Tag Archives: Burgess & Leigh

The Rhead-Cronin Collection

Pair of facing ladies in caps Lot 547Now that the dust has settled on the remarkable sale of the Rhead-Cronin collection, I thought I’d take the opportunity to pick out a few of the highlights. The second of the two auctions ended this time last week, at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter, and it’s probably fair to say that the collection exceeded expectations all round.

Christening Mug for Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin
Christening Mug for Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin

To give some background for those unaware of it, the collection was made up of a large number of items produced by several different members of the Rhead family, including paintings, engravings, ceramics and assorted ephemera. It had belonged to a  late nephew of Charlotte Rhead, Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin, who had lived in Honiton, Devon. His mother was Marie Rhead, Charlotte’s sister, who because she was not involved in the artistic pursuits of her family, was relatively unknown – (Bernard Bumpus mentions in his book that Frederick Alfred Rhead and his wife Adolphine had six children, but does not mention Marie by name). The items put into the sale had been held by this branch of the family for many years, so essentially, they were all new to the market. From a collector’s point of view, any ‘undiscovered’ pieces such as these are the holy grail. I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Exeter for a sneak preview of the collection prior to the sales and it was a unique experience. To see the breadth of items included, not to mention the quality of the majority of it, was (and excuse the hyperbole) staggering!

The first sale took place in December 2013, and consisted of items that are perhaps more familiar to casual collectors of Rhead pottery. There were several Crown Ducal pieces, as well some nice early Wood & Sons Bursley examples. Perhaps the most appealing lot was a Burleighware Fruit Set, which appeared to have been designed by Adolphine ‘Dollie’ Rhead (another of Charlotte’s sisters), as it featured her facsimile signature to the reverse side. I’ve previously blogged about this set – click here to read it, but it is of particular interest as the pattern has never been seen before. The set (minus the ginger jar shown below) had a hammer price of £210 – which was a bargain for whoever got it!

Burleighware 'A Rhead' Fruit Set
Burleighware ‘A Rhead’ Fruit Set

Charlotte Rhead Watercolours - Native American SquawsOther highlights included a lovely Bursley Ware ewer in the 456 Pomona pattern, selling for £240 + fees and a pair of water-colour sketches of Native-American squaws, attributed to Charlotte Rhead, which formed the basis of a design for tube-lined tiles that she completed later, (£480 + fees). As you can see from the image on the left, the ‘Aztec’ pattern that later appeared on Charlotte’s design for Crown Ducal is evident. Finally, there was an interesting teapot, designed by Frederick Hurten Rhead for Wardle in around 1900 (£65 + fees). Again, these items do not come up for sale often and would no doubt have attracted interest from American collectors, given that he spent the majority of his working career over there.

Hidden away towards the end of this sale was a small collection of family photographs and small watercolours, one of which was by another of Charlotte’s sisters, Katherine. The gems in here were the photos though, as they included early ones of Harry and Dollie, but most intriguingly one of Charlotte herself. I think it was taken in around 1910 when she would have been 25, and she has a small dog on her lap. Photos of Charlotte are very scarce – she was notoriously a shy and private person. All the photos that we do know of show her not looking directly at the camera, and in this one, she (sort of) is!

The second sale, which took place in January 2014 contained the more unusual (and valuable) items, including a great number of pictures and sketches as well as some framed tube-lined tiles and museum quality ceramics. Although the focus of this site is clearly ‘pottery’, it’s worth recording some highlights from the pictures sale, as there were some great examples. Having never really paid much attention to the art produced by the family, I must say I was blown away by some of the paintings in this collection. Having always associated Frederick Alfred Rhead with pottery, it was a surprise for me to see the quality of some of his paintings – perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a shock given his undoubted talent, but I think it was because I just hadn’t seen it before. The sale also featured some work from Frederick’s brothers & children. For some examples, see the small gallery below, (all prices shown are excluding commission):

