Vintage View: Smile, it’s a SylvaC rabbit

COLLECTING should not be all about high value and rarity. We’re complex creatures full of heart.

We often take a peculiar interest in something because at some level of aesthetic or sentiment it just rings a personal bell and makes us happy.

As I’ve said before, the hunt can be equally enjoyable as the kill, and alighting on something relatively mass produced, there’s far more chance of enjoying that light shiver of pleasure on a regular basis. Join a collector’s club and you can swap, sell, and pool your knowledge with other like-minded lunatics.

SylvaC pottery is a highly popular and relatively cheap area of 20th century ceramics that has everything you would want.

The designs are appealing, it’s quite well-made, and above all else it speaks of its time. It’s a maker that pops up in charity shops, household auctions, and boot sales with a comforting regularity, and there are rare pieces out there to keep some thrill in the chase.

SylvaC was founded in 1894 by entrepreneurs William Copestake and William Shaw. Shaw left a year later to be replaced by Richard Hull, whose son Richard Hull Jnr became a guiding light in the company following his father’s death in 1935.

The name comes from the name of the factory, the Sylvan Works and the C of Copestake’s surname and was used from 1936.

SylvaC were in the business of what was termed ‘fancies’, decorative pieces that drew on non-controversial, delightful subjects. Starting in the 1920s the company made jugs, vases, and table-wares, but they are chiefly remembered for their cartoonish dogs, squirrels, and rabbits in soft matt glazes which demand to be petted and run through the hands.

Cheerful green Edwardian hares with eccentrically long ears are known as ‘Harrys’ and are a popular, eye-catching start for many collectors of SylvaC.

Over 40 SylvaC dogs were produced, some as large as 25cm, and through the 1970s these came in more realistic figures with an attractive high shine glaze and detail to rival Beswick.

I picked up a small No 18 spaniel for 50c about three years ago straying around the shelves of a junk shop. Face pots, such as onions and leeks were a familiar sight in the 70s kitchen and now regaining popularity.

Shaw and Copestake, owners of the SylvaC name, went into liquidation in 1982, and all its records of styles and production were destroyed.

This contributes to the tantalising possibility of unknown pieces of SylvaCs menagerie being found on the boot sale ground sheets here and the UK.

Rarities include what are termed the ‘Mac’ dog holding a golf ball modelled by Czech artist Otakar Steinburger, and all matt terriers are keenly sought out.

The legendary 60cm (2’) rabbit made for Boots the chemist in the UK has yet to be unearthed. Chocolate glazes and the green Corkscrew Cat, are also unusual finds worth in the mid-hundreds.

SylvaC is widely faked in the Far East, complete with marks, and the original moulds are used by the present owners of the name offering new editions of old figures.

The numbers given to the piece is stamped into the base, and vary by size and colour. These mould numbers indicate the date of introduction of that model not the date of making.

Modern SylvaC pieces tend to be smaller than the originals, but they do turn up second hand described as ‘vintage’. Fakes are hard to determine, but look for inattention to detail in any painting to noses and eyes .

Eyes must be a melting chocolate brown rather than black. Presuming you find a vintage piece with full marks, a matt glaze is pre-1970s, and will probably carry some honest crazing.

SylvaC rabbits were made up to 1975, but in a glossy glaze used in later lapins are less desirable than the flaky cellulose or matt glazed applied to their cousins from the 1920s to the 1950s.

* The SylvaC Story by Susan Jean Verbeek (Pottery Publications) is a collector’s favourite with 5,000 pieces covered. From €10. The SylvaC Collector’s Circle (UK) offers membership for £20 per year.


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