If you are sometimes discouraged that things seem to look much alike and confusion sets in, let me encourage you to just keep looking - everywhere.
Go to historical houses, to historical villages, Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth, NH and Greenfield Village in Greenfield, MA, as examples. Go to Winterthur in Delaware and to Bayou Bend in Houston, and to Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, excellent places to see wonderful collections of early English pottery. And more recently, and above all, go to Colonial Williamsburg where now is housed the Henry Weldon collection, so large that it took two large volumes to publish it.
One drawback. You will not be able to handle the examples, the best of all ways to learn - really learn. Feeling pottery is a special experience.
Then save you, the next best thing is to go to quality antiques shows where you may find some fine English pottery. Most reputable dealers will allow you to thoroughly examine what they are offering the public for their collections. But do remember that most dealers are in business to sell to you, not just to educate you.
Studying pottery is like studying any history. Little by little the jigsaw pieces begin to fit. Then no one will be able to stop you in your enjoyment and research.
The most fascinating thing about antiques is that you never know what you will find when you go out to look. I am very grateful for having sat down with Charles F. Montgomery after I had invited him to speak at the First Annual Northeast Antiques Forum in 1979.
In his office at Yale, he wanted to know what I wanted him to speak about. While I tried to explain to him that I wanted above all to dismiss the myth peddled by some furniture dealers that, “...you had better buy this piece, it may be the last...” All the while I was stressing this, Charles was doodling and then he blurted out.
“I know what I want to talk about. Rare pieces that everybody thinks they will never see that are not in museums and that may be in tomorrow’s auction...” Unhappily he did not live to deliver the talk. One month later he was dead.
But so it is with antique English pottery. Though there are several good books on English Salt Glaze Stoneware, I have just purchased several examples that I had never had an opportunity of adding to our collections. One of these examples, while very rare in salt glaze, is seen with some frequency in Creamware with colored enamel.
And this brings us to the point. Not everything, but so much of what was first made in Salt Glaze was made in Creamware too. Not so strange because their bodies are the exact earthenware that became the ultimate refinement of the 18th century.
Look at the examples below:
Compare the 9 1/2" Salt Glaze plate with the three following creamware ones with polychrome. They are all 9 1/2", and probably date no more than a decade apart, c. 1760.
The two plates, left and right are creamware, often referred to as Whieldon (more on this later). Below a blow up of the one on the left. The teapot in center is much the same with the use of more and deeper green.
At an auction about 1995, I was able to buy a pair of oval trays in green and a larger one in Salt Glaze in the above pattern, an opportunity I knew I would have but once. I was approached by a great collector whose collection has gone to a public institution. He asked if I would entertain an offer. I would not. That collection could have benefitted from the three examples, great though it is. I always felt and still feel that the important thing is not to whom I sell, but what I am selling.
Do not be dismayed if the twister in your learning process seems to be with Thomas Whieldon, Josiah Wedgwood and John Greatbatch. It really was a menage au trois that took over two hundred years to untangle, if it has been. David Barker’s WILLIAM GREATBACH a Staffordshire Potter, 1990, is a must in sorting this out.
That Whieldon and Wedgwood were in partnership from about 1755-59 had been well established, as had the fact that Greatbatch had worked for both. The fly in the ointment that had been missed was that Greatbatch was in business for himself for about 20 years. Upon new digs in the 1970s, everything had to be reexamined. So you see, you are not as far behind the experts, as you might have imagined
Though the borders have been pierced differently, these are identical in pattern. In addition they are identical to the plate on the left of the seven Salt Glaze plates above them. This plate is also found in creamware, as is the green, with polychrome decoration. While this pattern is seen in polychrome Creamware with some frequency, both the green and the white Salt Glaze are rare. The pattern may be found in Salt Glaze, pierced as are the green ones, or with no piercing, as shown below (see The Illustrated Guide to Staffordshire Salt-Glazed Stoneware,Arnold R. Mountford):
There are many leaf shaped dishes in plain Creamware, Decorated Creamware, both white or decorated Salt Glaze, as well as Green Glaze. All but the latter may be decorated. See the leaf shapes below:
It may be confusing when one sees dishes that have under trays, or had or may have had such trays.
