A 19-year-old New England boy picked up a snowmobile helmet and an interesting looking vase at a yard sale last summer. He casually put the vase in the helmet for the car ride home, not realizing he had stumbled onto a treasure.
The vase turned out to be a rare c.1909 Marblehead Pottery piece of art. His yard sale vase sold at a Skinner auction in Boston for a record $303,000, far more than its $10,000 to $12,000 pre-auction estimate. The teen and his family “were thrilled when it hit $50,000, and they started getting nervous when it went over $100,000,” said Dan Ayer, Skinner’s Twentieth Century specialist. Ayer noted the teen paid “less than $60” for the two items and he eventually sold the snowmobile helmet on Craigslist for the $60 he paid for both the helmet and vase.
The vase is decorated with haystacks in a marsh, painted in the style of Arthur Wesley Dow, an artist from Ipswich, Mass. It was designed by Annie E. Aldrich, decorated by Sarah Tutt, and made by John Swallow. Marked with the Marblehead sailing ship mark, it is one of four known examples of this style of vase.
The teen suspected he had a treasure after online research showed a similar vase had sold for $90,000 in 2008. He contacted Skinner. When Skinner expert Ayer saw the photograph of the vase, he drove 250 miles the next morning to pick it up. The vase, with the low estimate of $10,000, had 18 bidders.
Marblehead Pottery began in 1904 as a small studio pottery therapy program in a sanitarium for nervous disorders in Marblehead, Mass. The designer, Annie E. Aldrich, was a patient. The same year, Arthur Baggs was hired to establish a commercial program for the pottery, which led to the creation of the for-profit Marblehead Pottery in 1908. The business was sold to Baggs in 1915 and closed in 1936.