FOUND > $20 Cracked Teapot Fetches $800,000

Historic Find Saved from the Trash

Owner bought the teapot online for $20.

March 23, 2018
By Ruthie Bowles, Contributing Author for What Sells Best News

SALISBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - Scott Reyburn of The New York Times reports that a rare cracked American teapot, purchased for $20, has stunned the antique world by selling for more than $800,000 at an English auction.


Based on the New York Times story, the teapot was cracked and its lid missing. That didn’t stop auction goers from driving the price up to astounding values. Considering the rarity of the teapot, they likely couldn’t help themselves.

According to reports, the $806,000 newly auctioned teapot sold for a mere $20, in an online antique auction in Lincolnshire, England. Clare Durham, the head of Woolley & Wallis’s English and European Ceramics Department,  believes that if it hadn’t been for that fateful auction bid, a trash can would’ve claimed the teapot.

Woolley & Wallis, the auctioneers, credited John Bartlam as the piece’s creator. He was a well-known Staffordshire-trained potter who created blue and white decorated soft paste porcelain at the Cain Hoy and Camden factories in South Carolina, USA in the 1760’s and 70’s.

John Bartlam Teapot talk by Nicholas Panes (Woolley & Wallis).

Staffordshire, UK became a hub for the creation and shipment of English ceramics. According to Antique Marks, the location was selected due to its close proximity to a Devonshire clay source and land and water transportation routes. Manufacturers established the first potteries at the beginning of the 18th century, and the massive production site grew from there.

Based on information from the Classically Camden, South Carolina website, John Bartlam and his family left Staffordshire because he believed he could offer wonderful porcelain to the American market without the added cost of shipping it across the Atlantic. They settled in Cain Hoy initially, and moved to Camden and opened a second factory there.

The success of the business allowed the family to thrive until the start of the Revolutionary War. Initially siding with the Rebels, Bartlam later joined the British Army after the American defeat at the Battle of Camden. His family left Camden when he died a year later and the British Army retreated to Charleston.


Appraisers believe Bartlam created the blue and white teapot in the 1760’s, making it the oldest American teapot in existence. Adorned with two sandhill cranes beneath a Sabal palmetto tree, the teapot has an American slant due to the cranes and tree being indigenous to the Carolinas.

The Times article noted the mystery around why the only surviving Bartlam porcelain pieces have been discovered in the UK. Ms. Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, the curator in the American Decorative Arts in the American Wing of the Met, along with others, theorize that Bartlam sent a tea service to England to promote his products prior to the war. 

Following Revolutionary War excavations of the factory, researchers determined Bartlam’s porcelain to be the first produced in America. The better-known porcelain produced by Bonnin and Morris Wares from 1770-1772 in Philadelphia was thought to be the first porcelain to ever be created in America.

John Bartlam, America's First Porcelain Potter (Camden, SC Archives).

The Woolley & Wallis Auction House assessed the Bartlam Teapot as the oldest American-made porcelain teapot still in existence, inciting higher bidding.


Compared to other porcelain discoveries we’ve seen, this is an utterly amazing discovery and sale of an American porcelain piece. Normally, we see Chinese porcelain pieces sell for prices this high.

As you can see, the tiniest details matter when assessing valuable porcelain. If you believe you have discovered something, you should go to our free appraisals page and contact one of the experts listed there.


Roderick Jellicoe, a London dealer bidding on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York cast the winning bid in the room. He dueled intensely for 8 minutes with a private American dealer who bid by phone. Woolley & Wallis placed the presale estimate at £10,000 to £20,000.

Video fo the John Bartlam Teapot Auction (Woolley & Wallis).


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