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    Stunning Ceramics
by Brook S. Mason
A Fine Derby Porcelain Botanical Dessert Service, ca. 1800
at Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge Ltd., New York
One of a pair of Berlin ice pails, ca. 1820
at Brian Haughton Antiques, London
Trout's head stirrup cup
Probably Derby, ca. 1800
at Delmosne and Son, Ltd., London
Chinese Blue and White square bottle,
Late Transitional period, ca. 1620-60
at Anita Gray, London
Chinese terra-cotta court dignitary, Tang Dynasty, ca. 618-907
at Vanderven & Vanderven Oriental Art, the Netherlands
Kate Malone
Heart Pillow, 1998
at Adrian Sassoon, London
If you think collecting period ceramics is archaic, think again. Brian and Anna Haughton's International Ceramics Fair & Seminar in London gives new meaning to just how fascinating and accessible this specialty can be.

The fair, which runs June 10-14, 1999, includes European and Asian pottery, porcelain, glass and enamels. But it's not merely about dealers' offerings; the price of a ticket also buys entry to the leading institution of learning in the field of ceramics. Porcelain and glass experts from around the world have assembled for the event, and there's a full agenda of lectures. For instance, Alice Cooney Freylinghuysen, who curated the Metropolitan Museum's Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibition, is speaking on the subject, and Antoine D'Albis, chief scientist at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, is lecturing on the introduction of figurative painting on porcelain.

The fair and the lectures are in the Park Lane Hotel, Picadilly, London W1. Exhibitors are set up in the ballroom -- one of the truly great art deco interiors of all time. In addition, there's a loan exhibition of outstanding 18th-century English porcelain from private collections. The sheer diversity of 44 dealers from Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and the U.S. makes this the most comprehensive forum on ceramics to date.

Who attends this fair, seeking out these delicate, subtle emblems of civilized life? Yes, the chic and the stylish. Jayne Wrightsman and Princess Michael of Kent have been spotted, as has Elton John. Museum curators from the Louvre, the Getty and other major institutions routinely troll the aisles, looking to stock their holdings.

The booth of Brian Haughton, co-organizer of the show, is the place to start. The dealer has 20 years of expertise, and carries rarities steeped in history. On view is a pair of spectacular Berlin ice pails painted with panoramic ice skating scenes akin to those on the canvases of the finer 19th-century Dutch artists. Their price, $132,000, aptly indicates their preciousness. A similar pair can be spotted nearby in the Duke of Wellington's Apsley House. "Interestingly, for such distinctive examples, Americans make up an increasing percentage of my client base," says Haughton.

London dealer Anita Gray has some of the most exquisite Chinese porcelains at the fair, including an absolutely magnificent pair of Famille Verte vases from the Kangxi period. Decorated with beautifully rendered birds and flora, the vases are quite rare, and expensive. She also has some very unusual blue and white porcelains from 1620-1660, the transitional period between the Qing and Ming dynasties. "Pieces from this period are sought after by a very devoted niche of collectors," claims Anita Gray.

According to Dutch dealer Floris Vanderven, who also specializes in Asian porcelains, "Many contemporary art collectors seek out terra-cottas at first and then branch out into other areas of ceramics." Vanderven & Vanderven have Tang dynasty terra-cotta figures from the seventh century costing $26,800.

For the more modest buyer, Jonathan Horne, who is considered Britain's leading dealer in medieval ceramics, stocks charming Delft tiles, which can cost as little as $200. Beautiful paperweights can also be found at very modest prices (around $300), though some with more intricate, labor-intensive designs run into the thousands. They are becoming increasingly popular, marked in part by Christie's successful paperweight sale last September. New York dealer Leo Kaplan has some interesting Cliche, Baccarat and Bohemian examples. "This is one area with a decidedly growing client base numbering upwards of 15,000," says Susan Kaplan Jacobson.

Fine porcelain can make almost anything look elegant. Take, for example, a witty Derby speckled trout stirrup cup inscribed "The Anglers Delight" at Delomosne & Son, Ltd., of Wiltshire. The coloring alone is fabulous. Stirrup cups in the shape of fox heads are common enough, but dealer Tim Osborne has seen only two trout cups in 20 years. The price for such amusement is only $4,200. He also carries outstanding glass from the 18th-century -- the strongest time period in the field.

But this fair is hardly limited to vintage ceramics. Adrian Sassoon carries all the leading contemporary glass and ceramic artists, beginning with Lucie Rie. Center stage is a robust Kate Malone jug in the form of a pineapple. Beset with crystalline glazes, this stoneware piece costs $600. What's the return on such an investment? "In the past five years, her prices have gone up fivefold," notes Sasson, "and they will continue to ascend."

With financial track records like that, who can afford to miss this show?

BROOK S. MASON writes on art and antiques.