Local collector buys rare Strasburg pottery

By Josette Keelor

Two redware ceramic cats that sold for $75,000 at Headley’s Auctions in Berryville have found a new home in New Market with collector Burt Long. But the story isn’t how much they sold for, or how much he estimates their actual worth — between $125,000 and $150,000 — it’s that before April 11 when Long acquired the matching Soloman Bell cats, the record high for Strasburg pottery was $63,250.

“It’s kind of a landmark event for Shenandoah County and Strasburg Pottery,” he said.

This wasn’t the first time Headley and family have had a major pottery sale, Long said.

In 1967, Long’s father, collector Benny Long, acquired an Anthony Baecher redware goat, made in Winchester, for $82,250. The under bidder was the Colonial Williamsburg Museum, Burt Long said.

“That goat still holds the record price for all of Virginia pottery,” he said.

Long said his recent acquisition was well worth the money.

“I expected the cats could have sold for a good amount more,” he said. “[The] auctioneer mentioned that he thought they were worth $75,000 15 years ago.

And Long isn’t the only one interested in the cats.

“I have clients now that are trying to buy them from me,” he said. “Just collectors of antiques, and a good number of them are professionals.”

Long, who runs his business Burt Long Antiques two miles north of New Market at 3455 Old Valley Pike, said he has a large collection of Soloman Bell and Strasburg pottery.

Bell, who was born in Hagerstown, Md., in 1817, moved to Strasburg in 1845, Long said. The redware cats were made between 1860 and 1870, he said.

Besides dealing in pottery, Long specializes in pie safes, “And I have probably 10 for sale in my shop now, and they’re all the better type. And most of them are local Shenandoah Valley pie safes.”

He also said he enjoys selling frakturs, what the Germans called hand-painted watercolors used to document births and baptisms at the turn of the 19th century.

Most of what he handles are from the Shenandoah Valley.

“I’ve been doing this full time at my shop, which is next to my home place … since 1983, seven days a week,” Long said. “Ever since I came back from college.”

“My father was a top collector and antique dealer also,” he said.

Long said he learned from the June edition of Main Antique Digest that he had set the new record price for Soloman Bell and Strasburg pottery.

“The Soloman Bell cats are very well known,” he said. The cats, modeled as a male and female, are coated with lead and manganese clays and “are probably the best example of Strasburg, Va., redware animal figures to have ever been offered and sold in public,” Long said.

Standing at 6 1/4 inches tall, the cats are considered large for Strasburg figural animals, which he said are usually about 4 inches tall.

“The male cat did have a tiny chip at the edge of each ear,” he said. “The female cat is in excellent condition.”

Despite interest from other collectors, Long plans to loan them long term to a major museum in Virginia or even New York.

Until recently, he said, “The redware cats have been on loan since 2005 to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester.”

The Headley Family loaned them in 2005, but when Joe Headley’s mother Glynnell Headley died in October 2012 at the age of 90, the family decided to auction off the pottery.

“It’s not every day that rare Strasburg pieces come up like this,” Long said.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com