Potty about Pottery - Andrew Thomas of Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood tells us more

PUBLISHED: 17:56 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:44 20 February 2013

A Yorkshire pearlware cow

A Yorkshire pearlware cow

In this February issue, we look at the delights of British ceramics

Potty about Pottery

Andrew Thomas of Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood explains why he is particularly fond of British ceramics

The ceramic history of the British Isles is both complex and fascinating and for even the most experienced collector, there are always fresh delights to discover. It doesn't matter whether you are attracted to pottery, porcelain or glassware, once the fascination has fully taken hold, there will be no escape and the interest will probably be with you for life.

On a personal level, it has always been 18th- and 19th-century pottery that has interested me most, and I still find its charm and individuality utterly irresistible. During a spell working in London in the early 1970s, my visits to the Schreiber Collection and nearby pottery displays at the Victoria & Albert Museum became more and more frequent, and allied with viewing specialist ceramic auctions, I became well and truly hooked. There is so much variety to choose from with countless potteries in Staffordshire and throughout the length and breadth of the British Isles. The wares, of course, vary in appeal and quality, but much is full of character and personality, something which for me seems lacking in most Continental wares.

Yes, I am biased and I fully appreciate that some of the Dutch, French and German factories produced faience and delftware of very high quality. In fact, many potters and decorators came to this country from the Continent in the 17th- and 18th-centuries and brought with them their own individual ideas, which were very successfully absorbed into our existing designs. Interestingly, a large quantity of pottery, particularly creamware, made its way across the Channel from this country to be decorated in Holland, and although these Dutch-decorated wares have traditionally not been particularly sought after by collectors, there is a growing following for them and prices have risen a little in recent years.

The range of wares to collect is extensive and one could choose between stoneware (including saltglaze), slipware, delftware and, of course, creamware. The latter category covers not only the standard creamwares with their diverse styles of decoration but lovely early pieces such as agate and tortoiseshell wares. In fact, creamware was really the standard English body produced for many, many years. It was much lighter and more robust than the earlier tin-glazed delftware and saltglaze, and the result was that it was a resounding commercial success. Indeed our own Westcountry clays played their part, as together with the introduction of flint (calcined and finely ground) into the body, whiter and more refined wares became available and so were a practical and less expensive alternative to the more expensive porcelain.

The Leeds factory is particularly noted for the quality of its creamware but Josiah Wedgwood was commercially successful above all others with his 'Queen's Ware' and his factory built up a flourishing export business. I am particularly fond of polychrome saltglaze wares as the contrast between the enamel colours and the white body can be stunning. However, most of the best saltglaze wares date from the middle of the 18th century and are consequently quite rare now. Specialist dealers though will often have some inexpensive pieces for those of us with limited means.

Perhaps it might be sensible to collect a few pieces of each type of body as there is no doubt that good things do get harder to find as the years go by and it can be depressing if you are too selective and can only indulge in a purchase so infrequently as to stifle your initial enthusiasm. The important thing is to buy what you like and frankly it doesn't matter whether a piece costs 5 or 5,000. If it gives pleasure then you need no further justification. A high price does necessarily equate to merit, and if you like something do not be discouraged if it is slightly damaged. I rather like things to show their age - humans fight the ageing process but antiques don't need to!

I believe that collecting or even taking an interest in antique ceramics really can enrich one's life. Perhaps a visit to one or other of our marvellous Westcountry museums to look at their ceramic collections may give you pleasure and kindle an interest. If you are taking a trip to London, the wonderful collection of ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum is definitely not to be missed, but do give yourself plenty of time as there is a great deal to see.

There is no doubt that our potters unknowingly created a range of wares unrivalled by any nation. In their field, they led the world and we can be extremely proud of our ceramic heritage.

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