A REMARKABLE COLLECTION
For about fifteen years at the end of the last century the world headquarters of Chinese Imari porcelain seemed to be in St. Louis, Missouri. Benjamin F. Edwards III, then chairman of the A.G. Edwards firm founded by his great-grandfather in 1887, began quietly amassing Chinese Imari in the 1980's. The collection rapidly outgrew his already-full shelves at home, and soon the hallways of the executive floor at A.G. Edwards Inc. in downtown St. Louis began to fill up with the lively and colorful porcelains.
Ben travelled widely for business, and was often able to find time once his obligations were met to comb favorite antique shops. By this time, too, the top Chinese porcelain dealers in the world were aware of Ben's passion, and so the best pieces to come on the market were offered to him first, week in and week out. Mahoghany shelves were built at Edwards to display the growing collection, which also filled the executive boardrooms and corner offices of the top floor. Handsome pairs of massive vases greeted clients and staff as the elevator doors opened, and the receptionist sat between sumptuous 18th century jardinieres and beside a collection of pieces made for the Duke of Chandos. French royal porcelain filled a dining table and three walls displayed an assemblage of 27 'Provinces' dishes. All were complemented by Ben's collection of richly colored Caucasian rugs, and by the impressive views of the St. Louis skyline, the famous arch and the river that the floor commands.
For us at Christie's a visit to A.G. Edwards was the greatest of pleasures. The collection became like an old friend, whose familiar contours were always a pleasure to see again, but who also remained full of surprises. No one could fully take in the depth and range of the thousands of pieces in the collection in just a few visits. The fabulous treasures in this, our third and last, sale of the Edwards collection are a testament to its endless variety and stunning strength.
But another delight of the Edwards collection was the wonderful effect it had on all those who worked around it. From top executives to security guards, from young assistants to brokers visiting from Edwards' 700+ offices, all took great pride and interest in the Edwards porcelain. The warmth and affability of Mr. Edwards, who shared his works of art so generously with colleagues, clients, scholars, dealers, fellow collectors and even school groups, seemed to rub off on all observers. Without exception every person we encountered at A.G. Edwards during Ben's chairmanship was friendly, interested in the art on the top floor, and proud to be working alongside it and for Mr. Edwards.
Over the past three years this world headquarters of Chinese Imari has slowly shifted from St. Louis to Christie's New York. We have watched our shelves fill with the vibrant colors of Chinese Imari, and have observed our visitors' fascination with it. Whether English porcelain collectors, Meissen specialists, clients of the silver or Russian departments with whom we share our warehouse space, or the most knowledgeable Chinese export insiders, all have stopped to wonder at the mass of attractive Imari. Each of our first two sales was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. Old China hands were joined by clients of other Christie's departments in the bidding, and also by current or former Edwards employees and clients, and by those simply intrigued with the story of this collection and the collector's eye it reflects.
Christie's has also been privileged to sell during this time Imperial Chinese porcelains, a collection of English bluejohn, and a collection of English and Dutch brass formed by Edwards. And now we are extremely pleased to have on offer the Dutch and English Delft that Ben collected in tandem with his Chinese Imari (Wednesday, 21 January, Captains and Kilns: European Ceramics, Chinese Export and Marine Art). Viewers will note the charming relationships of form and pattern found in the Delft and Chinese pieces, some of which are illustrated here. We are proud to have been temporary custodians of this very special collection, and to have been able to watch its good "karma" ripple outward to each successful Edwards buyer.
First Session (Lots 1 - 201)