THE FLOWER FAMILY MAJOLICA COLLECTION - HISTORY, WHIMSEY, PASSION, TOGETHER
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2023 - 1750 SUMNEYTOWN PIKE, KULPSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA
1750 SUMNEYTOWN PIKE, KULPSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA
180+ Lots of some of the finest and rarest pieces of majolica by Minton, George Jones, TC Brown Westhead & Moore, Hugo Lonitz and more.
THE FLOWER FAMILY MAJOLICA COLLECTION
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2023
STARTING AT 10:00
HOLIDAY INN BALLROOM
1750 SUMNEYTOWN PIKE
English earthenware popular during the Victorian period. Prestigious pottery firms such as
Minton, George Jones, and Wedgwood all produced majolica to satisfy the demand
of English nobility, which soon spilled over to the growing middle-class.
While legions of dedicated fans have sought out and collected majolica throughout
history – from the Medici family to Queen Elizabeth – few amassed a collection as
large and breathtaking in scope as Edward Flower (1929-2022) and his wife Marilyn
(1930-2017), more than six hundred pieces in all, each one carefully chosen for its
beauty, rarity, and condition.
Several pieces in the Flower collection were recently featured in an important
exhibition, entitled “Majolica Mania” that was launched in New York City in the
fall of 2021, traveled to the Walters Museum in Baltimore in early 2022, and
finished at Stoke on Trent in the UK in the fall of 2022. Only the finest pieces of
majolica made their way into the show.
Now, the Flower collection in its entirety will be offered for sale – all 600+ pieces
– consigned in three auctions, the first of which will be held on the 23 rd of this
August. The second and third auctions will follow, with dates to be determined.
Michael Strawser, of Strawser Auctions, will be conducting the first auction. His
experience in the auctioning of majolica is extensive, both in years and in quality.
From modest pieces to be had for $100, to iconic and rare pieces that have realized
record breaking five figure prices. In fact, the Flower Collection includes many
pieces acquired at Strawser Auctions over the past 25 odd years.
Perhaps the most astounding thing about the Flower collection is the fact that the
couple didn’t begin collecting majolica in earnest until much later in life – Ed at
about age 60. More later on the why’s and wherefores of how such an incredible
collection could have been assembled in such a relatively short amount of time, but
first, a look at the collection itself.
When the decision was made to collect majolica, Ed and Marilyn dove right into the deep end of
the pool, acquiring only the finest English pieces, designed by the best modelers at the Minton
and George Jones manufactories in “The Potteries” region of central England. Teapots, game pie
dishes, fish tureens and vases were common purchases and quickly filled curio cabinets, coffee
tables and, finally, the entire dining room table in their spacious townhome in Bay Shore, Long
Island, not far from Ed’s office a few blocks away, where he enjoyed a long and successful
career as a real estate attorney.
Garden seats and large floor jardinières began to occupy the abundant floor space. As the years
passed, the couple’s collecting taste shifted a bit to Continental majolica. The large, colorful and
highly detailed animal figures of the Massier Brothers, Choisy Le Roi and Hugo Lonitz found
perfect homes in the Bay Shore residence. Smaller items, such as wall pockets, sconces, oyster
plates and highly decorative mirrors came to line the walls. Finally, the neo-classical pieces
consisting of vases, urns, ewers, and wine coolers found residence on the tops of cabinets.
While both Marilyn and Ed had a keen eye for quality and rarity, Marilyn was meticulous at
pointing out blemishes, as these could be common among 150-year-old ceramics that were
actually put to use in a Victorian household. Ed would talk lovingly of the brilliant deep colors of
the glazes, and the whimsical nature of the “over the top” - sometimes overly ornate – pieces, but
there was more about majolica that he appreciated.
This centered on the history of the craft, the fact that these ceramics – outside those purely
figural – were designed and manufactured for practical use and were affordable to a budding
middle class in Europe. These items were not of gold, silver or delicate bone china.-often only
affordable to the wealthy classes. And the pieces were made using press molds as opposed to
poured slip, yet the best manufacturers could still achieve the fine detail more expected of a
porcelain object. An example would be the fine detailing in bird feathers and fish scales found in
some of the naturalistic animal forms.
