Buten Collection

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The Buten Collection is an extensive collection of 8,000 ceramic pieces manufactured by the Wedgwood company in Burslem (now part of Stoke-on-Trent), England and donated to the Birmingham Museum of Art in 2008.

The collection was amassed over five decades by Harry M. and Nettie Buten of Merion, Pennsylvania, beginning in 1931. It is strongest in 19th and 20th century pieces, though it does include very significant earlier products. The Butens opened their own Buten Museum of Wedgwood to present the collection to the general public in 1957.

David Buten succeeded his father as director and co-authored several books published by the Buten Museum. In 1988 the privately-owned museum closed and the collection was placed on long-term loan with the Nassau County Museums in New York, with the intent to transfer ownership.

In Buten's view the Nassau County Museums failed to live up to the obligations of the loan, however, and he began discussions to move the collection to Birmingham in 2005. The collection, valued at over $4 million, would serve as an expansive complement to the museum's important Dwight and Lucille Beeson Collection of 1,400 Wedgwood pieces, most representative of the factory's 18th century work.

65 selected pieces remained in Nassau County while the rest was packed up and transferred in two shipments in September and October 2008. Whereas the Beeson bequest restricts the museum from placing its pieces on loan or mounting a touring exhibition, the gift of the Buten Collection will enable the museum to share its institutional expertise in Wedgwood with other museums. The archival material donated along with the ceramic pieces enhances the museum's existing Elizabeth Chellis Wedgwood Library of documents relating to Wedgwood production.

Highlights

  • Basalt figure of Somnus (c. 1774), one of 2 in existence. The other has been part of the decoration of the bedroom of Princess Luise of Anhalt-Dessau in Wörlitz since its creation.
  • Black basalt baptismal font given to the Melchbourne Church in North Bedfordshire by Emma Whitbread in 1780.
  • "Alexander" vase, hand-painted by Emile Lessore in 1863/4
  • A plate from Theodore Roosevelt's White House service

References