FA Rhead Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Vase The ceramics section of the sale was perhaps the most exciting (for me anyway), and it got away to a stunning start, with one of the first lots reaching a hammer price of £17,000 – against an estimate of £1500 – £2000. It was an amazing pâte-sur-pâte vase by Frederick Rhead, probably for Minton, depicting an angel holding a large bowl and some text around the bottom taken from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is in fact linked to one of the pieces of art shown above, from which it draws clear inspiration – the question is, did both pieces go to the same buyer?! Following that lot, I think everybody in the room realised that any bargains were going to be few and far between, with many hastily re-assessing their budgets for bidding on the rest of the sale. Or perhaps that was just me……

Bretby Vase - Charlotte RheadOne of the biggest surprises of the collection was a vase by Bretby – not a name one would associate with the Rhead family. It featured a galleon in full sail, which (funnily enough) is something that you would link to Charlotte Rhead. So, why did Charlotte decorate a Bretby vase? I still don’t know and it has baffled other collectors that I’ve spoken to. Nic Saintey of Bearnes has asked the same question in his excellent series of blogs – answers on a postcard please! This vase sold for just £200 plus fees, perhaps reflecting some damage on it, but in hindsight, this looks like a very good price. The chances are that there isn’t another one anywhere else in the world.

Wardle FH Rhead Vase The main part of the sale contained a large number of tube-lined tiles, mainly by Charlotte, which I shall write about in a later blog as they deserve further discussion. For now though, I’ll finish with this lovely vase produced by Frederick Hurten Rhead for Wardle. It is a tube-lined decoration featuring two turtles and the words “Two tired turtles trying to trot to Tutbury”, signed and dated to 1902. This was just before he left to begin life in America, so was possibly one of the last examples of his ‘English’ work. It sold for £1,150 plus fees. Again, it would be intriguing to know where this ended up – did it stay here or follow Frederick across the pond?

 

As I’ve mentioned above, I’ll write more soon about the Rhead-Cronin tiles, but in the meantime I’d like to thank everybody at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (especially Nic Saintey) for giving me the opportunity to get up close with the collection. I will be eternally grateful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique Rhead Burleighware?

Adolphine Rhead Unidentified Burgess & Leigh PatternWell – my previous blog asked the (slightly rhetorical) question, ‘Where is the Burleighware?’. Remarkably, something intriguing has recently come to light on this subject. I have just received some photos of a possibly unique pattern, produced at Burgess & Leigh in the late 1920s. There doesn’t appear to be any reference to it in the Bumpus books, and certainly no pattern number, but the design is unmistakably Rhead in style. It’s almost possible, in fact, to create a tick-list of Rhead motifs: clouds, birds, pomegranates, geometric borders, leaves and branches etc etc………

Perhaps even more interestingly, it appears that the pattern is not one of Charlotte’s, or even her father’s, but was actually produced by her youngest sister, Adolphine (or Dollie) Rhead. Whilst this can’t be confirmed with absolute accuracy, I think it is very likely, given that it has emerged from a collection known to have belonged to Dollie’s nephew. Additionally, the jar in the photo above has a signature on the base which is almost identical to the ‘L Rhead’ facsimile signature used by Charlotte on Burleighware, but it shows an ‘A’ instead of an ‘L’. Another piece with the same pattern also has a date of 1928 on it, which coincides nicely with the period Dollie is known to have ‘sat in’ for Charlotte at B & L, whilst Charlotte took an extended holiday to America to visit her brothers.

Adolphine 'Dollie' Rhead
Dollie Rhead

Bernard Bumpus gives the impression that whilst Dollie was a very competent tube-liner and decorator in her own right, he doesn’t mention that she may have actually designed as well. She had the same apprenticeship as Charlotte and was certainly proficient enough to cover for her older sister for a short period, but she spent most of her working life in nursing. It’s remarkable therefore that if she did come up with this design, she was more than a match for many of the other full-time pottery designers of the period.

It is entirely feasible that Charlotte did actually come up with this pattern and it just A Rhead Fruit Setnever saw the light of day commercially. It may even have been a joint design with Dollie, who was given the honour of having her name on it. Given its background, was it possibly a present from Charlotte to Dollie, to thank her for looking after her job whilst she was away? I’d love to think this was the case!

