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Nic Saintey
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About Nic Saintey
Nic Saintey is a director and a specialist in ceramics. His effervescent nature and wide experience has seen him regularly appear as an expert on the BBC's Bargain Hunt and Flog It programmes
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The material published in this web log is for general purposes only. It does not constitute nor is it intended to represent professional advice. You should always seek specific professional advice in relation to particular issues. The information in this web log is provided "as is" with no warranties and confers no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.

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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It was the mid 17th century before glass was really considered as a useful medium to drink from - before this period the English drank from a variety of metal, wooden and leather vessels – this led to a contemporary French source suggesting that ‘we were wont to drink from our boots’. I wonder which troubled mind was the first to consider melting sand with a flux and various chunks of vegetable matter – it all seems a bit arbitrary to me?

Whilst the variation in the shape of the foot and the bowl of an antique wine glass can seem infinite it is the form of the stem that is generally used to age a glass. Dating from the late 17th century the first generic type of English antique wine glass is known as the baluster and tends to have a heavy stem with large bead like swellings known as knops. Excise duty on glass during the 1740’s led to a stem that although similar in form was thinner and often had decorative bubbles within them these required less material and are often referred to as balustroids or lighter balusters. Although more delicate than their counterparts it was suggested in a clever piece of marketing that they were designed to allow gouty fingers a good anchorage!

                     antique wine glass -  a light baluster circa. 1740                       antique wine glasses - two single series air twists circa. 1750-60
Perhaps the most technically beautiful forms of antique wine glass were the airtwist - popular from the mid century and the opaque twist stem in the 1760’s and 70’s. Although produced with straight and knopped stems they literally enclosed an intricate spiral of air or fine spiralling webs of predominantly white glass.
The Excise Act of 1777 doubled the tax on glass and so the only way open for makers of antique wine glasses to further reduce the volume of glass in a stem was to shave off tiny diamond shaped slithers to produce a faceted stem.
I am in utmost admiration of the latent beauty of an antique wine glass and how fit for purpose it is, but what perplexes me more than anything is considering their age and delicacy and that their sole purpose was to transport intoxicating liquor to eager lips. How in the devil did so many survive?
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009 7:07:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, April 06, 2009

Originally conceived with a more practical purpose in life glass has always been sought after since the earliest times to quote a contemporary source it took 'a rare kind of Knowledg and chymistry to transmute Dust and Sand to such a diaphanous pellucid dainty body as you see a Crystall-Glasse is' to put it more bluntly who woke up one morning and decided 'hey you know what, I'm going to heat up a pile of sand and mix it with some wood ash or burnt seaweed and see what I get' ?

Whilst the Romans and Egyptians certainly used this high status medium to produce things of a more 'artistic' nature it was the Venetians that picked up the ball and ran with it particularly those on the island of Murano. There are two schools of thought as to why this highly skilled process was restricted to Murano rather than elsewhere on the lagoon. Some consider that the high temperatures involved in glass making led Venetians to fear immolation, but being surrounded by water and stone buildings that surely can't have been the case - it seems more likely that it was easier to guard and maintain the profitable secrets of glass making by restricting production to the smaller island of Murano.


 murano glass 'lucy' by juan ripolles           murano glass abstract face form vase       murano glass 'camilla' by silvio vigliaturo


As innovators they seemed second to none producing dainty glasses, brightly coloured beads and complex paperweights, however it was the twenty century that saw Murano produce glass as sculptural art in it's own right. If one puts aside the technically painful skills involved in moulding, manipulating and joining molten glass without cracking or blurring the constituent parts, if one ignores the fragility of the finished product (both part of the attraction for some) then one can marvel at the vivid colours of Murano glass, a medium that never fades and remains as bright as the day you bought it.
The first fifteen lots of our forthcoming July auction are from a collection of Murano glass, so is it art darling - of course it is, but you make your own mind up. Unlike some contemporary art I defy you say that a monkey could have done that? What monkey would be stupid enough to burn sand and seaweed?
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Monday, April 06, 2009 8:19:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It was the start of British Summer Time yesterday, now there’s an oxymoron, so of course I woke up this morning and it was three degrees below – there was ice on my car. If one wasn’t British one would consider that cold weather and the summer just don’t go together – just like Bloor Derby and the Nantgarw works in Swansea, snowballs and the Mediterranean or Claude Lorrain and Naples harbour. Only a mad dog or an Englishman could link these disparate features together – so perhaps I’ll try.

