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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 Saturday, October 25, 2014

Whilst Roy Paine’s collection of Torquay and South Devon pottery was a broad, he certainly seemed to have a soft spot for ‘grotesques’. Those who have read my earlier blogs will note I have already featured a Sea Creature jug and a thoroughly bizarre ewer. Certainly there are precedents for these beasties in the form of the disturbing taxidermy tableaux created by Walter Potter, during the latter half of the 19th century, which included kitten weddings, four legged hens, guinea pig cricketers and frogs on see-saws. So it seems pretty unsurprising that Watcombe might attempt to meet this fashion with an anthropomorphic frog and a banjo playing cat.

 

 a watcombe pottery frog and shell group, circa 1885-95 (fs24/457).

A Watcombe pottery frog and shell group, circa 1885-95 (FS24/457).

 

 a watcombe pottery winking cat circa 1900-20 (fs24/505).

A Watcombe pottery winking cat circa 1900-20 (FS24/505).

Adding to this both Aller Vale and Longpark used a menagerie of different dragons either coiled around candlesticks (FS24/467)  or passing effortlessly through the body of ewers (FS24/472), but this was subject matter covered by their commercial rivals in Barnstaple and everyone who has read a fairy tale is already familiar with these monsters. What is more interesting to collectors of Torquay pottery grotesques are those more ‘trippy’ flights of fancy.

Again it is safe to say there was already an established Victorian precedent for the fantastical; Lewis Carrol, inventor of the Jabberwock, wrote his Alice in Wonderland and the Hunting of the Snark in the 1860s and 1870s and in later decades the Martin Brothers are well known for their stoneware Wally Birds, grotesque reptilian spoon warmers and gloriously a dead parrot! Again the Torquay Potters, particularly Aller Vale, were able to satiate those more unholy desires with their lovably malign series of grotesque jugs and vases – be indelicate with them and you may never flower arrange again.

 

 aller vale grotesque face jugs a flower arrangers nightmare (fs24/471).

Aller Vale grotesque face jugs a flower arrangers nightmare (FS24/471).

However, it is perhaps the pieces designed by, sometime Torquay inhabitant, Blanche Vuillamy that really strike a chord amongst collectors they are truly the most bizarre. One could be forgiven for thinking that hers was a troubled mind, her creations seem to be Frankenstein like assemblies of mice, frogs and sea creatures with overly large mouths or ears with exaggerated facial features. You might find them disarming, but there are plenty in the West Country that are passionate about them, but as Walter Potter’s collection of taxidermy was housed in the Jamaica Inn, Bolventor for the last decades of the 20th century that’s hardly surprising is it?

 

an aller vale screaming mouse by blanche vuillamy (fs24/469).

An Aller Vale Screaming Mouse by Blanche Vuillamy (FS24/469).

 

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Saturday, October 25, 2014 10:22:15 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It was in my blog dated 6th September 2012 that I mentioned ceramic portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte, and it seems two years later and just in time for Halloween that the Bogey Man has returned. I am still fascinated as to why the British would chose to make commemorative ceramic pieces celebrating arch enemies. Sure there are exceptions. Bovey Tracey produced a World War II series entitled ‘Our Gang’, which included soldiers, sailors, wardens and allied leaders, so it seems ‘sort of’ obvious that they would include figures of Hitler and Mussolini as well. The latter are subsequently pretty rare things, I guess either because they were poor sellers or poorly cared for impulse purchases.

 

a staffordshire pearl glazed bust of napoleon circa 1815 (fs24/439).

A Staffordshire pearl glazed bust of Napoleon circa 1815 (FS24/439).

There is of course always a space for a cheap joke and these tend to be at the ‘toy’ end of the market such as the novelty chamber pot cum ashtray, marked Fieldings (presumably for S Fielding & Co. of Stoke) illustrated above which has an portrait of Hitler on the interior which invites you to ‘Flip your ashes on old nasty’ and infers that you could make a far worse deposit on him.

 

 an unflattering feilding & co novelty.

An unflattering Feilding & Co novelty.