If one were to ask, “What aspect of majolica collecting did Ed and Marilyn Flower enjoy the
most?”, they would be hard pressed to find an answer. The truth was, they loved it all – the
incredibly wide range of objects to be collected, the rich colorful glazes, the detail, and lastly, the
story of majolica. But that only speaks of the objects themselves.
Ed and Marilyn loved the camaraderie of the majolica community, and the enjoyment of sharing
this passion with others. But most important, they shared this passion with each other, and in
later years Ed could still pick up one item out of the vast collection and recall how Marilyn first
took interest in it. Or, perhaps he liked an item and she required just a little convincing, If she
came around, it was a purchase. Those are true collectors: impulsive, committed, always on the
hunt. A unique breed of people.
Knowing that Ed Flower was a successful attorney with the means to indulge his every whim
regarding majolica and the couple’s other collections (yes, there were more – many more in
fact), it would be easy to assume he had a privileged upbringing, one surrounded by beautiful
objects, furnishings, and artwork. The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth.
Ed grew up amongst the dingy warehouses and vacant lots of Long Island City. But a short
subway ride brought him to a different world: the culture and sophistication of Manhattan. Even
as early as a young boy growing up during the Great Depression, Ed would pay the nickel ride
and be transported to world class museums. Perhaps this kindled his desire to be a collector.
But art and antiques would have to wait – quite a few years in fact. His early interests were coins
and stamps, as well as books, since he was an avid reader of history and a wide range of fiction.
His developmental years were mostly filled with the typical; school, work and social life.
His intelligence and competitive edge led him to a perfect career niche, resulting in his success
as a real estate attorney. But it was while he was a night student at Brooklyn Law School
(graduating first in his class) that he met the love of his life, Marilyn, during a summer break.
Marriage, a move to the suburbs, and two children later, Ed and Marilyn still found time for trips
to Manhattan art museums and galleries. And they frequently attended concerts and Broadway
shows. The couple spent these early years learning about the art collecting world – most likely
imagining becoming part of that world.
Around the time Ed was approaching 40 years of age, he landed and settled a few very lucrative
cases – and now there was a bit of money. Some folks would invest a tidy nest egg in stocks and
bonds or real estate, while others might leave it safely in the bank. Not Ed and Marilyn Flower.
They invested in highly under-valued American Impressionist oil paintings. But ironically, this
led to a problem. Their investments proved to be so successful - as the prices for these paintings
skyrocketed - that the middle-income couple was now priced out of their new hobby.
Not wanting to sell their museum-quality paintings, the couple moved on to collecting more
affordable early 20 th century American prints. Within a few years, the walls of their home were
covered with the works of Martin Lewis, John Sloan and Reginald Marsh. At this point, their
passion for collecting had little to do with future investment performance. But, perhaps less due
to luck and more to Marilyn and Ed’s keen eye for quality, coupled with their diligent research,
their print collection increased remarkably in value as the years progressed.
As all diehard collectors with spare change know, a great deal of the fun is in adding to the
collection. But, sadly, wall space can be limited. For Marilyn and Ed, this was not a problem.
Their interests were so varied, and their passion for learning so great, it was easy to expand into
new areas of collecting. Frequenting the great antique shows in Manhattan, they established a
sophisticated netsuke collection during the late 1970s and 1980s. Other small antique items
crept into the picture, and before long there was a modest art glass collection, various
sculptures by local Cape Cod artists, and, of course, more prints to fill any pocket of wall space.
When the couple had become empty nesters in the early 1980s, they had traded their Long Island
residence for a spacious coop apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Ed would commute
back to Long Island to continue his thriving law practice (telecommuting was obviously not an
option at the time). Nearing 1990 – and 60 years of age – it became apparent to him that this was
not yet the time to retire, but the often two-hour commute might age him there prematurely.
The answer? That’s when they decided to purchase the spacious, 2,500-square-foot townhome in
Bay Shore. With the prints and netsuke now residing at the coop apartment in Manhattan, and
plenty of empty space at the new home in Bay Shore, the situation was ripe for a new vast
collection. Developing an important majolica collection – renowned amongst collectors for its
great breadth and depth – was certainly not the plan. But again, as passionate collectors know,
these things just kind of happen. And the space was conveniently there.
