Splendor of Majolica Highlighted at Selkirk

At the start of 2020, while the world was maybe still in denial but gearing up for the change the onset of COVID-19 would bring, another kind of change was taking place at Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers, Saint Louis, Missouri. The organization, acquired in September 2014 by Garth’s Auctions of Ohio, changed ownership once again at the beginning of 2020. Bryan Laughlin, executive director at Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers, is at the helm of the organization, and with this new leadership come some innovative ideas and a young(er) staff with their sights set on bringing the masses, with a focus on millennials, to the world of antiques.

It’s not as if Laughlin is new to the antiques industry. “I’ve been around antiques all my life through my family’s interests and mine specifically of preserving antique furniture,” Laughlin explained. “When Selkirk became available, and that path presented itself, I went with it. I enjoy dealing with clients. I am passionate about the antiques industry. This work is a good fit for my personality.”

Notable changes to Selkirk under Laughlin’s watch include hiring young staff members who fit well with established employees, hosting multiple auctions each month, focusing on curated auctions (“Not just putting together a sale with a ‘come what may’ sense, but ones that are assembled with a purpose,” Laughlin noted), and bringing a sense of fun and wonder to hosting an auction.

Selkirk has some solid history behind it. Established in 1830 and known for being “a full-service fine art and antiques auction firm led by a respected team of experienced industry professionals and certified appraisers,” this organization is a top choice in the Missouri area and beyond to sell everything from a single luxury item to an entire collection. As noted in its press material, “Selkirk captivates the regional and global markets by raising industry standards through the aspirational powers of art and object.”

Selkirk hosted a majolica-only “Splendor of Majolica” event on February 4, offering up a relatively small sale consisting of just over 140 lots. “Thank you for noticing this,” Laughlin stated when asked about the number of items in the sale. “That was on purpose, and we think it worked well for us and the consignors.”

What also worked well was the vibe created by Laughlin and Selkirk staff while putting the auction together and during the in-person preview for the event. “While working on the majolica auction, the staff was debating the correct pronunciation of this ceramic’s name. Running with that idea, I had T-shirts made up for the staff to wear during the auction’s preview with the term ‘majolica’ done in the same font heavy-metal band Metallica uses on their music material and concert T-shirts,” Laughlin noted with a smile. “It created a really upbeat feel at preview. So many people commented on and wanted one of those shirts.”

Sale results indicate that majolica enthusiasts also wanted what Selkirk was selling. The top lot of the February online-only auction was a George Jones game-pie dish and cover featuring oak branch handles and a frieze decorated with rabbits among ferns. The lid boasted a nesting game-bird finial. The circa 1875 English dish in pattern number 3416 had an English registry mark. Estimated at $2000/4000, the 5½" tall x 11" wide x 7" deep dish and cover sold for $10,000 (including buyer’s premium).

“Pieces by English makers George Jones and Minton continue to be very desirable,” Laughlin stated. “The sale included pieces by other makers, of course, and pieces with no mark at all, but items created by these two names were the most prevalent.”

Of the top ten lots, half were George Jones pieces. A circa 1874 trefoil-form figural serving or dessert dish with a perched butterfly among foliate decoration sold for $6875 (est. $800/1600), while a circa 1870 strawberry dish featuring foliate decoration and a modeled finch flanked by two nests was bid to $2000 (est. $400/800). Another serving piece, a 20½" long circa 1865 majolica banana leaf platter, also sold for $2000 against an estimate of $300/500. A non-food-related George Jones item was a circa 1870 garden seat that featured bulrushes, water lilies, birds, and dragonflies on a blue ground and a basket-weave base. The 17¾" high garden seat sold for $6250 (est. $1500/2500).

One of the most interesting items that sold was made by Minton and showcased how elaborate the designs of majolica can be. They were originally listed as vanity jars, but Selkirk was later informed that the Minton rooster-lidded vessels in a basket-weave form were actually used for hard-boiled eggs. “Odd that containers to hold eggs would be decorated with roosters and not hens,” Laughlin noted with a smile. The pair of Minton jars sold for $6250 (est. $100/300).

A majolica teapot by Minton, circa 1875, having a molded yellow body with a branch-form handle and mushroom-form finial sold for $2250 (est. $800/1200). A Joseph Holdcroft figural majolica cigar box sold for $3125 (est. $600/900). Its mouse-form finial, belt-strap wrap, and owl feet added to its appeal. The piece was marked “JH” within a circle on the base. A French majolica grasshopper vase, circa 1895, also sold for $3125 (est. $1000/2000). The piece was marked on the underside “Pardi / Vallauris.”

“We put the estimates low for this auction as we wanted the market to determine value,” Laughlin noted. “I think that worked well for us. We were very pleased with the outcome.”

For more information, visit the website (www.selkirkauctions.com) or call (314) 696-9041.

Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2022 Maine Antique Digest