However, back to Napoleon - the joke need not always be a cheap one. The Cambrian pottery of Dillwyn & Co of Swansea, produced circa 1815, a very desirable jug decorated with a hilarious cartoon after James Brindley entitled ‘Bonapart Dethron’d’ in which our nemesis is taunted by locals and the devil beneath the speech bubble ‘Oh cursed ambition, what hast thou bought Me to Now’?

 

 a dillwyn (swansea) jug of napoleon dethroned.

A Dillwyn (Swansea) jug of Napoleon Dethroned.

I can understand why the British would wish to portray a defeated foe in a negative light, but for the life of me I cannot comprehend why a potter would wish to produce a flatteringly modelled portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte seemingly months, at most after his defeat by Wellington, and who at that turbulent time, would want to give one pride of place in their library? However, enough water has flowed under the bridge for it to be seen as a sensitively painted bust in which he seems reflective and melancholy, even regretful perhaps.

 

a diminuative gilt metal model of napoleon's coffin.

A diminuative gilt metal model of Napoleon's coffin.

Although not a piece of ceramic I can help including a small gilt metal novelty (presumably made for attachment to a fob seal or similar) that was consigned for sale recently, that rather shows Napoleon Bonaparte as a Bogey Man. A tiny thing scarcely bigger than a £1 coin it is a sarcophagus shaped coffin, the lid bearing a large ‘N’ within a wreath, presumably produced after his death in 1821. It has a button at one end which ejects a spring loaded and fully resurrected Napoleon.

 

the bogey man back from the dead.

The Bogey Man back from the dead.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014 7:12:12 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Torquay pottery collected by Roy Paine as previously mentioned does include Aller Vale, Watcombe, Longpark and other South Devon pottery containing frivolous items that would have appealed to West Country holiday makers as well as commemorative and practical pieces. However, whilst dipping a toe in all these fields I am going to concentrate on ‘the face’ of the Torquay potters and with my tongue firmly in my cheek!

 

 

 an aller vale matrimony mug (fs24/486).

An Aller Vale matrimony mug (FS24/486).

 

an upturned aller vale matrimony mug an ideal present for a holiday maker (fs24/486).

An upturned Aller Vale matrimony mug an ideal present for a holiday maker (FS24/486).

Hi I’m an Aller Vale matrimony jug and although it’s considered rude to ask how old I am, I can say I was born in the 1890’s. I live close to the Torquay, and could be your holiday romance if you kiss me quick. I can be silly (when things are going my way) but friends say I need careful handling and can be somewhat changeable and moody. I have been previously married, give me a second chance.

 

 

 an aller vale (torquay) gladstone commemorative face jug (fs24/485).

An Aller Vale (Torquay) Gladstone commemorative face jug (FS24/485).

Good day my name is William Ewart Gladstone, I have had a long and distinguished career in politics and if I say so myself I am highly thought of. I am often referred to as GOM. the ‘Grand Old Man’ although a political rival Disraeli said I should be known as ‘God’s Only Mistake’. I am something of a keep fit fanatic who is often seen outside felling trees indeed if I wasn’t so fit I wouldn’t have been Britain’s oldest prime minister at the age of 84. I am also a product of Aller Vale made in the 1890s.

 

 

 two watcombe (torquay) pottery cress heads (fs24/453).

Two Watcombe (Torquay) pottery cress heads (FS24/453).

Hi we are Watcombe Pottery ‘cress heads’ and we don’t take life too seriously, as you can see from our bright smiles and equally bright skin tones. Whilst not classical beauties we consider ourselves something of catch – we are earthy gardening types who if you treat us well will reward you. Fill our hollow heads with water and sprinkle cress seeds on our grooves and in time we’ll provide you with lunch – or rather the garnish for your lunch. Better than mere eye candy for your mantelpiece we would consider ourselves a practical addition to your home.

 

 

an alle vale (torquay) sea creature jug (fs24/494).

An Alle Vale (Torquay) sea creature jug (FS24/494).

