William H. Lautz, the Seattle Ceramic Society, and the Seattle Art Museum
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). Plugging the accession number into SAM's online collection 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 other collections of Seattle Ceramic Society members. More than 350 objects from the Isaacson collection and other Seattle Ceramic Society members' collections are now in the Seattle Art Museum's collection with several being purchased through Lautz.
Blanche M. Harnan, a keen scholar of European porcelain, founded the Seattle Ceramic Society in the late 1930s. She inspired a group of lady friends to establish a reference library and begin collecting. Martha Isaacson became an early member, joining the group around 1945. The Society's 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. They presented talks on favorite porcelain manufactories at their monthly meetings and formed an arrangement with New York dealer, William H. Lautz.2
In the mid-1950s, Lautz sent regular shipments of porcelain to the Seattle Ceramic Society, accompanied by photographs and descriptive lists of the pieces. A competitive spirit ensued as a barrel was unpacked and the members gathered around in what Isaacson described as the excitement of "ladies at a bargain sale."3 Members selected pieces and returned barrels, always empty, 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.4
Over time, the Society grew to include three study groups, known as units, with some members collecting well into the 1970s. 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’ pieces are now in the Seattle Art Museum’s collection, including those of the aforementioned Martha and Henry Isaacson and Blanche M. Harnan, along with Dorothy Condon Falknor, DeEtte McAuslan Stuart, and Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser. The Seattle Ceramic Society’s Units I, II, and III donated additional pieces in honor of Harnan, too.
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.
2Julie Emerson in discussion with SAM Library staff, February 2022.
4Sebastian 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.