I recently came across a copy of the Antique Collector magazine for June 1984, nearly an antique in its own right and found an article entitled ‘The Ongley Service lost for a Century’. Kind of strange I thought that the singularly most expensive service that the Derby porcelain works produced in the 1820’s went and got forgotten - The Derby Mercury of 1825 wrote that ‘Admirers of the fine arts … will be highly gratified (with) a most magnificent service of china which has been completed by … Mr Bloor, for the express use of a nobleman in a distant part of England’. If Muncaster Castle in Cumbria seemed a great distance then the designs on the Ongley service were a world away.


                        a bloor derby plate after claude lorrain                                    a bloor derby 'snowballing' plate after a nantgraw prototype


One plate depicts a view of Naples Harbour that very obviously is derived form a Claude Lorrain sketch of 1636. Nothing strange in a Grand Tour image on a nobleman’s service is there? Another is derived from a source much closer to home that was originally painted by James Plant for the Nantgarw works in Swansea and subsequently repeated for Bloor Derby by William Corden it depicts a charming snowballing scene something far more appropriate whatever the season it seems.
If the mixture of Nantgarw, Swansea and Bloor Derby seems something of an acquired (all be it an expensive) taste one might be unsurprised to learn that other subject matter in this service included scenes of juvenile affection and a view of Moscow. A sophisticated and wise purchase from a man with money or something of a crème de menthe cocktail with a glace cherry and an umbrella in it, ask me on July 1st when I have sold the above plates?
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Tuesday, March 31, 2009 2:48:52 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, March 20, 2009

How many times have you heard the response ‘Huh, a monkey could have done that’? Generally from experience usually the words fall dismissively from the lips of someone faced with a material piece of human endeavour (the wider word calls ‘art’) that they just can’t understand. Perhaps the next step up from this forthright type of criticism is ‘My three year old could have done that’.

Whilst children occur regularly as the subject of art it is perhaps unsurprising from a Western European perspective that monkeys don’t! Aside from King Kong and Tarzan and Disney’s version of Jungle Book I can’t think of many instances of the ape as subject matter. When one does appear it is in a subservient or unflattering role.
 royal doulton character ape hn.960

However recently I bumped into two apes that have made me reconsider. Firstly I sold a Royal Doulton Character Ape, a humorous figure which shows the seated individual with a book in its lap something which suggests a sideswipe to Darwinism. Although relatively mass produced it is the tongue in cheek face of art from a Western standpoint.

In my second encounter I came across a Nigerian, Yoruba carved figure of a monkey. This one was different, but equally engaging, unlike the Royal Doulton Character Ape which was one of an identical number, this was completely bespoke. I am familiar with Royal Doulton, but understandably am less so with ethnic carving, let alone the products of Yoruba.

 yoruba, nigeria, a carved wooden figure of a monkey

Rather than a purely decorative object it was obviously intended to have some function – though I have no idea what. Frankly it has a disproportionately large head and teeth and seems pretty unfriendly, but then I do realise it wasn’t made for me. I suspect, even though this is not my field of expertise, it had some ritualistic, religious or social function and I guess it was no fertility symbol (work it out for yourself) he looks pretty aggressive and strong and doesn’t seem to be wholly ape, just like the Doulton Character Ape, there is an anthropomorphic aspect to him, but why is he holding a cup?
Is it now art - well why ever not? I liked the Yoruba monkey so he is now nakedly presiding over my kitchen, my wife has made no comment, but then our terrier also roams nakedly around our kitchen, but I can assure you he is definitely no work of art!
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Friday, March 20, 2009 12:13:07 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Now here's a few questions, are animals in aspic Art and is Damien Hurst avant garde or just recycling an old idea?

In a few words I cannot possibly approach a definition of the concept of 'Art', but I can comment on the work of Edwin Beer Fishley because; one as a professional antiques valuer I genuinely admire his work; two because I was actually brought up in Bideford (a stones throw from Fremington): and three because I am about to sell a collection of North Devon Art Pottery that belonged to the late Audrey Edgeler.

Edwin Beer Fishley came from a dynasty of Fishley potters based in North Devon who in turn absorbed their influence from their landscape and a long traditional of artisan potters typical to the area.

'To Mother Earth I owe my birth, then formed a jug by man' - so reads the caption on many Fishley pottery pieces any bunny hugger, son of the soil or potter cannot fail to be moved by the sentiment and not understand the emotive connection between art and nature.

edwin beer fishley pottery frog

So what of Damien Hurst and North Devon, where am I going with this? Well one of the more unusual pieces of the Edgeler collection is a pottery frog, the late owner's son wonders whether it was formed using a real one. I hope not, but can't help admiring anything of a seemingly everyday nature, meticulously observed, created with intent for its own sake and above all formed from the sod itself. Was it not a medieval superstition that believed the frogs were physical born out of mud itself?

