Wade Ivy figure

Ivy, a monumental earthenware figure for the Festival of Britain in 1951, sold for £4200 at Potteries Auctions 72 years later.

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The circumstances were bittersweet.

This and other one-off Wade productions were coming to market following the decision to close Wade Ceramics and dispose of its assets after more than two centuries of production.

Ivy, as she has long been known by Wade employees, is far removed from the Wade ‘whimsies’ that made the factory a household name. It received mixed reviews as the centrepiece of Wade’s stand at the Stoke Pottery Exhibition in 1951 (part of the overall festival celebration). A letter to local newspaper The Sentinel read: “If this represents the industry, I wish I wasn’t in the trade.”

But history has been much kinder.

Based on a concept created by Wade pottery group chairman Colonel Sir George Wade (1891-1986) and the Potteries entrepreneur Harold Taylor Robinson (1877-1953), the figure’s designer was Colin Melbourne (1928- 2009).

Staffordshire born and bred, he is perhaps best known today as the modeller of a series of avant-garde figures for Beswick but he also worked with Crown Devon, Wedgwood, Royal Norfolk and Midwinter.

He worked with Wade in his early 20s as part of an experimental workshop in c.1951-53.

Discussing this piece in the Wade in-house magazine Jolly Pottery in 1952, he said: “I set out in the belief that behind the superficial appearance of nature there is some kind of spiritual significance. Because a work of art does not aim at giving a camera-like copy of nature it does not mean it is divorced from life – but it may be searching for a deeper, more satisfying reality”.

Family bidder

Among Ivy’s many 21st century admirers is George Wade, the great-grandson of Sir George Wade. He attended the auction on July 5 in person and – against an online bidder from the US and an estimate of £2000-4000 – was able to secure the piece for the family collection.

“I have never been so nervous in an auction. It has been a long wait knowing she was coming up,” he remarked.

“I’ve known her all my life and never thought I’d see the day come where we might be able to bring her back into the family.

“My great-grandfather set up an experimental studio in the early 1950s as an offshoot of the core business. With a young Colin Melbourne at the helm, they created some one-off pieces and Ivy certainly caused quite a stir at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Wade Ivy figure

A detail of the Wade Ivy figure.

“There were always rumours of a smaller version but no one seems to have ever seen one. Our assumption is [the studio] wanted a one-off piece to cause some shock.”

It is thought that none of Melbourne’s Wade designs entered full production.

Also included in the Potteries Auctions sale was a 14in (35cm) earthenware model of a hawk owl that is one of three pictured in an archival photo of the 1951 Stoke Pottery Exhibition.

Hawk owl figure

None of Colin Melbourne’s Wade designs entered full production. This rare model of a hawk owl sold to an internet bidder at £1400.

It sold to an internet bidder at £1400 (estimate £500-1000). Less spectacular sums greeted a wide range of factory prototype or colour sample pieces including numerous examples of the easily recognised ‘gluggle’ jugs and whimsies in a range of trial finishes from ‘dip’ white to gold plating.

Wade origins

The earliest days of Wade began in 1810 with the Henry Hallen pottery established near Chesterton, producing items for the textile industry.

The company traded in a similar mode until 1905, when it was taken over by George Wade & Son, one of several ceramic businesses operated by members of the Wade family since 1867. These unified in 1958 as Wade Potteries Limited, eventually becoming Wade Ceramics Limited in 1987.

The current George Wade is not yet sure the final note in the factory history has been written.

“The Wade brand has been sold so there is some hope that manufacturing might start up again. So maybe 1810 to 2022 are not the final dates,” he said

He added that the family is working towards a ‘museum’ website and has plans for an exhibition in Stoke with Ivy as the centre piece, similar to that held for Irish Wade 15 years ago.

However, the once vibrant Wade Collectors Club is closing after nearly 29 years.

The previous auction high for Wade is thought to be the figure of an ermine by designer Faust Lang that in 1997 made £1850. At the time it featured on the front page of ATG.