What can I say I’m something of a rarity and must appeal to someone? I’m a so called Aller Vale ‘sea creature’ jug, I’m not the kind who enjoys long evenings in front of a log fire.  However these large lips are just ideal for kissing and to be honest I’d be happy with any offers!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 9:30:19 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, October 20, 2014

Long before I was acquainted with the Torquay pottery collected by Roy Paine, I was aware of the Tommy Atkins pieces produced by Aller Vale but hadn’t really given them much thought. However, on reflection, I wondered why would Torquay produce pottery to celebrate the role of the humble soldier and who is Tommy Atkins anyway?

 

 tommy atkins - a torquay pottery hero.

Tommy Atkins - a Torquay Pottery hero.

 

Tommy Atkins had been used as a rather disparaging term for soldiers through much of the 19th century and earlier. I guess this was born out of the fact that those who ‘chose’ to soldier came from the lower end of society, and Devon primarily an agricultural county had its fair share of poor. However, Rudyard Kipling (who incidentally was schooled in Westward Ho! North Devon) did much to improve the profile of Tommy Atkins when he included Tommy in his 1892 Barrack Room Ballads, which included the ironic lines 

"For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an chuck him out the brute!’, ‘But it’s Saviour of ‘is country, when the guns begin to shoot".


Although a soldier's life was subsequently looked upon more sympathetically, it was still met with apathy. The Western Morning News, commenting on recruiting for the First World War, documents the response of a group of farm labourers from Buckland St Mary who said "We’ll go when the farmers’ sons go, Let them lead the way."

With regards to why Aller Vale would produce Boer War commemoratives, well the answer is startlingly obvious, both the 1st and 2nd battalion of the Devon Regiment, were deployed to South Africa in 1898. As a busy regiment recently formed in 1881, it had already seen overseas active service in Afghanistan, Burma and the North West Frontier of India – as now, a source of much angst for friends and family. The 1st battalion alone suffered 95 deaths and 85 injured at the siege of Ladysmith, plenty of whom would have come from Torquay.

 

 heart felt comments from an aller vale workman.

Heart felt comments from an Aller Vale workman.

 

So these Aller Vale commemoratives are a piece of potted social history made by locals for the families of fellow county men nearly 8,000 miles away, who were really just labourers and odd job men who happened to be in uniform. I‘ll leave the final words to Kipling:-

‘We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too’, But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you’

 

 an aller vale tommy atkins boer war commemorative (fs24/488). the palm tree is is less

An Aller Vale Tommy Atkins Boer War commemorative (FS24/488). The palm tree is less South Africa, but alludes to prior campaigns in India and Burma.

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Monday, October 20, 2014 6:58:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, October 15, 2014

As an auctioneer, one has to learn to travel everywhere with hope and expectation and not to carry preconceived ideas with you. Sometimes that is a difficult trick to pull off and so when I received a call to look at the collection of Torquay Pottery collected by Roy Paine, I imagined I’d be seeing a room full of ‘kiss me quick’ seaside souvenirs – not that I have anything against pottery produced for day trippers and holiday makers - it’s just not the stuff to set one's heart racing.

 

 a longpark torquay pottery grotesque ewer (fs24/460).

A Longpark Torquay Pottery grotesque ewer (FS24/460).

 

Well, when I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. Whilst being vaguely aware the output from Watcombe, Aller Vale, Longpark and others was varied, I had no idea how extensive their repertoire actually was. The collection includes what might be termed ‘high art’ pieces, grotesques, character jugs, some of the finest art pottery and even pieces designed by Christopher Dresser, Blanche Vulliamy and others.

 

 a more typical aller vale torquay pottery jug in the rare u3 pattern (fs24/498).

A more typical Aller Vale Torquay pottery jug in the rare U3 pattern (FS24/498).

 

The descriptive term ‘a lifetimes collection’ is one that is often over used, but the Torquay pottery, particularly that from Aller Vale, Watcombe and Longpark, that Roy managed accumulate over a thirty-six year period could genuinely boast to being a lifetime collection.

 

 a watcombe torquay pottery teapot after a design by christopher dresser (fs24/491).

A Watcombe Torquay Pottery teapot after a design by Christopher Dresser (FS24/491).

 

Ill health has meant that he has now decided it is time to disperse his collection, a decision he didn’t take lightly, but one he hopes will allow other collectors to acquire pieces that took him decades to find.

