Dave pot’ fetches $41,250 at Burke County auction
It wasn’t just any pot that sold Saturday at a Burke County auction.
It was a storage jar crafted, dated and signed by Dave the Potter on Dec. 11, 1855.
The artisan slave lived in Edgefield County, S.C. and turned out hundreds of alkaline glazed stoneware vessels between the 1820s and 1860s. The surviving pieces are highly sought after, and those with signatures draw collectors from all over the country.
According to Waynesboro auctioneer Greg Hawkins, the jar purchased in Waynesboro was probably once used to store staples such as lard or pickled meat.
The jar was marked with the double-slash Dave always imprinted on his pieces, as well as five dots to signify how many gallons the vessel would hold. It also bore the initials “L.M.” – which stood for Lewis Miles, an Edgefield County slave owner.
Although the seller did not wish to be identified, Hawkins confirmed the pot came from a Burke County home.
While the veteran auctioneer has sold more than 50 of Dave’s pots over the years, he has only had three with signatures on them.
This one drew interest from five bidders at Saturday’s auction, but as the price quickly skyrocketed it came down to a customer connected by telephone and the in-house bidder from upstate South Carolina who would eventually take home the treasure.
Hawkins believes the price to be a record for that size pot and attributes the interest to not only the rare signature but the fact that it had never been on the auction block.
“It was beautiful ... basically a new, undiscovered piece,” he said, noting that a second signed pot, which had been repaired, sold for $12,500 at the same auction.
But those pots are neither the first nor last in Burke County.
Because an 1850s railroad line connected Dave’s homeland directly to Waynesboro, Sardis and Millen, a number of his jars have been passed through families here and have even been discovered in attics and storage sheds, sometimes painted-over or decoupaged. Some of Dave’s huge 30-40 gallon pots have fetched a quarter-million dollars apiece and are prized for his self-inscribed verses of poetry.
One dated July 4, 1859 reads “forth of July is surely come/to blow the fife and beat the drum” while another crafted in 1862 is inscribed, “I made this jar all of cross/if you don’t repent you will be lost.” A sample of his more whimsical poetry is on an 1840 jar, inscribed “whats better than kissing/ wishing while we both are at fishing.”
Hawkins says the sheer size of those pots severely limited their transportability, making the idea of one showing up in our area highly unlikely.
However, he believes other valuable pots are yet to be discovered in Burke County.
“I think there’s more Edgefield pottery here,” he said, noting the collectibles aren’t limited to just Dave’s pots.
They’re out there, he believes, collecting dust in barn rafters, old kitchen cabinets and attic corners just waiting for someone to brush off the cobwebs and discover them.