The Story of... Syd Levethan and the 'world's finest' collection of English delft

Syd Levethan's collection is expected to bring around $2m when it is auctioned by Christie's as part of Americana Week 2011 on January 24, the culmination of 30 years of collecting behind which Levethan's mantra was "only the best."

The so-called Longridge Collection was amassed by Levethan through 30 years of inspired collecting, and is today regarded as being among the world's finest private collections of 17th and early 18th century English delft, slipware, and works of art.

Levethan is especially noted for his tireless devotion to collecting only the best specimens; building a collection whose heart combines the colourful boldness of tin-glazed earthenware (or "delftware") with the charm of naïvely decorated earthenware decorated in "slip" (or liquid-clay).

But it's here that we hit upon one of the more unique aspects behind Levethan's choices as a collector. He wasn't only concerned with craft and aesthetics; each object in the collection was also carefully chosen because it spoke of the social and political climate in which it was made.

Many of his pieces commemorate the reigning monarch of the day, or simply showcase the skill and craftsmanship of its creator. It is Levethan's dedication to context which will likely draw the world's top collectors to Christie's New York auction next month.

For instance, among the many highlights of the collection is a fascinating English delft dish decorated in the Italian tin-glazed style, typical of pieces exported to the Colonies during this period.

 A fascinating English delft dish, estimated at $120,000-$180,000

Made in Southwark, London, it is decorated with The Adoration, the scene likely taken from a contemporary Biblical woodcut. Dated to 1638, the piece was created to commemorate the wedding of Aron Wit to Frances Allen at StGeorge the Martyr, Southwark on 9 July,1638.

The front of the dish bears the couple's initials above the date, while the reverse is inscribed with their initials as a complex monogram and with the initials RI, possibly for a Richard Irons, likely the potter or painter of what is both an extraordinary work of art and documentary piece.

Delftware production began in Britain in the 16th century and was introduced from Holland. The collection to be presented at Christie's is billed by the firm as being "one of the finest ever offered at auction" and includes jars, punchbowls, tankards, jugs and bottles all dating to the 1600s and 1700s.

Many of these are dated and inscribed and commemorate  specific reigns of monarchs or historic events. Delftware forms the largest part of the Longridge Collection.

Happening a little over six months after the Christie's London's highly successful sale of the Longridge Collectionin June 2010, this auction in New York should beof particular interest to American collectors, as many of its objects were imported to America during the Colonial period. 


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