FROM the standpoint of manufacturing history, dispersals of any factory collection are always tinged with sadness.
They may offer material of great attraction and provenance, but
they also represent the end of a slice of industrial
heritage. Accordingly, there were mixed feelings about the
arrival at the rostrum last month of several hundred pieces of
pottery, pattern books, designs, photographs and other documentary
material from the Poole Pottery's archive and museum.
Here was a rich selection including many mouth-watering pieces
that Poole collectors would give their eye teeth to own.
On the other hand, the fact that the material on offer was being
sold by administrators Leonard Curtis and Co to pay creditors of
the pottery's previous owners, who went into administration last
year, signalled the end of an era when these pieces were in the
ownership and use of the pottery that produced them.
Fortunately the pottery itself has found a new owner in Peter
Ford, so this distinctive Dorset product that has been one of the
more adventurous elements of the British ceramics scene for well
over a century has not disappeared for good. But when Mr Ford
bought the pottery late last year he did not acquire its museum
collection or its archive, leaving the administrators with the
legal requirement to sell it to pay creditors.
Poole Borough Council made an attempt to buy the archive and
collection outright last July (an undertaking that would have been
contingent on grants and funding), but no successful agreement was
reached with the administrators. The result was that, the
collection went to auction at Christie's South Kensington
(19.5/12% buyer's premium) on March 31.
Amidst a public outcry, a rescue attempt was made. What finally
transpired was that the auction went ahead but the Borough of Poole
were able to go to the sale armed with a spending pot of over
£100,000 raised from various donations and grants with a view to
securing as much relevant material as possible for the town.
Above: the tile panel depicting views of Poole which sold
for £13,000, the most expensive piece in the CSK auction. It was
bought by the Borough of Poole.
This is not a unique situation. In many ways the Poole auction
was similar to the dispersal of the Minton Museum at Bonhams two
years ago by parent company Royal Doulton. But one significant
difference between the two auctions was the factory archive.
While Minton's pattern books and original artwork were not
included in Bonhams' sale, CSK's Poole auction featured a large
slice of documentary material key to any history of the factory. By
all logic this merited an institutional purchase, and it was a
cornerstone of Poole borough's purchasing plan.
A five-man committee set up to coordinate the borough's
initiative had earmarked a shopping list of 100 items. As committee
member Alan Barlow, who was Poole Borough Council policy director
until his retirement at the end of March, explained, they adopted
what he described as "an ABC approach" to purchasing. On the A list
were what he termed "all the items closely associated with the
pottery". This was largely archival material plus a couple of major
production pieces like a large tile panel map of Poole - "that was
our number one piece".
The B list comprised "the more important pieces that would
describe the way the pottery changed over the years". These would
be key production pieces that would complement those already in the
town's Waterfront Museum where any new acquisitions would be
displayed. The C list comprised other pieces that the borough might
A team of three went Christie's to buy for the borough. Sue
Beckett, the council's collections officer for museums, was there
to do the bidding and Alan Barlow to do the spending calculations.
In attendance was advisor Leslie Hayward, co-author of the standard
book on Poole Pottery and a local Poole specialist.
But when the trio sat down in Christie's hangar saleroom on what
was the sunniest day of the year to date, they faced formidable
opposition. The auctioneers' large glass-roofed saleroom was packed
wall-to-wall with eager-looking faces, some of whom were spilling
outside the doors. While some of that audience may have been
interested onlookers and others were specialist dealers, the vast
majority were private collectors looking to buy a piece of the
pottery's history. A sizeable number, reckoned Christie's
specialist Joy McCall, were first-time buyers.
Christie's had divided the archive into 290 lots catalogued on a
chronological basis, starting with Carter and Co's lustre wares
produced at the turn of the last century and ending with trial
plates produced in 2002. Estimates in virtually all instances had
been set at very cautious levels.
"We deliberately priced the lower ranges low," said Ms McCall,
while even the other rarer offerings were realistically pitched.
This was largely to entice people to buy because, given the sale's
circumstances, the administrators would not want to end up with
unsolds back on their plate. Nor did they.
With just six lots unsold and a final total that at £212,700 was
comfortably over predictions, the vendors will be very pleased with
the outcome. There were no fewer than 114 different successful
bidders by the end of the day.
But despite the wide spread of buyers, Poole Borough Council
went much of the way towards achieving their goal. They carried off
72 of their 100 earmarked lots (66 at auction, the remainder as
after sales) making them by far the biggest buyer at the sale. And
crucially of the 26 lots in the archive section the borough were
able to purchase around three quarters.
Above: a large abstract vase by Guy Sydenham and Tony
Morris, produced in 1966 to commemorate the opening of the craft
section, made £2200 at CSK.
Sums on or around the estimate were the norm but the borough had
to fight to secure Arthur Bradbury's drawing for the 14th
centuryShip of Harry Paye (£1700) and lost the contest for Edward
Bawden's ink sketch of Poole that served as the original source for
the Poole map tile panel. The council wanted this to go with their
number one target, but it took £2600 (estimate £300-500) from
another buyer. "We were sad that we lost that," said Alan Barlow.
Fortunately the borough had more luck with the panel itself,
securing it for £13,000, just over top estimate. There was
relatively little competition for this major piece and Alan Barlow
said after the sale that he thought they might have had to go
This wasn't the case with many of the other key or iconic
pottery entries. A large 1930s vase decorated by Truda Carter in
shades of brown and cream, with a striking abstract design, was a
classic piece of Poole Deco and competition from the room forced
the borough up to a double-estimate £6500 for this.
Yet more expensive was the early 1960s oval Studio ware dish
designed and decorated by Robert Jefferson with a study of an owl.
This had been estimated at £600-800, but with bidding opening at
£1000 it was plainly going to leave that level far behind. The
borough finally managed to secure it after much competition at
Even when the borough weren't bidding, there were some areas of
the sale that saw more competition than others. Those pieces that
are still relatively easy to find on the open market went as
predicted. Noticeably more popular were anything to do with ships;
the scarce group of black painted trial pieces inspired by Aubrey
Beardsley designs; early lustre wares and some of the 'Sixties and
'Seventies pieces. Fashion, scarcity and historical interest
variously determined demand for these.
Poole Borough Council's purchases are now at the Waterfront
Museum and it was hoped that some of them would be on display by
Easter. The archival material will be stored at Dorset County
Council Records Office, who contributed £7500 towards the