I don't know whether the pictured Edwin Beer Fishley object is a paperweight, a Victorian art pottery tile or whether it is a sculpture in its own right, does it matter? I am drawn to it, it speaks to me in so many ways, unobtrusively beautiful, it reminds me of my home and my job, but above all it's a beautifully rendered dead frog and I think it's Art with a capital 'A'.

Saatchi eat your heart out and Damien, you were beaten by a century, keep up!

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009 12:09:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When I started out on this, my second incarnation, a life that centred on antiques I was asked at a very early age – so what are you going to specialise in? I hadn’t initially given it much thought, but then for a number of reasons mostly boring I decided on ceramics, probably driven by the fact that every house has pots in it so you are never short of something to do.

So in my time I have kissed a hell of a lot of frogs and as a result found just a few princesses. So it was, just recently, though my relationship with Lot 23 in our sale of 28th January was a fleeting one full of hope, desire and admiration, but alas ultimately out of my reach. True platonic love some would say. I am unsure whether these dishes came from the reign of Selim II or Murad III, however despite their age these dishes were far from naively decorated having stark simple, recognisable, but striking renderings of, amongst other plants, carnations and tulips. Tulips were an indigenous species of Turkey a flower that created a mania amongst the European glitterati at the time – they were the must have item of the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite being no horticulturalist these Isnik dishes were truly beautiful despite some pretty large chips and more than a few good old fashioned rusty staple repairs.

 isnik dishes


They were broken, but gorgeous and as a result of their less than perfect nature I thought they might be the achievable object of my desires, but alas it was not to be. What would you prefer a flawed beauty or perfect banality? I leave the final sentiments to Leonard Cohen ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3:56:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Sunday, January 25, 2009

Of all the major porcelain manufactories in Germany perhaps the least known and the shortest lived was Frankenthal. Karl Hannong the brains behind a French faience workshop moved his staff in the late 1750’s to an empty army camp in Frankenthal. After a difficult start the death of Karl and an internecine struggle over the secret recipe for ‘porcelain pots’ meant that the surviving brothers Joseph and Peter had to rely increasingly on Carl Theodor Prince Elector, Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria.

It was not long before Carl a long time patron of the arts and founder of a Science Academy took over the administration of the Franthenthal works. This led to a period of relative stability and arguably produced some of the best quality porcelain outside of Meissen during the 1760’s. 

 carl theodor frankenthal porcelain boar


So its Hats off to Carl, patron of the arts and all round good guy – unfortunately as a monarch and politician he rather failed at his day job by leading his country into some ill considered conflicts and dodgy blue sky thinking when he proffered a playground swap for the less interesting bits of his country with the then neighbouring Austrians. Eventually when he shuffled off this mortal coil after suffering from a stroke, did his citizens rush out in patriotic fervour and buy up all his remaining pots as future antiques and collectors items? No, apparently not , instead they celebrated for three days, so much then for best intentions.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009 9:23:02 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I often wonder what singular piece of inspiration caused the first person to consider using ground up swim bladder to clear wine. What arbitrary series of events occurred in the mind of the individual who mixed tobacco spit and urine because it made a ‘nice pattern’ on Mocha Ware – a man could lose sleep over things like that.

So it is with Lot 365 in tomorrow’s sale. I have nothing against pottery jugs, how could I, they are inoffensive enough and are often beautiful works of art in their own right? Elsemore & Forster were a rather small concern based in Tunstall between 1853 and 1871 that made useful objects in Ironstone (a sort of robust pottery that has some of the characteristics of porcelain). Don’t get me wrong it is a great jug, a little on the large size, probably on the edge of being practical when full, but who in their right mind conceived the decorative scheme on it. Who stood back and said yep that’s good, I’m pleased with that?

elsmore & forster grimaldi jug

Often referred to as a ‘Grimaldi’ jug in deference to the two passable portraits of the late great celebrated British Clown it also has a rather sweet if eclectic series of  domestic and wild animal portraits that a nightingale, cats, frogs, bears, zebras, tigers, a race horse and others including a rather distressed beached whale. It looks like the kind of jug a Victorian child might covet, a pleasant distraction that had the advantage of passing educational value.

That is it would have been had not the design department of Elsmore & Forster considered that the ideal decoration for the rim was a series of cock fighting prints that include gory images of the ‘Knock Down’ and ‘The Kill’. Was this just a collage of spare or off cut transfers,  it seems not, several similar have come to market in the last few years? Was this a jug for grown ups – maybe? However this jug has a name and a date 1860 which indicates it was a present for a youngster, perhaps for a birthday. I wonder if master Joseph Morgan had nightmares, whether he grew up to be a pillar of society, or whether he sought solace in pulling the legs off spiders?
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009 2:30:01 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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