This pair of Salt Glaze baskets and trays is the Logo on our Web Site. At first they may appear identical. The one on the left is slightly larger, but the tray of the one on the right has only two rows punched, the other three. The variations in such baskets and trays confound some.. They want everything to be as they think it ought to be, not wise in collecting.
The form of the above basket and tray is uncommon (round ones are also known). This particular tray has the most radical piercing of any such tray known to me. Notice that the piercing of the basket is different.
The Creamware plate above with colored glazes is common in form and decoration, also found in white Salt Glaze plates and chargers.
The two pierced plates above are the same pattern as the plate below. I have seen a pair of these beautiful plates with a gray colored glaze, smoke like and breathtakingly beautiful.. When I saw these plates, I did not buy them for several reasons: They were expensive (at the time) and I did not imagine just how rare they were and one cannot have everything one finds. Happily for me, friends and clients bought them. I have had the pleasure of seeing them in their home.
In late 2007 the three Salt Glaze Pieces above were up at auction. I was not present, but had not placed an order to be called, thinking the price would blow one out of the water. They were passed for some inexplicable reason and went back to the owner. So, I have to count my blessing for what I did have in 2007.
Though not in color all of the following examples are Creamware with colored glazes and indicate the variety of forms and reliefs used.
Back to color:
The two crabstock handled teapots, lower left, are very rare. The matching sugar below in black and white. Clockwise: A typical Cauliflower teapot, a rare pineapple teapot, and a very rare so called mellon one because it has a relief surface.
Too often both advanced collectors and beginning collectors want to begin learning by pricing everything. I have always held to the idea that nothing is worth a dime until one has decided that they want that nothing. Then after studying and learning to love it, then maybe the price becomes important. But unless one collects prices, as others collect marks, chasing prices is not a wise beginning in putting together a wonderful collection of pottery.
I know as well as any about prices. I have bought thousands of pieces of pottery over the last forty years, for resale. I do not have the same options as collectors; I have to buy to sell, if I don’t buy, selling cannot happen. If I acquired only the fine examples of pottery at prices I would like to pay, I would not have a large inventory from which our many clients are able to choose. I prefer to pay a little more if I must and have a great inventory to offer both old and new clients at antiques shows and on my Web Site.
Serious collectors, of many levels, travel many hundreds of miles and often several thousands, to see our inventory. I am pleased to always have enough in number and in quality to justify their enthusiasm. Now with my Web Site, others who choose not to travel, are able to buy readily, knowing that everything is guaranteed as represented. It is a pleasure to please those who place their faith in us and we would never want any collectors to feel they are stuck with something they do not really love.
Many of the examples above are in public collections and we have credited those in order not to lead you to think we have them for sale. If not credited, more than likely we do have the examples, though some may sell at any time.
There are enough examples shown to give collectors a broad view of what was made in Creamware and Salt Glaze. I have tried to show only examples that might be on the market or come on the market at any time. Unlike so many books on pottery, I don't want to show only the rarest forms that are not likely to come on the market in one’s lifetime.
Are fine examples of English pottery still available? You bet. Remember what I quoted from Charles Montgomery above. At any time, I am trying to buy unusual or rare examples and this sometimes rattles the nervous system a bit. Nothing worse and nothing better than someone who sends images of what they have and "might" sell. I love to buy and do, hundreds of pieces in any year. I do not participate in private auctions. If one wants to sell me something send me an image and tell me how much they want for it. If they do not know, get someone to appraise it and then offer it to me.
My advice to collectors, both advanced and beginners: Find yourself a dealer, establish a comfortable relationship with that dealer, and as they used to say, "Let the yellow pages do the walking." Instruct that dealer as to the kinds of examples you want and that dealer should respond by sending images immediately when they are acquired. Unlike many, I do not "save up for shows." Whatever I am blessed enough to have is available to our patrons at any time.
If you are a collector for whom the chase is primary over the object, I am not the best person to work with. I love working with serious collectors, advanced or beginner, who want beautiful collections, however large or small. But the focus must be on the examples themselves which, in the end is proof of intelligent collecting, as opposed to accumulation.