After Ed retired, in the early 2000s, the couple would be present at almost every majolica
auction held by Strawser Auction Group. And it was a certainty that their hands would go up
several times at each auction. The couple simply refused to be outbid when they spotted a piece
they had to have. They could also be found at every majolica convention – usually a bi-annual
event – at any U.S. city chosen for the affair. Also, Ed served for a time on the Board of
Directors of the prestigious Majolica International Society.
Three people were instrumental in seeing along Ed and Marilyn’s burgeoning interest in majolica
in the early going and beyond. The first, another couple – Phil and Deborah English, passionate
collectors and members of the Majolica International Society. The pair met Ed at different times
– Phil at a Strawser auction and Deborah at a MIS function. “I met him in line,” Deborah
recalled. “I knew who he was and was a little intimidated by him at first. But he was so nice and
so cordial that my fears were quickly allayed and we soon became fast friends.”
Phil remembers Ed as a friend but also an adversary when it came to bidding at auction. “Ed had
a reputation,” he said. “Once his paddle went up, it didn’t come down until he won. And he
almost always won.” He added, “When we got really competitive, it was always for a piece that
hadn’t been seen in a number of years.”
That very situation presented itself multiple times at the auction of the collection of Marilyn
Karmason, a collector and co-author of the book Majolica: A Complete History & Illustrated
Survey. Her very important collection came up for bid following her death in an auction that was
conducted by Strawser Auction Group, and Phil and Ed were both eager attendees. “Ed kept
outbidding me, per usual,” Phil remembered. “Finally, at the end, a gorgeous ice stand piece
came up for bid. We both bid on it, but at one point, Ed turned to me, tipped his hat and dropped
his paddle. He let me win. That was Ed – gracious to a fault.”
The two couples became friends that extended beyond their mutual love for majolica. “We talked
about art, good food and wine, and I introduced the Flowers to a few good French restaurants in
New York City,” Phil said. “We were at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but could
always discuss our differences, often over a cocktail, without it getting ugly or coming to blows.”
Phil said Ed’s experience as a lawyer served him well on the board of the Society. “He brought a
wonderful process to The Board about how to approach challenges and problems without scaring
people off. He was very diplomatic that way.” He added, “Ed worked and collected right up until
the end of his life, and every single day he had a late afternoon glass of white wine. We would
often catch up with each other by phone during those special times.” Deborah added, “Oh, one
more thing about Ed. He was a very dapper dresser.”
The other major player in Ed and Marilyn’s collecting life was Nick Boston, who currently lives
in London, England and has an impressive list of credentials: a third-generation antiques dealer
who’s been dealing in majolica since he was 19 years old; responsible for building, researching
and cataloging the greatest majolica and antique ceramic collections in the world; owner of an
antique pottery shop in Mayfair, London; and someone that Architectural Digest nicknamed
“The Majolica Guru”.
“I first met Ed and Marilyn over thirty years ago when they arrived at my majolica shop in
London's Kensington Church Street,” Nick recalled. “On meeting them I quickly noticed how in
sync they were as to what pieces caught both their eyes. What made my job easier and enjoyable
as a majolica dealer, was the 'Flower taste' was also my taste, and so we had great connections as
to what pieces were of interest to them.”
Quality, rarity and history were all important for the Flowers, Nick said. “All these boxes had to
be ticked,” he said. “Their 'way' was a very scholarly 'way' but also a very passionate way, which
in my experience is how the greatest collections are built. Marilyn and Ed were akin to museum
curators who were building their own very personal and important collection.”
He continued, “Ed and Marilyn’s golden rule was that for a piece to enter their collection, they
both had to love it. If either one wasn’t 100 percent sure, then the piece did not get in the
collection. As a majolica dealer, I was always excited to find a piece that I knew would tickle
both their fancy and I took great pleasure in offering the piece to them. Of course, the Flowers
also had a great buying technique. Both were like chess players. A deal was never a deal until
both gave the thumbs up, and that process could often take some time. A lot of thought went into
the acquiring process.”