All speculation of course, and we may never know, but it’s another new talking point. When I set this website up, it was with the intention of uncovering previously unseen patterns and sharing them, since I believe there are still many more discoveries to be made. I don’t believe this particular pattern has ever been seen before – please tell me if I’m wrong and you have a suite of it in your sideboard!

 

(With special thanks to NS at Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood for the pictures and background information).

Where is the Burleighware?

Burleigh Ware 4347 New Vine

As someone who has bought & sold more than his fair share of Charlotte Rhead pieces, I have always wondered why examples of her  work for Burleighware are so hard to come by. Given that she was employed by Burgess & Leigh for around five years, one would expect to come across more items, yet they remain the most elusive. My question therefore, is ‘where is it all’?!

As ever, pretty much all we have to help us understand why there is this scarcity of Burleighware are the Bernard Bumpus books – there is little information elsewhere. There are clues in the books, which I’ll come on to later, but I’m hoping that by putting the question out there, we may get to learn where in the world it has ended up!

I thought it might be an interesting experiment to take a snapshot of Charlotte Rhead items currently available on eBay.co.uk, since this is probably where most pieces are bought and sold on a regular basis. Having just done this (on Sept. 23rd 2013), the results are shown below:

Pie Chart eBay

FactoryNo. of Items
Wood & Sons / Bursley Ware10
Burleighware7
AG Richardson / Crown Ducal107
HJ Wood Bursleyware41
Not Charlotte Rhead17
Total182

A simple search for ‘Charlotte Rhead’ in the Pottery, Porcelain & Glass category threw up a total of 206 items. I’ve removed the listings from the total that included things like books, Frederick Rhead pieces and the figurines produced by the likes of Kevin Francis, to leave a total of 182 individual items, calling themselves ‘Charlotte Rhead’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that this is eBay, 17 of them were pieces of pottery that had absolutely nothing to do with Charlotte (or indeed Frederick) – keyword spamming is alive and well! What is clear however, is that Burleighware is the least common and that the market is swamped with Crown Ducal pieces.

Whilst the Wood & Sons / Bursley Ware numbers are also low, I think this is down to people being unaware (or unsure) that items they may have are designed by Charlotte Rhead. Once the practice of having a signature on an item (facsimiled or not),  was introduced during her time at Burgess & Leigh, it naturally became easier to identify a Rhead design. The snapshot gives a great (if not surprising) insight in to just how much Crown Ducal ware is available when compared to the other factories – more than double the amount of the next most prolific, HJ Wood.

Bernard Bumpus does provide a few insights as to why Burleighware is relatively scarce; the main one being that there was a lot of focus on utility tableware, with Charlotte producing a large amount of relatively plain and simple designs for tea sets (or ‘sandwich sets’ as they were known at the time). These were often stamped with alternative marks, including for the retailer Lawleys, so it is again understandable that these items aren’t always linked to Charlotte, especially as not all items in the service carried the L Rhead facsimile signature.

We also learn from Bumpus that there were tensions behind the scenes at Burgess & Leigh, when Harold Bennett was employed as a designer in 1929 (two years into Charlotte’s time there). Whilst he was working ‘alongside’ her rather than above her, Bumpus suggests that Bennett felt a little threatened by Charlotte in terms of one of them potentially becoming the next Art Director – she was the more artistically talented, whilst he was proving most adept at turning out the utilitarian designs for tableware. This rivalry eventually led to Charlotte deciding to leave, reportedly in unhappy circumstances. Perhaps this awkward atmosphere affected production?

The wall plaques that Charlotte produced for Burgess & Leigh are among the most sought after. They were produced in limited numbers, purely down to cost, but they were also technically superior to the majority of the other items, including the decorative vases etc. Whilst the fact they are so scarce is understandable, it doesn’t really explain why everything else is so hard to come by.

So – the challenge is set. Check your Grandma’s loft and let me know if she has any of Charlotte’s Burleighware pieces………