Pair of clay cats sells for $73,000

Pottery from estate in Frederick County is sold at Berryville auction

Posted: April 12, 2013

The Winchester Star

The head of one of the redware cats sold Thursday at Headley Auction in Berryville. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Burt Long stands by the redware cats he bought Thursday afternoon at Headley’s Auction in Berryville for $73,000. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

BERRYVILLE — A pair of Solomon Bell American Redware clay cats belonging to the Glynnell Headley estate sold for $73,000 at auction Thursday.


Collector and antique dealer Burt Long of New Market purchased the items at the Headley Auction at the fairgrounds in Berryville.


In less than two minutes, auctioneer Joe Headley Sr. — Glynnell’s son — took the price from an opening bid of $30,000 to $73,000, at which point a phone bidder competing against Long dropped out.


Long said he bought the cats for his private collection because they are rare and outstanding pottery pieces with great detail work, but he said he might sell them.


“I expect they could have sold for a good amount more,” said Long, owner of Antiques by Burt Long. “The auctioneer mentioned he thought they were worth $75,000 15 years ago, and he was right.”



Since the 1920s, the cats have been owned by the Headley family of Frederick County, said city resident Joe Headley Jr. His great grandfather, Boyd Sr., acquired them and they were passed first to his son, Boyd Jr., and then daughter-in-law Glynnell. She died this past October at age 90.

For years, the cats sat on a cupboard in the family’s home, out of reach of children and grandchildren, Joe Jr. said. In 2005, Glynnell loaned them to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley for display, with the option to renew the loan every few years.


In March, the family decided not to renew the lease and put them up for auction in the family business, he said.


“Because of the value of them, the thing to do was sell them,” he said.


Bell made the cats, dated circa 1845 to 1880, of red clay glazed with manganese and then lead oxide, said H.E. “Gene” Comstock, who featured them in his book “The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region” in 1994.

Although other cat-shaped pottery Bell created exists, these are the only two known in this form, said Comstock, of Frederick County. “With these two particular ones, two of them together is very rare.”

Bell, who lived from 1817 to 1882, was one of several potters in his family who gained popularity in the Shenandoah Valley, according to the Encyclopedia of American Folk Art.

His father, Peter, taught him to make pottery, and he worked the early years of his career in Winchester. Later, he also worked in Waynesboro, Pa., in the pottery shop of his brother John and in Strasburg in the shop of his brother Samuel.

The cats Long bought were made while the potter worked in Strasburg, Comstock said.


— Contact Laura McFarland at