Spotlight on Welsh Pottery
SPOTLIGHT ON WELSH POTTERY WITH BEN ROGERS JONES
We are immensely pleased with the variety of Welsh ceramics in this November's Welsh Sale auction. The pottery and porcelain to be offered consists of two prestigious and well-known collections, that have coincidentally joined up together in the same auction. The two collections acting as the perfect storm for a large and intriguing bumper section of Welsh ceramics.
Swansea pottery models of Anthony & Cleopatra
The first of these collections is the second part of the Gwyneth & Ieuan Evans compilation of Welsh porcelain and pottery. This includes an important early Ewenny Wassail bowl and cover, dated 1823, most likely the earliest Ewenny Wassail bowl to ever come to auction. The other major contributor is The Mary Daley Collection. Mrs Daley is the daughter of the most famous Welsh porcelain collector of them all – Sir Leslie Joseph. Sir Leslie’s collection was dispersed via Sotheby’s auction house in a one-off three-day auction at Margam Park in 1992. Some items from that auction have found their way to this Welsh Sale via The Mary Daley Collection, but also from The Gwyneth & Ieuan Evans Collection, as the late Ieuan Evans was one of the buyers at the famous Sotheby’s sale.
The 1992 Leslie Joseph auction was the porcelain equivalent of Llanelli beating the All Blacks in 1972, with many Welsh porcelain collectors still proudly declaring in conversation that ‘I was there’.
In recent years, examples of antique Welsh pottery have stepped out of the shadow of their more gentrified porcelain cousins.
The porcelain of Swansea and Nantgarw has always been held in high esteem and it is often regarded by academics as the finest porcelain of its age. This refinement though was incredibly difficult to make profitable and thus the porcelain output from both Swansea and Nantgarw only lasted twelve short years, between 1814 and 1826.
Welsh pottery production began long before William Billingsley fired the first batch of porcelain wares in 1814. The Cambrian Pottery company began in 1764 and pottery continued to be made in Swansea until 1870. Llanelli’s South Wales Pottery lasted until 1922. While Ewenny pottery continues to operate today, under the Jenkins’ family ownership – a dynasty who have been at the wheel since the early 19th century.
Swansea documentary jug
Swansea Ship Plate
Swansea Ship Plate
Since we opened our doors in Cardiff in 2013, Welsh ceramics have found a new auction home in The Welsh Sale. And we have seen some excellent prices for Nantgarw and Swansea with renewed interest from local collectors who are pleased to see collections being offered in the heart of the Welsh porcelain collecting base. However, these high prices for fine Welsh porcelain examples are not unexpected.
In my eyes though, there have been a greater number of auction shocks for Welsh pottery. In the last few years, we have seen fierce bidding and inflated auction prices for Llanelly pottery, Ynysmeudwy, Ewenny and of course Swansea pottery. So, what is the appeal of these rustic wares?
Welsh pottery is especially appealing to the vernacular collector. Those who favour Welsh dressers and tridarns over china cabinets. Collectors are attracted by the naivety of the decoration, the vivid colours and the quirkiness. It is perhaps more fun than the more refined and ‘high-brow’ decoration of Welsh porcelain. Llanelly cockerel plates by ‘Aunt Sal’ are a prime example of ‘fun over fine’. When a collection of these iconic Welsh plates is assembled on a dresser, they are exciting and cheerful.
Llanelly Cockerel Plate
Llanelly Cockerel Plate
Documentary pottery items are especially sought after. Jugs or plates with names of Welsh folk from centuries ago are decorative headstones bringing the names of the past to our living rooms. While political and satirical jugs which comment on the zeitgeist of long ago are historically interesting.
Then there is the Wassail bowls by Ewenny. These bowls were famous locally and their use by New Years revellers form part of the Mari Lwyd folk-lore. So, as well as being very unusual in their form, they are also an important part of the Welsh tradition.
Collections of antique Welsh pottery often combine history, poignancy, tradition and cheerful decoration with a uniquely Welsh perspective and charm
1823 Ewenny Wassailing Bowl