He kept a catalogue from 1976, when he acquired his first piece of ‘motto ware,’ and since then 1249 pieces have passed through his hands, each meticulous hand written entry stating when, where and from whom he purchased the piece, along with the asking price and what he actually paid, often along with personal comments about the piece.

 

 

High Art - Watcombe Torquay Pottery flask with Venetian scene (FS24/479).

 

Although not a founder member of the Torquay Pottery Collectors Society which formed the same year he acquired his first piece, he and his wife Gloria were both early members and avid collectors. After her death in 1995, his passion for rare pieces increased as did his attendance at the Society’s annual auction.

 

An Aller Vale Torquay Pottery armadillo ewer - Roy's Holy Grail (FS24/470).

 

His entry for Lot 470 which he acquired on 18th September 2004 is annotated ‘At last! Waited a long time, but worth it’! Part One of the Roy Paine Collection will be offered on Wednesday, 29th October 2014 as part of the pottery auction within our Autumn 2014 Fine Sale and if the bidders and collectors who attend the auction at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter feel anywhere near as enthusiastic about their purchases, Roy would be happy that they have gone to good homes.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014 4:53:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Thursday, April 17, 2014

All too often the pages of the press are filled with embarrassing stories of celebrities, but a ‘nobody’ in a similar situation is unlikely to achieve much of a stir. So how did the hapless Lieutenant Hugh Munroe become the subject matter of the most desirable piece of Staffordshire pottery ever made? Answering an ill timed ‘call of nature’ rather too close to a nine foot tiger is unfortunate, but hardly front page news in India, even in 1792.

 the death of munroe a staffordshire group by obadiah sherratt

The Death of Munroe a Staffordshire group by Obadiah Sherratt

Lt. Munroe was the son of General Hector Munroe who twelve years previously had defeated Sultan Tipu’s father in the Second Anglo-Mysore War. As the self styled ‘Tyger of Mysore’ the Sultan was big on big cats, even making his army wear striped jackets, he saw Munroe’s demise as divine intervention and celebrated by commissioning, from local makers and the French (who we were also warring with), a fantastical wailing and roaring automaton depicting a prostrate figure being consumed by a tiger.

 a staffordshire group the death of munroe, the tiger in it's natural habitat

A Staffordshire group The Death of Munroe, the tiger in it's natural habitat

Tipu’s Tiger, as it became known, was captured by the British after the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1799 and was transported back to the East India Company’s museum in London where it was exhibited to rapturous crowds, eventually ending up in the Victoria & Albert Museum. It proved such a sustained attraction, that nearly thirty years after Munro got caught with his pants down, Obadiah Sherratt an enterprising maker of high end Staffordshire pottery immortalised the macabre event in his ‘Death of Munrow’ group; probably utilising parts from previous groups he had made – hence the rather stiff standing to attention (or lying in this case) posture of Munroe.

 the hapless lieutenant a detail of the death of munroe staffordshire group

The hapless Lieutenant a detail of The Death of Munroe Staffordshire group

I’m sure you will agree it is a dramatic piece, even if the choice of subject matter is questionable. The irony is that Munroe may have been spending a penny, but to own the group will cost you £1000’s.

Please use the hashtag #LtPantsDown if discussing the unfortunate fate of Lt Munroe on Twitter. We encourage your comments @BHandL

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Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:12:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ever since I first became involved with the Rhead Cronin Collection I have learnt what an earnest, erudite bunch you pottery collectors seem to be. I can only guess that the reason must be that the ‘good stuff’ doesn’t come up for sale that often.

A contributory factor seems to be that information on the Rhead family is somewhat thin on the ground; Bernard Bumpus’s ground breaking work is long overdue for a rewrite, even a newcomer can see that plenty of new information has surfaced since 1987. His work and much of the personal detail was gleaned from Katherine (Sister St Pierre) the only living sibling of Charlotte’s, who resided in France.

Ironically the current collection was owned by a virtually unmentioned and unnamed (by Bumpus) sister, Marie, living just down the road from here in Honiton, Devon.

