|SPARKS, Md. – History seems to find the Zipp family.
Anthony and Barbara Zipp, along with their three sons, Brandt, Luke and Mark, have enjoyed considerable success since the family held its first auction of American stoneware and pottery under the banner of Crocker Farm. What the family lacked over the years, however, was a place to call home.
Not any more.
In August the Zipps purchased a historic stone wheat barn in Sparks, which the family is converting into an auction facility. Located in the hunt country of northern Baltimore County, the property is 30 minutes south of York (where they had most recently held auctions) and less than five minutes from Interstate 83.
Now a landmark, the barn was built in 1841 by wealthy landowner John M. Gorsuch. The building’s design is distinct -- the tall stone walls decorated with the original hourglass-shaped brick vents in a "sheaf of wheat" pattern. That unique characteristic has been described as "the finest example in Maryland of brick louvers set in native stone."
The interior has its own distinct charm. The barn retains many of its original attributes, including hand-hewn beams and random-width floorboards, which have survived the past 170 years.
There’s more to the agrarian structure than just the architecture. History is also connected to the property. In Pennsylvania, a marker for the Christiana Riot recalls the event. It reads, "The 1850 federal Fugitive Slave Act strengthened the position of slaveowners seeking to capture runaways. Pursuing four escaped slaves, Maryland farmer Edward Gorsuch arrived Sept. 11, 1851, at the Christiana home of William Parker, an African American who was giving them refuge. Neighbors gathered, fighting ensued, and Gorsuch was killed. This incident did much to polarize the national debate over the slavery issue."
According to Anthony Zip, "One of the Lancaster papers up there called it the beginning of civil war."
ExplorePAhistory.com adds another tidbit to the account. "A footnote to the story is that John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln’s assassin, attended private school in Maryland with Tommy Gorsuch, the planter’s youngest son," the site notes. "Booth later spoke out against the (Christiana Riot) shooting, claiming that it robbed ’the boy my playmate’ of his father. Lincoln’s assassin used the episode as an example of what he considered northern aggression against the South."
The design and historic nature of the building provide the atmosphere the Zipps wanted in an auction facility. Finding that barn, however, came by chance.
"We had no idea it would come on the market," Zipp said.
"We had been looking for a historic place to have our auctions for about two years," he noted. The Zipps ran across the property shortly after it was listed in April. Sitting on three acres and with plenty of parking, the 10,000-square-foot barn proved ideal for Crocker Farm. The Zipps moved quickly to purchase it.
Since 1953 the barn had been owned by a family that partitioned the structure to accommodate as many as five businesses. Among them was Glencoe Garden Antiques. Other uses included a beauty shop and a nursery.
Once purchased, the Zipps went to work tearing out the mid-20th-century walls dividing the barn, as well as a second floor that had been added. In refashioning the building as an auction facility, they are adding a loft 12 feet above the sale floor, with the center of the building open to the rafters.
The rustic nature of the facility fits perfectly with the stoneware and redware auctions Crocker Farm is noted for.
"We could have bought a warehouse, but it wouldn’t have been the same thing," said Zipp. "This is ideal for our taste."
The barn is expected to be ready for Crocker Farm’s next sale, on Nov. 6. While that auction will once again feature American stoneware and redware, the family will also use the new facility to expand its business, adding several general-line antique auctions per year. The first of those new sales is planned for early 2011.
How is Crocker Farm able to expand when some other auction companies are struggling? "We have a national market for consignments," said Zipp. "Many times people will say, what else do you sell? We think we can appeal to people who consign to us not only from this general Baltimore area, but nationally. Our reputation is spotless."
The addition of general-line antique auctions allows Crocker Farm to accept quality consignments that, in years past, the company referred to other auction houses.
"Our interests are broader than ever now. Folk art, fine art, furniture -- you name it, we will sell it; but we will still expect the same quality as we are known for with our ceramics sales. And, of course, stoneware and redware will always remain our staple and our passion. We will still conduct three or more pottery sales per year," Zipp added.
The company also plans to retain its high level of customer service.
"I think we offer a personal touch, which is lacking in the auction business today," said Zipp. "When someone contacts us to sell their pottery, they will speak with one of the owners: me, my wife, or one of my sons. The same will hold true when we broaden our horizons into other collecting areas."
Crocker Farm proved it was a major player in the auction industry with its first sale, held in July 2004 at Boonsboro, Md., when a Baltimore stoneware water cooler decorated with an incised bird sold for $72,600, a record price for a piece of Maryland pottery. Five-figure sales were no fluke. On the same day, a Remmey stoneware pitcher with an incised bird realized $35,200, and an Anna Pottery stoneware pig set a record at $23,100.
Over the ensuing years, Crocker Farm generated other noteworthy sales in the American ceramics field. In 2009, the Zipps sold an Albany, N.Y., stoneware water cooler having an incised fish and bird decoration. The $103,500 price was a record for any piece sold in a stoneware specialty auction.
Other top lots have included a Vermont stoneware water cooler decorated with a soldier and his wife, which brought a record $88,000 in 2006. Also selling that year was a stoneware birdhouse by M. & T. Miller of Newport, Pa., which brought $71,500, setting an auction record for signed Pennsylvania stoneware. In 2009, Crocker Farm also set an auction record for Western Pennsylvania stoneware, getting $65,550 for a canning jar with the design of a baseball player. Other highlights included $69,900 for an incised Remmey pitcher, $63,250 for a Manhattan stoneware jar with a decoration of a man, and a record $41,800 for a John W. Bell redware whippet.