Actor, sitcom star, game-show host, children’s entertainer – Leslie Crowther has been a regular face on British television since the 1960s.
But he also led another life as a leading collector of Prattware
and pot lids.
With sales held since 1924 to supply an eager audience of
wealthy industrialists from the Midlands, pot lids must rank among
the longest-standing collectable ceramics. Mr Crowther was
introduced to the subject in the 1950s and, after becoming an early
member of the Pot Lid Circle in the mid-Sixties, became the
group's president until his death in 1996.
Since then, his wife Jean, who shared his passion, has
occasionally added trophy purchases to the collection but her
recent decision to disperse nearly 1000 pieces back into the
collecting community has provided Special Auction
Services with another opportunity to test the deepest
waters of the market.
Offered in a single catalogue in two parts (using the 'A' and
'B' lots that collectors like), the first tranche was sold to an
audience of more than 100 on the first Saturday in June.
Every one of the 491 lots found a buyer.
There are about 550 different pot-lid picture subjects - their
price determined by rarity, size, border design, quality of
execution and crossover appeal - and the Crowther collection
included some well-known trophy lids.
Among them were Our Home, a large 4in (10.5cm) F&R
Pratt lid printed with a rustic scene of rural bliss by Jesse
Austin which is more commonly known in a slightly smaller lid that
carries a four-line verse. Thought to be an experimental sample -
it also carries the Pratt/Prince Albert stamp usually only seen on
the decorative wares - the lid offered at Midgham was first
encountered by Andrew Hilton in 1978 when working at Phillips.
Then, at what subsequently proved to be the top of the market,
the discovery of an apparently unique lid in such fine condition
had prompted a record-breaking £2600 from collector Richard
When his collection was sold in November 1998, it was bought by
Mrs Crowther at £4000, again a new record.
Here, underlining some consistency at the top end of the market
(if no growth) it was sold again at £4000 to a collector building
upon his grandfather's collection of pot lids.
Another of the 'find another' lids in this collection was the
Bear's Grease Manufacturer - a grisly interior scene of a butcher
preparing a partly skinned bear carcass.
Surprisingly at the time it was not a best-seller. There are
three equally rare variants of this small-sized lid thought to have
been produced by T.J & J. Mayer c.1850. One has a double-line
border with the lettering Clayton & Co.'s Real Bear's
Grease, 58, Watling St, London to the rim (an example
with a small rim chip was sold at a then-record £3800 by SAS as
part of the Abe Ball collection in 1996). Another, also with
lettering, has a coloured marbled border (Ken Smith's example with
a restored flange made £2900 in 2000). The Crowther example had no
lettering and was restored, having at one point been in two
Nevertheless, it trebled expectations to bring £3000.
Lids relating to bear's grease, the all-purpose product used by
the Victorians in cooking, rifle cleaning, leather and boot
waterproofing, as a skin cream and hair restorer, were among the
sale's strongest suits.
With a hairline crack (condition was not always a great concern
for Leslie Crowther), Bear Hunting, a medium-sized
version of this lid with the Ross & Sons,
Bishopsgate lettering and a blue and black chequered
border, sold at £440, the same price as Arctic Exhibition in
search of John Franklin, a scene also known from a Baxter
print that related to a bear attack of 1850.
Also restored, but selling at £850, was All But
Trapped, a Mayer lid with obvious allusions to the Crimean
War. This example, showing the Russian bear cornered by British
forces and their French and Turkish allies, was in the more
desirable fancy border.
The conflict in the Crimea loomed large in the mid-1850s and a
large number of pot lids and Prattware reflect the national
Among other rarities is The Redoubt, Inkerman, a print
seen on decorative wares (and only a handful of lids) c.1855 which
was reissued in the 1880s and later.
The example at SAS was a very large 5in (13cm) diameter lid,
thought to be an early reissue. It lacked the pearly glaze, the
fine potting and the fine craquelure of the earliest lids but was
better quality that the lids produced under Keeling and Co., after
the 1890s. It sold at £680.
Pot Lid Rarities
With obvious crossover appeal the 5in (13cm) diameter lid
Wellington wearing a cocked hat, a restored example with
the birth and death dates to the border, sold at £440 while a
portrait lid depicting anti-slavery campaigner Harriet Beecher
Stowe (1811-1896) sold at £1200, despite a hairline crack.
Significantly, this hard-to-find image of the author of
Uncle Tom's Cabin sold to an American collector of
Two rare and attractive floral lids (there are more than 30 in
all of these make-up containers) also proved particularly
Retaining its marbled base marked for the retailer J. Gosnell
& Co., London, a large lid printed with a vase of garden blooms
(Abe Ball catalogued it as 131/7) sold at £440, while a small lid
(131/30) showing a vase of flowers and a mirror - an exceptionally
good print - went at £650.
While some of the more pedestrian Prattware tablewares remain
eminently affordable - pairs of plates in common patterns are still
no more than £15-20 each - there was strong competition for some
Superb-quality printing characterised a small number of lids and
plaques produced for the Great Exhibition of 1851 - an early high
point for the products of F&R Pratt. Bearing the Pratt/Prince
Albert stamp, a square plaque boldly moulded with scrolling
spandrels around the print Christ in the
Cornfield was purchased by a descendant of Felix Edward
Pratt (1813-1894) at £1900, £100 more than it had made as part of
the Ken Smith sale of 2001.
Particularly sought-after was a tricorn Soyers relish vase
decorated with The Poultrywoman and The
Fishmarket which made £1700 (estimate £300-400), and a
rare clubshaped vase decorated with a green marbled neck and the
prints Uncle Tom and Eva and Uncle
Tom which sold to a UK collector at £2000 (estimate
The latter price compared to an arguably better example which
made £550 as part of the Ball collection.
Leslie Crowther also had two of the much-coveted large
rectangular plaques loved by advertising memorabilia
One made for Crosse and Blackwell will be offered later but here
a Huntley & Palmer's Superior Reading
Biscuits plaque with its pictorial of the factory's
smoking chimney stacks sold at a predictable £3800 (estimate
The second part of the Crowther collection will be sold on
September 11. Come on down…