 

 a 1906 letter to harry rhead whilst at wardle's from the louisana exhibition

A 1906 letter to Harry Rhead whilst at Wardle's from the Louisana Exhibition (FS21/584a)

Those of you that have followed my blogs will realise that the collection has thrown up fresh information and previously unrecorded patterns, which has made it a particularly exciting project to work on. Well, the surprises just keep on coming; I have just been given clearance to sell some archive material from the estate, which includes several of the black and white photographs used in my previous missives and more excitingly a 1906 letter to Harry Rhead whilst at Wardle awarding him a bronze medal from the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition! Wouldn’t you love to know what that was for?

 

 the bretby marks on a signed charlotte rhead vase

The Bretby marks on a signed Charlotte Rhead vase (FS21/543)

However, being immersed in this collection on a daily basis I have become over familiar with it so it was only yesterday, when I revisited a lot 543 that the penny dropped. It is a slip decorated, rather than tube lined, vase clearly marked Bretby and clearly signed L Rhead. Now a quick scan of the literature, a Google search and a peek at a couple of specialist websites and, as I suspected, there is no mention of Charlotte (Lottie) Rhead ever having worked for Bretby – how did I miss that? Decorated with a favoured motif of hers the galleon in full sail, see (FS21/569) for an example, and being retained by a family member, it must be her work.

 

 charlotte-lottie-rhead's signature on a bretby vase

 Charlotte-Lottie-Rhead's signature on a Bretby vase (543/FS21)

Now the sale has been on the Internet for nearly a month and the catalogues have been out for a few weeks and not one of you mentioned it, in fact I have only undertaken one condition report on it. Of course, you spotted it and you have probably been increasingly anxious for days, hoping that you were the only one and now you’re thinking damn the Internet. Still whoever, is going to write the new book on the Rhead family and several of you have told me that you have one in the pipeline, it looks like you have a bit of research to do.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014 1:48:47 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, December 13, 2013

Once one becomes immersed in such an interesting collection as that formed by Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin it does rather start to take over your life. Every new discovery is a reward, sometimes earned through effort at one’s desk and often as not falling into your lap whilst you have a mug of tea in one hand and a biscuit in the other! One can get quite familiar with the Rhead family and nonchalantly say – ah yes that’s the work of Frederick.

 a pate sur pate plaque attributed to frederick alfred rhead

A pate sur pate plaque attributed to Frederick Alfred Rhead (FS21)

When looking at the unsigned oval pate sur pate plaque illustrated above an attribution to Frederick Alfred Rhead seems like a safe bet as it bears all the hall marks of someone who served his apprenticeship with Louis Solon at Minton.

 scimitar a pate sur pate plaque worked by lois witcomb rhead in 1923

Scimitar a pate sur pate plaque worked by Lois Witcomb Rhead in 1923 (FS21)

It might follow then that the circular pate sur pate plaque is also his work however on the reverse it bears a paper label stating that it was part of the 33rd Exhibition of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in New York – so it seems the wrong guy and wrong country!

 label for pate sur pate plaque exhibited by lois rhead in the 33rd national exhibition of women painters and sculptors, new york

Label for pate sur pate plaque exhibited by Lois Rhead in the 33rd National Exhibition of Women Painters and Sculptors, New York (FS21)

It is however the work of Lois Whitcomb Rhead the second wife of Frederick Hurten Rhead and a pupil of Leon Solon (Louis Solon’s son). It all seems rather cosy, but would certainly account for the similarities between the plaques. The date and address seem to suggest it was when Frederick Hurten Rhead was working for the American Encaustic Tile Company.

 photograph of adolphine (dollie) rhead in her nurses uniform

Photograph of Adolphine (Dollie) Rhead in her nurse's uniform

My favourite discovery of the day has been a photograph, all rather unconnected except that it is another woman artist (albeit retired) and another Rhead. I couldn’t resist posting an image of Adolphine (Dollie) Rhead in her nurses’ uniform presumably whilst she was at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, circa 1915, I guess, she certainly has the family nose, don’t you think?

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Friday, December 13, 2013 8:21:24 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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