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Pa. woman is charged with selling fake John Bell pottery

March 12, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A Waynesboro man told Washington Township Police that he paid $2,800 for what he thought was an original piece of pottery made by 19th century Waynesboro potter John Bell, court records said.

Police have charged Cheri Stauffer of Curwensville, Pa., in Clearfield County with one count each of theft by deception and simulating objects of antiquity and rarity, according to court records in District Justice Shirley Shatzer's office.

According to court records, Stauffer sold the piece, a small blue pitcher, to Terry Barkdoll of Meadowbrook Drive on Dec. 22.

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Barkdoll could not be reached for comment Thursday.

According to court records, Stauffer was recommended to Barkdoll as someone who bought Bell pottery, according to Barkdoll's son, Clint Barkdoll, a Waynesboro attorney.

Stauffer told Terry Barkdoll that she and her mother bought Bell pottery 20 and 30 years ago and that her mother, now in a nursing home, is selling off some pieces, according to court records.

Stauffer originally asked for cash, but agreed to accept his check, which she cashed at a Rouzerville, Pa., bank, court records said.

A preliminary hearing for Stauffer is scheduled for March 30 in Franklin County Central Court.

A few weeks after he bought the pitcher, Barkdoll spoke with Mitch Boone, a friend in Adams County, Pa. Boone also bought some Bell pieces from Stauffer, court records said.

On Feb. 4, Barkdoll and Boone drove to Winchester, Va., to show their pottery to Dr. Eugene Comstock, an expert on Bell pottery, court records said. Comstock has written three books on the subject, consulted the Smithsonian Institution and other museums and has testified as an expert court witness, court records said.

Comstock told Barkdoll and Boone that their pieces were forgeries, court records said.

Stauffer was arrested Feb. 26. Found in her home during a police search were several items of pottery and pottery-making equipment, court records said.

Bell pottery is considered classic American folk art, is highly collectible and is found in noted museums, including the Smithsonian.

A really good piece can sell for as much as $35,000, said Richard Bell, a collector and descendant of the Bell family who lives in Franklin County. An average piece would sell in the $2,000 to $4,000 range, he said.

He said bogus pieces turn up now and again. "They're out there," he said.

James M. Smith, executive director of the Nicodemus Center for Ceramic Studies at the Penn State Mont Alto Campus, said it is very difficult to forge a piece of Bell pottery. "You'd have to be a good potter to begin with," he said.

John Bell, founder of the company, opened his kiln in a building in the first block of South Potomac Street in 1833. It stayed in the family until 1896, Smith said. The building burned down in 1899, he said.

Bell and his family over the years produced about 10,000 pieces a year and their work became famous in the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys in the 19th century, Smith said.

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