Restored and on sale: one very special Coper pot

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An early large stoneware globular pot by Hans Coper, white slip over textured manganese ground, sgraffito eye and linear abstract design, impressed HC mark, made c.1953 at Albion Mews. H: 27cm. Provenance: Private collection since at least the 1970s

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Studio Ceramics Consultant Jason Wood explains how a rare early Coper pot came to auction

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Ebay has been dubbed the ‘Wild West’ of the auction world, with some sellers shooting from the hip as far as the accuracy of their descriptions go. Nevertheless, it does throw up the occasional surprise. A few months ago was a case in point. One of my regular Ebay searches is for the work of Hans Coper. This usually results in several doubtful listings (there’s one on at the moment for coffee mugs) or invitations to view related items by Dameon Lynn. This time, however, the listing was for a genuine Coper – and a large, early one. I was certain of this as I had just completed an article on Coper and some of his early work that he gifted to his long-time friend Howard Mason (forthcoming in CR issue 282). The only problem, and to extend the Wild West analogy further: the pot looked like it had been used as an impromptu weapon in a saloon bar brawl…and come off second best. It was damaged, yes: but not, I thought, beyond repair.

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I messaged the seller to say what an exceptional pot this was and to commiserate about its condition. Because of this, I explained that it was unlikely to sell at the ‘buy it now’ price being asked. Instead, I recommended getting it professionally restored and auctioning it at a dedicated sale of studio ceramics, preferably one in which other Copers were already consigned. At this point, of course, I mentioned my association with Adam Partridge Auctioneers, and the growing reputation we have for selling works of this kind – Copers in particular, on the back of the Firth Collection sale last October. If the pot was placed with us, I would arrange the restoration, guarantee maximum publicity ahead of the sale and alert our regular Coper buyers and other interested parties around the world. The seller agreed, and the Ebay listing was taken down.

I wouldn’t normally try to get so much glue past our clients, but the size and rarity, and therefore importance, of this early work made this a special case. Mindful that a similar example (though in one piece) had sold at Phillips in New York for almost $200,000 in 2013, and that a jug with the same decoration adorned the collection of Henry Rothschild and the cover of Tanya Harrod’s book The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century, I was confident that the cost of restoration would be more than justified. But it had to be the best; and the best in this business is, in my opinion, Fiona Hutchinson.

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Expert ceramics restorer Fiona Hutchinson describes the pot’s restoration

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When the pot first arrived at the workshop it was in a poor state. There was an old, unsightly restoration that was very uneven, with a lot of excess glue – but at least it held it together. Because of the poor contact on the glued edges, the pot looked far worse than it needed to.

The first priority was to clean the pot. The pot clearly had years of dirt on the surface, which concealed its subtle glaze variations. It was soaked and then washed using a small, round short-bristled brush, by which time the water was the colour of coffee.

To start the process of restoration it was necessary to break down the old glue that was holding the pot together. It is never easy to decide what type of adhesive has been used, but in this case, after numerous tests, an appropriate solvent was selected. After three days of constant attention, the adhesive gave way and the long process of cleaning all the remaining glue off the broken edges of each piece began. Having got the pot into its various pieces, it was left for 24 hours to make sure that all the bits were thoroughly dried out.

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Once all the bits were clean and dry, the re-assembly could begin. A suitable glue was chosen, mixed and applied to the pieces in turn as they were re-assembled. This had to be done with great care to ensure no fragments got ‘locked out’ during the process. Once reconstructed, the pot was left for a few days for the glue to cure and for the pot to become safe to handle.

At this stage, the filling process could begin. Each break edge had small areas to fill. This process was very slow and was repeated 4-5 times, as it was crucial to get a smooth and blended surface.

Finally, the painting of the repaired surface was undertaken. This was all done by hand, mixing each colour by eye to match the pot’s glaze. It took many thousands of brush strokes and many hours to complete this process.

The end result: a superb example of Hans Coper’s work, restored to its former glory.

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Find the pot under the hammer at Adam Partridge Auctioneers, Macclesfield, on 14 October (it is Lot 65, and is estimated at £6000-8000). Read about a previously unknown Coper collection inside our next issue, out 17 October. There, too, you will find a special feature on Fiona’s restoration work

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