The Maw and Co. Walter Crane vase – £7600 at Lawrences of Bletchingley.

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The ceramics collection assembled at Rode Hall in Cheshire over the past 250 years by successive generations of the Wilbraham family is the subject of a newly published book by Julie McKeown. One of the chapters deals extensively with the multi-talented Walter Crane and his relationship with the Wilbrahams. The family championed the young designer at the outset of his career in the 1860s and Crane also stayed with his patrons at the Hall.

As a result, although much of Rode Hall's ceramics are 18th century porcelain, one of the stars of the collection is a group of six Aesthetic-style vases with lustre decoration made by Maw and Co. in the 1890s. They come from a series of seven all of which are decorated with Crane designs based around legends and folk tales. The current owner of Rode Hall, Sir Richard Baker Wilbraham purchased them around seven years ago from the art pottery dealer Richard Dennis who had spent years assembling this rare group.

As Julie McKeown points out in her book: "Even without the elusive seventh square-handled vase decorated with figures representing the four seasons, those at Rode form the most complete set in a private collection."

Naturally Sir Richard was very keen to complete the set, but only one other example was known, in an American collection, and Richard Dennis had not seen any come on the market in 30 years of hunting.

So, Sir Richard was understandably delighted when he spotted his "elusive seventh" pictured in an ATG advertisment for a sale on September 12 at Lawrences, Bletchingley with a brief description as a "two-handled urn by Maw and Jackfield (a/f)" and carrying an estimate of £100-150.

He wasn't the only keen eyed sleuth to spot the rare creature.

The auctioneers had around half a dozen would-be purchasers on the telephone. But it was Mr Dennis, bidding over one of the phones on behalf of Sir Richard, who managed to secure the vase for Rode Hall at £7600.

"I would have gone a lot higher because it's so important to complete the series," the Baronet told ATG last week. Certainly higher prices for the Maw/Crane series are not without precedent. In April 2005 another vase was pursued to a staggering £42,000 when Law Fine Art sold the Andrew Keith Collection.

The complete set of seven vases should be on display at Rode Hall, which is open to the public, in the very near future.

By Anne Crane