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Seattle Art Museum Libraries: Digital Collections

Overview

William H. Lautz, the Seattle Ceramic Society, and the Seattle Art Museum

William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains

The bowl and saucer on bottom row, middle, are in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum: "Small Tea Bowl and Saucer," (ca. 1754-59), English, Longton Hall, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 76.193.

This collection contains photographs and corresponding price lists prepared by the William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains gallery in New York in the mid-twentieth century. In many ways, they are precursors to the modern-day full-color collection catalogue that would come to potential buyers from galleries today. In this case, the potential buyers were members of the Seattle Ceramic Society. This collection contains over 600 photographs and documents identified by the number assigned to them by Lautz. 

Note to the reader: We want to thank Julie Emerson, the former Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts at the Seattle Art Museum, for her assistance in identifying porcelain objects from William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains that are now featured in SAM's Porcelain Room. When known, SAM objects in these photographs have their SAM accession number identified in the metadata (example: 55.103); those without will be getting them soon. Plugging the accession number into SAM's online collection "quick search" site will help you discover even more about pieces featured in these photographs.

While not much is known about William Lautz’s life outside of the porcelain world, he was a key figure in the growth of eighteenth-century porcelain in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. As a dealer of European porcelain, Lautz helped form the Warda Stevens Stout Collection at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis1, the Martha and Henry Isaacson collection in Seattle, and the Blanche M. Harnan Ceramic Collection, also in Seattle; the latter two now located at the Seattle Art Museum.

Stamp for William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, New York

Gallery stamp for William H. Lautz Antique Porcelains, New York.

Both Martha Isaacson and Blanche Harnan were founding members of the Seattle Ceramic Society, which stimulated the collection of European porcelain through study groups. Their stated goal was to collect European porcelain worthy of exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. To that end, they connected with important dealers in the field.

In the mid-1950s, Lautz sent barrels of porcelain to the Seattle Ceramic Society, accompanied by photographs and descriptive lists of the pieces. In turn, the Ceramic Society members selected pieces and returned empty barrels to Lautz with checks for their purchases. This method became known as the “Seattle Scheme” and continued while the Seattle Ceramic Society members grew their individual collections.2

Over time, the Seattle Ceramic Society and its members held five exhibitions of their European porcelain collections at the Seattle Art Museum between 1949 and 1964. Many active members of the Ceramic Society donated pieces of their collection to the Seattle Art Museum, including the aforementioned Martha and Henry Isaacson and Blanche M. Harnan, along with Dorothy Condon Falknor, DeEtte McAuslan Stuart, and Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser.

1Nelson, Christina H., and Letitia Roberts. A History of Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain: The Warda Stevens Stout Collection. Memphis: Dixon Gallery and Gardens; Easthampton, MA; New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2013.
2Sebastian Kuhn in "Collecting Culture: The Taste for Eighteenth-Century German Porcelain," in Cassidy-Geiger, Maureen et al. The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710-50. New York, NY: Frick Collection in association with D. Giles London, 2008.