Two civil cases and one impending criminal case should do much to clear the muddy waters concerning recently surfacing early English pottery fakes. In June 1991 the dealer Alistair Sampson filed a civil writ in the High Court against Guy Davies of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, claiming that he was sold as eighteenth-century originals a saltware bear, a redware taper stick and an agateware cat, when allegedly they were worthless forgeries. This 14 January one of the foremost collectors in the field, New Yorker Henry Weldon, filed a writ in the High Court against Lindsay Antiques of Kensington Church Street which stated “by a series of oral contracts made on various dates between March 1987 and December 1988, the Defendants agreed to sell and the Plaintiff agreed to purchase a total of fourteen items of rare antique English pottery of various descriptions for a total of £435,000”, which “were forgeries of no value”.
The writ also filed for interest at a rate of 15% per annum from 1 December 1988, amounting by mid-January 1992 to £203,613.80; additional interest would be pursued at a daily rate of £178.77. These fourteen items ranged in their purchase price from £1,500 to £68,000 ($2,700 to $122,400).
Among the more supposedly valuable objects were “a unique Whieldon seven branch candelabrum, about 1745” (£67,500; $121,500); a very rare Staffordshire (Whieldon coloured glazes) owl jug and cover”, about 1750 (£50,000; $90,000); “a very rare model of an owl in the form of a jug and cover in solid Agate, about 1745” (£46,500; $83,700); “a very rare Staffordshire model of a woman...with lead glazes, about 1750” (£52,000; $93,600); “ a very rare Staffordshire saltglaze owl jug and cover ...about 1745” (£50,000; $90,000); “a Whieldon/Staffordshire tea pot in the form of a bear....about 1750” (£68,000; $122,400); and “a very rare Staffordshire bear jug and cover with typical Whieldon colours on a grey ground... about 1745” (£50,000; $90,000).
Aside from these civil cases, Detective Sergeant Ellis of the Art and Antiques Squad of Scotland Yard confirmed in late January that they were proceeding with their own investigations and that, although no one had yet been charged, it was their intent to file criminal proceedings. Criminal cases tend to be resolved more quickly than civil ones. Alistair Sampson stated that he doubted that his case would come to a conclusion until after a criminal one would proceed to trial.
Meanwhile a leading expert in the field advised collectors and would-be purchasers not to panic and begin drilling pots willy-nilly for thermoluminescence tests. With the information now available, the reproduction pieces are quite obvious. “It was”, he noted, “extremely helpful that certain of the Weldon pieces had been published and illustrated in the catalogue, English Pottery 1650 to 1800: The Henry H. Weldon Collection by Leslie B. Grigsby (Sotheby’s publications) because it gave connoisseurs the opportunity to begin assembling a dossier on the forgeries (which in the case of the Weldon collection, represented only a minute portion of his holdings). “As with many such cases, once one item is questioned, it becomes possible to begin finding family resemblances among a corpus of works.
For instance, several of the animal pots have very curious feet and spindly handles, which could not have withstood the rigours of everyday use. And others have evidence of details having been taken from moulds.”