Kya deLongchamps gives us some essential tips for collecting affordable Clarice Cliff art deco ware, as the middle of the market loses a little jazz
HE market may change, prices may fluctuate, in everything from movie posters to Qing Blue & White. However, collectors remain fiercely loyal.
Clarice Cliff ceramics were a division of late, middling art deco that brought many newbies into the world of antique ceramics in the early 1970s. The number of books, clubs, sales, blogs and events surrounding the work of her studio remains as fresh and vibrant as her boldly painted ‘May Avenue’.
Clarice was a creative lioness (1899-1972), from the legendary potting county of Staffordshire, and I have looked at Clarice’s extraordinary life before in Vintage View. I’m only surprised there hasn’t been a three-part BBC drama about her adventures on and off the factory floor.
The Agora is the magazine for collectors, and its editor, Greg Slater, has published several useful books for anyone starting their education in shape, pattern, and the rare Cliff thing. The fabulous, pure, abstracted content of the painting; the weight and honesty of the ware, and its wide availability, allow those who love it to align their budget to modest starter pieces and rare investments.
The work of the other designers and painters at Wilkinson’s (using their archive to trace the drawings, brush strokes, and stamps) is now acknowledged, not least in Slater’s guide, Comprehensively Clarice Cliff: An Atlas of Over 2,000 Patterns, Shapes and Backstamps (2005), €54, Thames & Hudson. Pick up his Clarice Cliff for Collectors , too, an erudite and enjoyable little book, for just €19, T&H.
Cliff joined a male-dominated industry, running a floor for Arthur J Wilkinson, whose workers politely applied the nostalgic, transfer-printed decoration expected in 1916, but her mind was alight with new ideas, her fingers twitching to apply individualised, hand-painted fantasies for a new century.
Her first work on Burslem white blanks, ‘Bizarre’ and ‘Fantasque’ , which were developed between 1927 and 1934, provide some of the most highly sought-out earthenware in the Clarice Cliff brand.
However, prices have fallen significantly for the everyday Cliff piece since the early noughties, and, where there’s a dip, there’s an opportunity for the ordinary buyer.
The important thing to understand about Clarice Cliff is that there is a huge amount of her most beloved work made up to 1942, until the factory changed direction. Despite the gasps and totters on the Antiques Road Show at the sight of a scarce one-off, or infrequently spotted pot or charger, these collectables are not difficult to find.
The colours and shapes sit up nicely in a cabinet, or out on a shelf in even a lean, modern home, where Victorian brown furnishings have been moved into the garage. This was always Cliff’s intention – she saw her work as part of an overall lifestyle of gorgeous, exciting today things, awash with art deco energy, optimism, and glamour. Aimed at the ordinary buyer, the dishes and decorations were, nonetheless, ‘Modern Art for the Table’, and Cliff organised an exhibition of the same name with luminaries, Vanessa Bell and Paul Nash and Barbara Hepworth (1934).
So, where can you start, having surveyed Clarice Cliff pieces from Wilkinson’s, Royal Staffordshire Pottery, Newport Pottery, or the Foley Pottery?
First of all, buy authentic pieces, not reproduced, limited-editions or, worse still, fakes. The sugar-sifters are not only beautiful, but such a signature shape for Cliff, that a group or single piece is a must-have (don’t use it for the table, please!).
The least-expensive patterns to pursue are the most prolific, of course — Crocus and Celtic Harvest. For under €400, expect to buy an enthusiast’s keeper with some restoration to a period piece of ‘Fantasque’ or ‘Bizarre’, most probably at the tip of the cone, where they were bumped off bowls and cup edges.
For no chips, cracks, repairs or oxidation of the paint colour, prices start at around €500 for a good pattern. But keep driving out to those superb Irish antique fairs, where you might persuade something off that price from an over-stocked dealer.
A small starter buy might include a pin-tray in a good Diamonds/Bizarre design for around €100 in good condition, or a hexagonal Viscaria scene plate, with a sinuous tree, for under €150. Try decodance.com for a good choice under the €200 mark.
Wobbles in the paintwork are not flaws; they show the handwork, and can often be found on banding done on a wheel on the factory benches. What does occur, often, is paint-flaking, and this can diminish the value of an item significantly, where it interferes with the scene or painted design.
Go for bright, almost garish Cliff, the more angular and unusual the better — and keep in mind that a common pattern teamed with a less usual mate in shape can spell greater value. Joining a Clarice Cliff club, you’ll soon find the level of hysteria for her work, including divisions of wild hobby buyers, such as the Muffineers.
Visit the most popular Clarice Cliff Collector’s Club, at claricecliff.com, to find out more about Cliff, judging and buying her work, and important specialty sales.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved