by Rufus Foshee
About twenty years ago Jackie Onassis came into my booth in New York and we chatted a bit and she said “What a shame to sell these things.” My response was, “To the contrary, it seems a natural evolution to me.” Her remark seems particularly ironic now, after her heirs have had sale after sale of her lifetime collecting.
But if people did not die, divorce, or want to make profits on what they have bought, the antiques pottery storage bins, like the fine art market walls would be bare.
For collecting Mocha Ware this is the best of times, though some may think the worst of times. It is true that prices are stronger than years ago, but then this is not peculiar to the Mocha Ware market. The good news is there have never been better examples of Mocha Ware on the market than today. But if a beginning or advanced collector is looking for Mocha Ware at 1995 prices, then it may be best to seek another area of interest.
Not now, nor is there likely to be at any time, a universal agreement as to what Mocha Ware is, nor is its identification as complicated as some would have us believe. A detailed article on Mocha Ware may be seen on this web site for those who may wish more information. The purpose of this article is to guide those who do collect Mocha Ware or who may wish to begin.
As a beginner where does one start? The computer has enabled collectors to see more than might ever have been possible without the internet. In addition, there are what many people call “Too many antique shows.” If one looks for Mocha Ware at shows, do not be discouraged if you find only an occasional example and not very good ones. It may be more rewarding to seek out those dealers who have large inventories for sale, allowing a collector broad choices.
Where is an advanced collector to go? The advanced collector of Mocha Ware is likely to have established a major source from whom that collector is dependent upon to add major contributions to such a collection of Mocha Ware.
While any collector of Mocha Ware may find some examples in print media, in most instances one cannot see the colors, not to mention the details of how the design is applied, and that makes a great difference. The web does provide fairly accurate color, providing the site designer has not used poor quality digital photos.
Should a collector only collect “mint” condition pieces? That is a large question and deserves detailed answers. First, the mythology needs to be removed from the concept of mint. If by mint one means the way an example left the factory, that is one thing. But one needs to be careful how one uses the word mint.
One must take into consideration as to whether an example of Mocha Ware has been restored. More importantly, who did the restoration and is it documented. There is no reason to not collect examples that have had restoration, but the collector should know of such restoration before buying. The wise collector when buying will ask the dealer for a receipt with a circa date and a statement about restoration, if any. There are collectors who will tell you that they have large collections of mint condition pieces. The chances of such a collection being in mint condition is slim.
So it is useful to come to some decision in the beginning as to what kind of collection one envisions for oneís future. Some evaluate their collections on how many examples they acquire. Others choose a pattern, or related patterns, and build from there. Still, a more unusual collector limits such a collection to a sole pattern.
Is it more important to have mint condition examples, or to have the best examples of whatever pattern or patterns. Only the individual collector, perhaps with a seasoned consultant, can make such decisions. If a collector is going to have a growing collection over time, it will be both difficult, not to mention expensive, to collect only mint condition pieces. They are rare as anyone will find if qualified to determine such matters. Auction houses have learned not to use the term mint. In addition, if you buy at auction, you own it, no returns, unless you can prove that the Mocha Ware examples purchased are in a condition other than cataloged.
If you buy from a dealer, what options do you have? Those need to be established from the beginning. Whether you buy in person, on the web, or by mail, what guarantees do you have? If the dealer allows returns, what does that mean? Does it mean you get credit against another purchase or a refund?
Some dealers have very flexible policies that they are willing to extend to those who patronize them on a regular basis, that might not be available to the casual buyer.
Are you a collector who values the chase more than the find, not an uncommon malady in antique collecting. Is it the esthetic beauty of the examples of Mocha Ware that is of interest to you or is it hoping to find a great example in an unexpected place that is exciting?
If one examines great collections, whether of Mocha Ware, or other antiques or fine art, one is likely to find a common denominator. Most such collections have been created by an unusually talented collector working with a particular advisor. Such an advisor may be a dealer or not, but who is likely to be more knowledgeable that a seasoned dealer?
For example, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller collection of Folk Art at Williamsburg was shepherded by the late Edith Gregor Halpert. One can easily spot the additions made by others later. The Cone collection of early 20th century paintings at the Baltimore Museum was advised by the Steins in Paris.
The great collection of English pottery recently given to Williamsburg by Henry Weldon could have only been achieved with competent advisors. Even then, some embarrassing fakes turned up in the collection. Mrs. Weldon later said that “...it really is up to the dealers isnít it?”
There are those who say that Mocha prices have grown disproportionally in the last thirty years. That is not accurate. If Mocha Ware had grown in increments equal to those of some other later pottery, Spongeware for example, the prices would be much greater. When the average Spongeware pitcher was about $20, a Mocha Mug was about $150. The average Spongeware pitched has increased in price thirty times, while a Mocha Ware mug has increased only about fifteen.
Wonderful collections of Mocha Ware are as possible as they are desirable. It is up to seasoned collectors or beginning collectors of Mocha Ware to determine just how they want to proceed and how they wish their collection to be judged when it is a mature collection. A collection is never finished. Those who think they have every example of anything, and Mocha Ware in particular, are not very seasoned collectors. I have been buying Mocha Ware for decades, and I have found more exquisite, rare, first time seen examples in the last five years, than I ever imagined had been made.
There are public collections, at the Shelburn Museum in Vermont for example. Those viewing such collections should keep in mind that such collections are very limited in scope, but are well worth study. What is believed to be the finest collection is in private hands and has been assembled very carefully over about thirty five years. Just because examples pass through someoneís hands on their way to auction does not make a collection, as some would claim.
Because Mocha Ware is perhaps the most varied and fascinating decoration on pottery of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and requires a considerable investment, its collection, advisedly, is to be taken seriously.
If one is going to have a rewarding collection of Mocha Ware, or of any pottery, a systematic approach will have many dividends.