THERE are some factories in ceramics that are relatively easy to identify, and in the case of Moorcroft Pottery, just a touch can tell you everything you need to know.
Art Nouveau style pieces with what is termed ‘tube lining’ or ‘slip trailing’, from the first half of the 20th century, are wildly sought after.
With colours that sing as brightly as the day the piece was finished, they have a flash and modernity that’s ideal to lift a sanitised pale contemporary setting.
Still in business from their original brick factory in Cobridge, Stoke-on-Trent (re-imagining through some financial and creative upsets), this is not simply a tale of very old Moorcroft.
The quality of work by recent contributing female artists to their limited editions from the Moorcroft Design Studio (est 1997), including Sally Tuffin, and later Nicola Slaney is sensational.
Slaney’s 50-piece special edition for 2000, Jerusalem, retailing at €14,213, sold out in hours.
Her Talwin collection for this year, starts around €200 for a small handmade and decorated dish.
The firm is an unusual and exciting survivor from the golden age of British modernist potting.
If you think Moorcroft is all fussy cabinet dross and twee nonsense, look again.
They not only have the pleasing weight of earthenware, but a sculptural, three dimensional fascination.
Once hooked on this ware — and take note, Rod Stewart is barmy for Moorcroft — you’re finished.
William Moorcroft (1872-1945) had a classic British art potter’s training, beginning in his home town of Burslem, the cradle of Staffordshire ceramics, continuing in London at the National Art Training School, and concluding with a term of creative schooling in Paris.
While working for James Macintyre & Co Ltd from the age of 26, he was assigned his own studio producing his own range of pots which revealed his love of luxurious colour and Oriental inspired shapes.
Drawing on what he had seen on the Continent in porcelain and glass, he decorated his pieces with lustrous butter thick glazes with a positively bejewelled result.
These Aurelian and Florian wares, stamped as MacIntyre & Co, but hand-signed confidently on the bottom by William, gained the attention of the company’s more discerning clients at Liberty & Co. Oddly, far from being pleased, James MacIntyre was positively miffed. Working from his lesser self, he abruptly shut down Moorcroft’s decorating studio.
When William set up his own firm in Cobridge in 1913 after an acrimonious split from his patron, he somehow salvaged the relationship with Liberty, an iconic retailer of respected artisan crafts (Liberty helped to fund the enterprise — a real stinger for the jealous and narrow-minded MacIntyre).
Moorecroft put the boot in, tempting some of the best potters to jump ship with him.
His hand-made ceramics dropped the use of short cuts like transfer ware in place of labour intensive hand techniques. Distinctly Art Nouveau, Williams’ designs for flowers were botanically correct but sensually stylised and perfect for Liberty.
The exquisite, brilliant finish on the pieces was created by drawing out a slip into borders before firing.
These individual areas were then puddled with deep translucent glaze — rather like the panes in a stained glass window.
The quality of colour and shading within one field of glaze can be breath-taking. If you run your hands over a piece of tube-lined Moorcroft pottery, you can feel these limiting border lines.
Liberty threw money into Moorcroft’s development of flambé glaze in the 1920s which was hugely successful both with buyers and as medal winners at the European and British exhibition circuit, the company garnering the Royal Warrant in 1929, a serious poke in the eye for his past detractors.
The most desirable pieces of vintage Moorcroft in terms of design and colour date to either side of a slump in its financial and aesthetic fortunes.
This started in the 1962 when the Moorcroft family bought out the company from Liberty & Co, through to the early 1990s when the innovative designer Rachel Bishop joined the firm at the age of just 24. Pieces even made under William Moorecroft’s tenure together with berry, leaf, landscape, fish, and pomegranate designs and the much coveted flambé ware, do turn up unrecognised at sales and flea markets.
There’s plenty of on-line information in terms of dating pieces from their shape, size, subject, and stamp.
Be aware: a silver line through the WM monogram denotes a second. In later pieces this may be a red dot or a ‘G’ inside a black circle.
From the start, designs were catalogued and assigned a registration mark. Go straight to the factory site at moorcroft.com which is heaving with information on their wares past and present.
For investment, look out for larger pieces at auction and from reputable dealers — ginger jars, chargers, lamps, and large jugs. Condition is crucial, and with the exception of truly rare pieces from William Moorcroft’s own time at MacIntyre and the early days of the factory — chips and cracks will utterly decimate value. Heavy crazing beneath the glaze is not unusual.
The web has plenty of retailers of new, and dealers of old, with top stores here including Brown Thomas carrying a line of Moorcroft’s latest collections. Choose your source carefully.
A sumptuous new vase 28-30cm from the Design Studio, by say, Kerry Goodwin will cost in the order of €600-€800.
If you fall for Moorcroft in a big way, the team in Stoke-on-Trent have recently opened a Collector’s Shop which sells interesting and limited run pieces.
They also showcase the designers’ rough trails of developing pieces, and have a large selection of discontinued pieces. There is also a small museum at the factory.
Be prepared to take a 70km bus ride or train trip from East Midlands Airport with some well-padded hand luggage. Well worth the time of a stone-mad. pottery collector.