turned out to be one of the first pieces of porcelain ever made in America 250 years ago

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A bargain hunter who bought a broken porcelain teapot for £15 is celebrating today after it sold for a whopping £575,000.
The blue and white teapot turned out to be one of the first pieces of porcelain ever made in America 250 years ago.
It was the work of British expat John Bartlam, a potter who took his trade across the Atlantic to show the Americans how to make porcelain.

His work was so well regarded that Josiah Wedgwood feared it would threaten their exports.
But Bartlam’s enterprise was cut short by the American Revolution and hardly any examples of his work exist today.

Last year a hobbyist antiques dealer who had previously just sold ‘odds and sods’ took a punt on the teapot that was missing its lid, when he saw it for sale and bought it for £15.

He thought the piece, that had a broken handle glued back together again, was common pearlware pottery and took it to expert Clare Durham of Woolley and Wallis Auctioneers in Salisbury, Wilts.
After handling it she suspected it might be non-English porcelain and further research established it was the work of Bartlam.

In 2002 four unmarked tea bowls and two saucers that sold at auction in the Midlands were later confirmed to be by Bartlam and the patterning on those matched that on the teapot.
It is thought the teapot and bowls formed part of the same tea service made by Bartlam at his factory in South Carolina and brought to Britain by him during a visit in 1769.
The excited middle-aged vendor was told the pot might sell at auction for anywhere between £20,000 to £50,000.
But interest in it took off, especially from America, with bids going up by £5,000 and then £10,000 at a time at the auction.
It eventually sold for a hammer price of £460,000. With all the fees added on the overall price came to £575,000.

It was bought in the room at Woolley and Wallis by a London dealer Rod Jellicoe on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where it will end up.
Staff at Woolley and Wallis celebrated the record sale with champagne.
Durham said: “The vendor decided not to come to the auction but his daughter watched it online.
“I have spoken to him since and he can’t quite believe it. He is very happy and very thankful.
“The vendor is not a dealer at all. He likes problem pieces that are unmarked and tries to identify. He has bought and sold odds and sods with us before but nothing like this.

Durham said the teapot was so unique that even if it had its lid it still would have sold for the same price.
She said: “It is such a unique item that nothing like it will ever come on the market again so in that respect the missing lid was probably irrelevant.”
It is not know what or how much porcelain Bartlam made there but in 2007 the site of his factory was found and fragments of three blue decorated tea bowls.
The find confirmed that Bartlam was the first producer or porcelain in America.

In 2010 these fragments helped confirm the bowls sold in Britain in 2002 were in fact made by Bartlam and not by Isleworth Potter as previously thought.
One of the bowls was later sold to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for $75,000.
Durham said: “The teapot marks the birth of American porcelain. At the time the US was saying ‘we don’t need British porcelain anymore’.
“It means so much more to the Americans than it does to us hence why it ended up being bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Bartlam made a fair amount in America but no pieces survive over there. 
We don’t know how the tea service came to Britain but it might have been when Bartlam visited in 1769.”

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