A group shot of Ruskin pottery

A group shot of Ruskin pottery from the sale at Dreweatts held on January 10.

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The 27 lots in the sale at Dreweatts on January 10 featured high and low-fired wares and had come by descent from William Howson Taylor (1876-1935) who ran the West Midlands firm from 1898-1933.

Named after the artist, writer and social thinker John Ruskin, the Ruskin pottery in Smethwick, was founded in 1898 by Edward Richard Taylor, the first principal of the Birmingham School of Art, with his son William, the studio’s principal designer and technician. He became a master of Chinese style glazes, experimenting with flambé, soufflé, crystalline and sang-de-boeuf glazes produced at high temperatures.

When, due to ill health, Taylor closed the factory, he destroyed his formulae and the factory apparatus to prevent his work being reproduced. The majority of the factory collection passed to Robert Ferneyhough (1919-77) and then to his son Adam, Dreweatts’ vendor.

Some of these pieces carried labels showing they had been exhibited at the two major Ruskin pottery exhibitions: the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Ruskin Pottery show in 1975 and the Taylor Made exhibition held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 1976.

Among the highlights was a large 11in (28cm) Ruskin high-fired vase dating from 1924 that features a slightly ribbed body with a liver red-streaked lavender glaze. A piece exhibited at the V&A in 1975, it carried an estimate of £2000-£3000 but got away at £1800 to an online bidder.

Also in the V&A exhibition was a 7in (18cm) squat form vase with a lavender and liver-red ‘snakeskin’ glaze dating from 1923. It took the mid estimate at £1500 while a lamp base c.1930 with a vivid streaked glaze in red, blue, lavender, turquoise and mushroom doubled estimate when it took £1700 from another internet buyer.

A 1912 vase in a fine mottled buff colour glaze is one that is featured in a self-portrait of Edward Richard Taylor and illustrated in Paul Atterbury and John Henson’s book Ruskin Pottery (1993). It carried an estimate of £600-800 and made £700, going to a buyer on thesaleroom.com.

Another eagerly competed low fired piece, was a 6in (15cm) ‘robin’s egg’ blue vase dated 1922 that had formed part of the exhibition Taylor Made held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 1976. It carried an estimate of £200-300 but hammered at £850 to yet another online bidder.

A much larger number of pieces from the Ferneyhough collection were sold at Sotheby’s in 1993. The sale of the Albert Wade collection at Sotheby’s Olympia in 2001, that included 211 lots of Ruskin pottery, set many of the auction records for the factory. Several large-scale pieces passed the £5000 mark. The highest auction price of more recent times was the £5500 bid at Bigwoods in Stratford-Upon-Avon in September 2020 for a 17in (42cm) vase and cover with a speckled green glaze from 1905 that carried a label reading Ruskin Pottery Grand Prize St. Louis.

Mark Newstead, consultant for the sale said: “The seller was delighted with the results and was especially pleased with the prices for some of the low-fired wares, that are often less commercial but were generally well received.

"The provenance was an added attraction, with some of the pieces with multiple museum labels. There were no ‘blockbuster’ examples amongst this group, so it was very gratifying that most pieces found good homes with collectors”.