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Rare Burgess & Leigh swans and lilies charger by Charlotte Rhead – £3300 at Potteries Auctions.

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The great Staffordshire ceramicist Charlotte Rhead was already a well-known name when in 1926 she left Wood & Son for a new role with near-neighbour Burgess & Leigh.

Early the following year, the firm (maker of the popular Burleigh Ware range) took a full-page advert in The Pottery Gazette to announce the arrival of ‘the accomplished lady artist’ and the creation of a new handcrafted tube-lined range that carried her signature.

Most of Rhead’s distinctive wares targeted the middle market but the years at Burgess & Leigh also involved the creation of a deluxe range of large chargers. These are thought to have been tube-lined by Rhead herself rather than by her team and cost as much as 24 shillings each to make. They show Rhead in her best light and provide collectors with their ‘grail’ objects.

Made-to-order, some of these survive in very small numbers. They include rarities such as a geisha plaque (sold for a record £4900 at Horners of Acle, Norfolk, in April 2004), an elaborately dressed Eastern princess with grapes and parrot (£3600 at Charles Ross, Woburn in September 2017) and a galleon in full sail (£4750 at McTear’s in Glasgow).

A little more commonly encountered, but equally fine quality, are Burleigh Ware wall plaques decorated with Persian-style flowers and a pheasant in branches of fruiting pomegranates. The latter have brought as much as £3100 (at Hartleys of Ilkley in 2004) but it is indicative of a softening market that the last at auction took a more modest £550 at Thomson Roddick in February 2019.

Pottery sale at Potteries

The sale at Potteries Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) in Newcastle-under-Lyme on July 13-14 included a hitherto unrecorded 14in (36cm) Burleigh Ware plaque with a central image of three swans on a lily pond. It came for sale from the sister of Nellie Montford, a freelance paintress who in her teens had completed the coloured ‘infill’ work after Rhead had provided the delicate tubelining.

The presence of a small firing fault to the reverse may be the reason it was never offered commercially. It was estimated at £300-600 but after half-a-dozen collectors locked horns it sold at £3300 – among the highest bids ever received for Rhead.

The winning bidder was leading collector Anthony Chapman. He told ATG:“You can never say for sure that it is the only one, but in 30 years of collecting I, and other collectors, have never seen this piece. That it came for sale from a direct descendant of the paintress is proof that it has never been on the market before.”

Showbiz appeal

Sold at £1450 was the Royal Doulton prototype small-size character jug of Marilyn Monroe. Designed in 2005 for the Celebrity Film Star collection but never put into production, the handle is formed by a lipstick, a pearl necklace and a film reel. The saleroom sold a similar jug for £2100 in 2016 while Kingham & Orme in Evesham sold another for £2500 in March this year.

The surprise lot in the sale was a group of membership cards for Liverpool music venues estimated at £40-60 that sold to an online bidder at £1700. These included cards for the Cavern Club dated 1962 and 1963 plus a ticket for a November 7, 1961, performance by ‘The Fabulous Beatles’ at the Merseyside Civic Service Club.

Also included in the lot were three ‘record request’ cards for DJ Bob Wooler – the Cavern Club regular instrumental in introducing The Beatles to Brian Epstein.

Famously, Wooler was beaten up by an alcohol-fuelled John Lennon after suggesting a holiday in Barcelona with Epstein had been a ‘honeymoon’.