Tag Archives: Wood & Sons

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pâte-sur-Pâte at Wood & Sons

Wood & Sons Pate Sur Pate BackstampNot long after Frederick (Alfred) Rhead took up his post as Art Director at Wood & Sons, in 1912, he introduced new ranges of ‘fancy’ lines to go with the everyday tableware that he and the firm were producing; (the term ‘fancies’ was one used at the time to describe the more decorative pieces). These included the tube-lined Elers and Trellis patterns, but also a range of items that were made using the more difficult pâte-sur-pâte technique.

In Bernard Bumpus’ book Pâte-sur-Pâte – The Art of Ceramic Relief Decoration 1849-1992, he describes it (somewhat long-windedly!) – as an ‘elaborate and expensive method of decorating porcelain in which a translucent cameo-like image was built up by the application of many thin coats of porcellaneous slip’. Having served as an apprentice to the man who introduced the pâte-sur-pâte method to England – Marc Louis Solon at Minton – it’s perhaps no surprise that Frederick Rhead was a keen advocate of the practice, and his attempt to produce a new range at Wood & Sons was something of a re-invention. His aim was to provide more affordable wares than those originally available in England, whilst retaining the craftsmanship and decorator’s skill in producing quality decorative pieces.

Wood & Sons Pate Sur Pate Bowl Frederick Rhead

In 1913, Woods published a catalogue of selected lines, entitled ‘Pâte-sur-Pâte – A Notable Revival’, which contained around a dozen different patterns produced in the technique. Although they were only intended as examples, it appears that they were well received, as the firm went ahead and produced some for commercial sale. In order to attract those who may have been turned off by the impression that pâte-sur-pâte items were expensive, the catalogue went as far to state that the items were to be sold ‘at prices well within the reach of the average man’, [with the decoration] ‘being executed entirely by hand by a staff or trained artists under the direction of Mr Rhead. Every piece is signed by Mr Rhead, a guarantee of perfect execution and careful and artistic production generally….’

Bernard Bumpus (this time in his books on the Rhead family), suggests that the Wood & Sons pâte-sur-pâte wares were simply a variation, albeit a more elaborate one, of tube-lining, rather than a match for the quality of the original Minton pieces. This is probably a fair point, although given that they were aimed at ‘the average man’, it’s no surprise. Whilst Frederick himself was highly skilled in the technique, (as can be seen in the image below, showing his version of ‘The Flatterer’s Net’, from Bunyan Pilgrim’s Progress), it wouldn’t have been cost-effective or practical to produce items commercially that required such effort to decorate.

Frederick A Rhead pate sur pate plaque depicting the Flatterers Net from Bunyans Pilgrim's Progress
Picture courtesy of Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood

Whilst we know that the Wood & Sons pâte-sur-pâte range had some success, with production continuing until the early 1920s, it is still relatively hard to find these days. Pieces appear every now and then, so it is worth looking out for. It’s easy to identify of course, given that all the information is in the backstamp – an unusual thing for Frederick and Charlotte Rhead at Wood & Sons! I have recently acquired the lidded jar shown below, which is a great example of the difference between the pâte-sur-pâte and tube-lining methods. The pattern on this jar definitely feels more delicately applied than a tube-lined piece and it isn’t difficult to see that it would require extra time and time to produce.

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The Cosy Pot

726 Fruit Trellis Cosy Pot Charlotte Rhead

One of the more curious items to have come out of the Wood & Sons / Bursley Ltd era was the ‘Cosy’ pot – a supposedly non-drip teapot that came in various colours & sizes.

The design itself was patented worldwide by Edmund William Abram in 1921. He claimed that it was ‘the perfect teapot’, although it was eventually also marketed as a coffee pot so as not to narrow the market for it. By all accounts, it was non-drip, although I must confess I haven’t tested it!

The licence to manufacture them was initially given to a number of potteries, but Wood & OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASons produced the majority; (Booths and Pountney’s of Bristol were amongst the other companies that manufactured the pots).  Abram’s company – Abram Allwares Ltd – unfortunately went into liquidation in the mid 1920s and Wood & Sons took over the patent registration. They continued to produce them until around 1932 and the ‘Cosy’ is usually found in some of the more popular patterns, such as Frederick Rhead’s Trellis, Chung, Yuan and Mikado, as well as Charlotte’s Seed Poppy and Bursley pattern 726 (shown at the top of the page).

Orange cosyThey were made in different sizes – the example shown at the top is the smallest one, standing at approx. 12.5cm (5″) high, intended presumably as a ‘tea for one’ pot. I have seen two other sizes (6.5″ & 8″ tall), but understand there may also be larger ones. The bigger pots tended to come in plain colours – one of them being a very bright orange, but they can also be found in pretty dull shades of brown. The examples that fetch the best money are understandably those in the tube-lined patterns, such as Trellis & Seed Poppy. I think it’s odd that a complicated design such as Seed Poppy was used on such a functional item; the majority were given the standard, plain tableware designs. Perhaps it was just a marketing thing, with the colourful versions being used in advertising and at trade fairs – I suppose that would explain why they are harder to come by.

Whilst the pots are not hard to spot given their shape, if you come across one anywhere and are unsure about its authenticity, then it’s worth checking the backstamp – they differed from the standard Wood & Sons or Bursley Ltd marks in that details of the Abram patent are printed in some detail, as well as the name of the manufacturer. An example of a Wood & Sons stamp is shown in the gallery below.

If anybody has actually made a pot of tea in a Cosy – I’d love to hear how it went…..