LENOX AND CONTINENTAL PORCELAIN FROM THE POMPEY COLLECTION
The Pompey Collection was formed over the past thirty years by a New Jersey collector with an eye for high quality and a passion for fine painting. The selection included in today's sale represent the best of what was perhaps the largest collection of Lenox porcelain in private hands.
Incorporated in May 1989 by Walter Scott Lenox and Jonathan Coxon Sr. as the Ceramic Art Company (later Lenox Inc. and currently Lenox China), this small pottery soon became the market leader for high-end wares, selling only through carriage trade retailers such as Tiffany & Co. in New York and Bailey, Banks & Biddle in New York. In their first catalogue of 1891, Lenox and Coxon avow that their 'aim and ambition was to create a class of artistic ceramics that would merit the distinction of high esteem, in that they might be treasured, not only for their beauty and present worth, but for their prospective value to posterity as legitimate works of art.'
To this end, the factory developed a bone china body and concentrated their efforts on their Lenox line of custom wares in the European taste, hiring European painters in an attempt to duplicate and surpass the elaborately decorated cabinet and place plates being produced by such august firms as Minton, Royal Doulton, Royal Crown Derby, Berlin (K.P.M.) and others. An advertisement for the firm in the 10 August 1906 issue of American Pottery Gazette proclaims: "We make a specialty of Individual Services, Monograms, and Family Crests [exhibiting] attractive designs in Acid Gold Borders."
Two years later, the factory had succeeded in its aim to become known as the best in the field. An article in Pottery and Glass from 1908 cited by Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen in her catalogue for American Porcelain 1770-1920 notes, 'American millionaires have now learned to appreciate this American porcelain and seek it for their tables. One of the finest things ever produced at the Lenox factory was the Roebling orchid set, which cost over three thousand dollars, and consisted of thirty-two plates decorated with orchid blossoms.'
Twenty-four of the original set of thirty-two plates are offered in this sale as lots 317 and 318. Commissioned by the third son of John Roebling of Brooklyn Bridge fame and named in Latin on the underside, the plates are traditionally described as based on orchids grown in Charles Roebling's own extensive greenhouses at his Trenton estate. Lot 320 is a similarly decorated set of monogramed plates depicting specimen roses. Though not named on the underside, they we also made for Roebling and are likely also based on roses grown by the avid botanist and horticulture expert.
This type of elaborate place plate with its finely painted center and rich acid-etched border was very popular in the early years of the twentieth century and became a hallmark of the Lenox factory. Lot 319, probaby a unique set of topographical plates depicting European gardens and lot 313, a set of ornithological plates depicting exotic pheasants in their native Asian habitat, were both painted by William Morley, also responsible for the Roebling plates and arguably the finest china painter of his day.
American porcelain manufacturing was in its infancy at the turn of the 20th century. It was not until 1918, when Lenox produced a service for Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, that an American firm was capable of making a service to rival European manufacturers, one that was used with pride at The White House.
For a detailed discussion of the porcelain industry in America, please see Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, American Porcelain 1770-1920, New York, 1989.