Collecting Ceramics

I thought I would write some advice about collecting Pottery. This section is really for the beginner who wants to start a collection and is wondering how to learn about ceramics or even glass. The choice can be bewildering. This worked for me but it might not be for everyone.


1. What to Collect?

I can certainly recommend collecting Briglin. In fact it’s ideal. It can be found at reasonable prices, but it’s only really available in the London area. Unfortunately we know that the quality is not consistent, with a large percentage of the items you will come across being in the ‘mediocre’ bracket, or worse. There are many other local potteries around the country and it’s good to collect items with local interest. I was very aware of Poole Pottery, anyone who lives in the Isle of Purbeck would know Poole, it has some of the brightest colours ever seen in British Pottery – You can’t miss the stuff even at 50 metres. But it is expensive now. I would suggest those starting out buy some small pieces of several potteries. Have a look around. Although there are many problems with eBay, it is a great source of information. You can have a look at a lot of interesting stuff passing through and know it’s approximate price, all for free. Buy a small item of some Pottery, live with it for a while. If you don’t like items you can always put it back on eBay and get some of your money back (minus postage). Start small, do not jump straight in and pay £100s for items. Starting with expensive items is a really bad route for the ceramic novice. Start small. Learn.


2. What to Buy?

This is what I did. I went to every junk shop, flea market car boot I could in my local town and near where I worked and I bought all the old hand made items I could find. I also bought small items from eBay, from such potteries as Tremar, Celtic, Leaper, Rye, Poole, Aldermaston, Anchor, St. Ives etc. (and of course Briglin). They are not the A list of Potters/Potteries, more the C and D list. No matter. Nothing cost much.

There are four reasons for doing this:

A) To look for the difference between hand made pottery and machine mass production moulded items. There is no substitute for holding a piece, feeling the weight of it, it’s texture. Feeling it’s shape. Most of the items we all use in the house are mass produced. You need to get used to seeing and holding items made by hand. Understand how much care went into an item. Forget it’s size. Look at it’s shape it’s symmetry, it’s evenness, it’s fineness. How the textures work together. Look at the colours. Look how it’s finished, is it thrown or moulded. In Britain and In the West we have a bias towards paintings in Art, with oils commanding the largest prices. This does not apply elsewhere in the world. Oil paintings mean nothing to many cultures. Think of Peruvian Textiles, North American native Art, Polynesian carvings, the tradition of Islamic calligraphy, Australian Native Art; all so far removed from our Western idea of ‘Art’. We don’t value ceramic art as much as many others cultures do. To the Japanese Ceramics are just as important as sculpture or furniture or painting. Because of this deficit you need to learn how to appreciate ceramics. You need to train yourself how to do this.

B) To get used to identifying pieces. This is a lot of fun. It’s part of hunting down the history of a piece. Who made it? How old is it? Where did it come from? There is a lot of information on the internet. Many ceramic artists have their own website, where you can find all the information you need. Ebay is useful as it has photographs. There is no substitute to a decent picture to compare with. You will get to understand how items are marked. Just marking a piece is important. It shows that the potter wanted people to know that he or she made this piece. How has it been marked? is the monogram beautifully placed and square or has it been marked in a rush with a rubber stamp? Every collector has some mystery items in their collection. They ‘suspect that x or y made them’ but they are not sure. You’ll get used to spotting age on an item. Is it five years old or fifty? and why? If you examine a piece closely then there are clues. Identifying pieces is fun. It’s the 21st Centuary man’s equivalent of hunting a gazelle with a bow and arrow.

C) It’s cheap! No one is going to give you lots of nice pieces to play with if you are starting out (unless you are very lucky). Chances are you don’t even know anyone with a collection. Even if you do know someone he’s not going to let you take away his precious items. Buying items from flea markets and junk shops means you can get hold of something for almost nothing. In my local shop, small items are 50p or £1.00. So it’s not the end of the world if you just bought a ‘pig in a poke’. OK much of it will be junk, no matter. Bin it, and yes you will make mistakes. It’s all part of the learning process. It is better to spend the time and effort on items costing £2.00 now as when you get your hands on items worth £200 you really will be able to appreciate them. [ Please be aware that damaged items can be almost worthless. A big crack in a vase or a chunk taken out of it’s rim will drop it’s value by 90%. Even if you could sell it. People want perfect items. See my section on damage. Even when starting out I suggest you do not buy damaged items].

D) One day you might get lucky – There is a small chance you might stumble across something of value. A VERY small chance, but it does happen (not to me sadly). I’ve found interesting items and Briglin, but that complete set of Lucie Rie cups and saucers still seems to elude me. 🙁


3. Study New Items

I usually place new purchases on my coffee table in front of me for several weeks, so I can become familiar with them. It’s a way of apprising new items. I want to know if I like them. If they were worth buying? Are they what they purport to be? When trying to authenticate old masters they take them and hang them side by side with a proven painting by that artist which was painted at the same time. Differences become apparent. The artist should have used the same pigments, the same techniques and style of working. Things painted at he similar times ‘should’ have a commonality, they should ‘share’ something. This method works. Try it out. Strangely enough you can be really pleased with an item on the day of purchase, but after a few weeks of looking at it your opinion can fade, and visa versa.


4. Enjoy Your Pieces.

I really think that pieces look better displayed together. Some people like to display items sparsely a few to a shelf but I prefer items in abundance fighting for attention and the contrast of items crowded together. But however you like to display your collection remember you can use it. Briglin was made to be used, not stuck in some box in the back of a dusty cupboard. Get some shelves or a cabinet and display your collection. Put them somewhere where you pass by all the time, not in the spare room. I change pieces about all the time as I use them. It’s not a static display. None of my friends or family are impressed with my collection. They just don’t get it. ‘Oh, yeah, those pots you have’ they say ‘the’re OK’ – lol.. such is life. If you have bothered to read all this they you are probably in the same boat! Good luck and happy hunting.


Additional Information:

Link: How to Ride the Fine Line Between Collector and Hoarder