Pulse Style: Best Dresser

A famed British industrial designer’s work visits Philly before going on the block

What you may know about 19th-century British designer Christopher Dresser (1834–1904): that his minimalist, ahead-of-their time geometric teapots and toast racks have inspired contemporary designers such as Philippe Starck. That he was one of the most influential designers of the Victorian age. That he was rumored to be the first industrial designer, taking as his mission the creation of a range of well-designed products widely available to the middle classes. What you may not know about Christopher Dresser: that in the fall of 1876, he spent several weeks in Philadelphia, delivering three lectures at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts during the Philadelphia World’s Fair before departing for New York, Chicago, and eventually Japan as part of a design research and business trip.

On March 2nd through 6th, a collection of Dresser’s metalwork, recently part of an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and valued in excess of $540,000, will be on display at Freeman’s Auction House, currently celebrating its 200th anniversary. The finest collection of Dresser’s wares ever to come to the market will then return to the Lyon & Turnbull auction house in ­Edinburgh, to be sold on April 19th. The lot includes a diamond-shaped vessel (1896, above) that may well be the world’s most photographed teapot, valued at $216,000, and Dresser’s silver-plated conical sugar bowl (1879), valued at approximately $27,000. Says John Mackie, decorative arts specialist and director of Lyon & Turnbull: “Dresser’s designs are very pared down, and their uncompromisingly simple and elegant lines were particularly radical for their time. They have always been icons of modern design, and even today appear ahead of their time.”

“Christopher Dresser 1834-1904: A Design Revolution” at Freeman’s, 1808 Chestnut Street, 215-563-9275; March 2nd to 6th; times vary.