Nick said that despite the Flowers’ reputation for being shrewd buyers and hard bargainers,
working with the couple was always a pleasure. “Many years ago, I realized how passionate the
Flowers were about their collection when Ed told me that at the end of each working day, he
would pour a cocktail and then choose one piece out of his enormous collection, place the piece
in front of him and then study it and think about its beauty, its form, its artistic value and about
its designer, it's sculptor and manufacturer. Ed and Marilyn both knew that for these wonderful
pieces to exist that there had to be a story behind each and that fact really intrigued them both.”
Nick observed that the Flower collection is important, balanced, academic and artistic. “It reveals
the breadth and width of the greatest 19th century majolica manufacturers and of their greatest
designers,” he said. “Rarity, whimsy, history and aesthetics, the Flower collection has it all, and
we are all very lucky to have the opportunity to view this auction of a lifetime’s worth of choices
between the most wonderfully simpatico husband and wife.”
Nick said he was fortunate to have spent a weekend at Ed and Marilyn’s home one time. “I had
been contracted to be the editorial advisor for the Bard Graduate Centre's Majolica Mania
Exhibition. Ed was intrigued about the project and invited me to spend time together. It was a
wonderful weekend. We chatted about majolica over cocktails, then we spoke more about
majolica over more cocktails. It was great fun. More importantly, Ed spoke about his
background, how he and Marilyn met and how they became collectors.”
He said Ed spoke of how as a young man of school age he would walk across the Brooklyn
Bridge to Manhattan and on to the Metropolitan Museum. “He said he was just drawn to look at
the beautiful objects,”: he said. “Ed was a total aesthete. He wasn't sure where this passion came
from. He said he was born with it. When he began collecting coins, he would travel miles to
antique fairs, antique shops – anywhere to find that elusive coin.”
Nick said that Ed recognized then that 'collecting' was a gene in him and that most ‘normal’
people didn’t have or recognize the 'collecting gene'. “But Ed had it, and he often used that in his
negotiation of a piece. He'd jokingly say, 'Nick, give me a break on price...you know I want
it....I'm not a well man...I have the ‘collecting gene'. We'd both laugh and come to a happy
conclusion – all of all of us - Marilyn, Ed and me, happy we could make the deal work. Doing
business with Ed and Marilyn was always fun. And they were always very generous with dinner
– always knew the best steak house in town. Lovely people.”
Michael Strawser operates the most experienced and trusted auction house for majolica. The
Strawser Auction Group has handled many of the greatest majolica collections and sold items to
the biggest collectors in the world. Mr. Strawser was the founder of the Majolica International
Society and served as its very first president at the organization’s inception.
To learn more about Strawser Auction Group and the first of three auctions dedicated to the
majolica collection of Ed and Marilyn Flower, slated for Wednesday, August 23 rd , please visit
www.strawserauctions.com. Updates are posted often. You can reach Strawser Auction Group
by phone at 260-854-2859 or 260-336-2204; or via email at [email protected].
AUCTION PREVIEW: Preview will be Tuesday, August 22 from 1pm to 7pm and Wednesday morning August 23 at 8:30am.
TERMS: Cash, Master Card, Visa, personal checks ONLY when accompanied with a letter of credit from your bank, NO exceptions, an additional 3% buyer’s premium will be added to all credit card payments.
BUYER’S PREMIUM: The buyer’s premium “in-house” is 15%. The premium will be charged on all purchases. The online internet buyer’s premium is 23%.
TELEPHONE BIDDING: You MUST pre-register for telephone bidding at least 48 hours prior to the auction. The minimum opening bid for any item for telephone bidding is $2500.
ABSENTEE BIDDING: Absentee bids are accepted and welcomed. Absentee bids need to be received prior to noon on Tuesday, August 22, 2023. Final payment may be with a check or credit card. Upon submitting an absentee bid form, you authorize Strawser Auctions to enter bids on your behalf, up to the maximum bid, as indicated on the absentee bid form. You also agree that Strawser Auctions accepts absentee bidding as a convenience and is not responsible for errors relating to the execution of bids. ALL absentee bid forms must be signed and dated in order for us to execute your bids.
LIVE ONLINE BIDDING: This auction offers live online bidding. Visit www.strawserauctions.com and click on the auction to go to the live bidding site.
SHIPPING: Shipping is available through the Packaging Store. Quotes can be obtained by contacting them at [email protected].