Broken teapot bought for £15 sells for £575,000

'I never dreamt that I would find such a rarity,' says vendor

The collector bought the teapot at an auction in 2016
The collector bought the teapot at an auction in 2016

Your old, cracked second-hand crockery could be worth more than you think.

A broken teapot bought for £15 has sold at auction for £575,000, after it was discovered to be one of the first ever made in America.

A private collector from the south-west of England bought the teapot, which had a broken handle and was missing its lid, at a general auction in the Midlands in 2016.

It was thought to be Isleworth pottery, which was made in a factory in Middlesex between 1766 and 1800, but the buyer had doubts.

He took the piece to Clare Dunham, an expert at Woolley and Wallis auctioneers in Salisbury, who identified the vessel’s distinctive blue and white palm tree design as the work of Staffordshire potter John Bartlam.

Mr Bartlam left England in around 1763 to set up business in South Carolina. England’s export trade with America was booming and he believed he could save on transportation costs by producing pottery in the US. He became the first known manufacturer of American porcelain.

Experts said it was the seventh recorded piece of Bartlam porcelain to come to market and the only known Bartlam teapot, making it the earliest American-manufactured teapot to have been discovered.

It was offered for sale with a starting price of £10,000 and was expected to reach as much as £50,000. But the hammer came down at £460,000 and with fees added on, the teapot was sold for £575,000.

A London dealer bidding on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Rod Jellicoe, bought the teapot.

The male collector who sold the piece wishes to remain anonymous. He he is not a professional dealer, but rather someone who specialises in “problem” pieces.

“I have been studying ceramics for 30 years and I never dreamt that I would find such a rarity as this teapot,” he said.

“Not only am I extremely pleased for the result for myself, but also because the teapot is going home to America where it will be on public display for generations to come.

“I spent a lot of time in the ceramic galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum when I was first learning about ceramics and just never thought that one day I would have a hand in providing a major museum with such a unique and wonderful object”.

Woolley and Wallis Auctioneers said the the teapot had “caught the imagination of many” and it was “absolutely delighted” about the sale.

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