Crown Devon Pottery

I’ve been collecting Crown Devon for years now, ever since I was quite young. My grandparents liked it, which was a factor, and then I went to Napier one holidays. That was the real beginning, as Napier is the Art Deco capital of New Zealand.

Some background first : Crown Devon originates from Stoke-on-Trent, and the first pieces were seen at the British Industries Fair in 1918. But the original owner was Simon Fielding in the 1870′s who named the factory ‘Railway Works’. When he had money troubles his son Abraham stepped in to save his fathers business!

 

The most eye catching pieces have a beautiful glazed finish ; they are called ‘Lustre’. These evolved over about ten years, from the earlier pieces which are called ‘Lustrine’. These are just beautiful, with colours that change when you turn the piece in your hand. I’ve seen the red, green, pink and blue and I know there are yellow, orange and pearl as well.

I briefly flirted with Carlton Ware and would not turn a piece down if I found one that really appealed to me, but the funny thing is that there was apparently a huge rivalry between Carlton Ware and Crown Devon! The lead designer from Carlton Ware was headhunted to work at Crown Devon, and from then on Crown Devon went from strength to strength.

This happy state of affairs lasted until the English pottery industry went though a recession in the 1970′s and 1980′s. After many people were laid off, the factory itself struggled for a time and then ultimately had to close. Unfortunately the works themselves were demolished, which I believe was a huge loss. But Crown Devon is hugely collectible and the pleasure I have gained from owning these beautiful and artistic pieces is a huge source of enjoyment.

Now let me tell you about my favourite pieces that I have collected over the years.

I have a small cream jug which I found in a second hand shop in Raglan, New Zealand. I was rather broke at the time and had wandered in purely to browse. I had no intention of buying anything, and was fossicking through an uninspiring looking motley stack of boring tableware. The jug caught my eye as it was an unusual combination of colours, and I really liked the basic shape. I picked it up and it felt good in my fingers. There and then I decided to buy it ; it had a horrible sticker on it and was for sale for a dollar. On turning it over I discovered the familiar Crown Devon print on the bottom, with some hand painted numbers as well.

When I took it up to the counter the lady also turned it over, and noticed the stamp. She started to tell me that I would have to pay more for it, and despite the fact that I do not usually argue, I did this time! I told her that I would pay the advertised price for it and that was all. She shrugged and let me have it. I was delighted!

I struggled to remove the awful sticker, and if you are ever in this position please do not rub or scrub. The best way to do it is to use a drop of eucalyptus oil on a piece of soft cloth and wipe carefully. Don’t use anything abrasive that would mark the surface. Even if crazing is present, you don’t want to do anything that will leave permanent marks.

The jug has had pride of place in my kitchen ever since – it is very obviously hand painted and has alwys been extensively crazed. But that adds to its appeal in my eyes.

The other piece I have which is really enjoyable is a delicate pink cup and saucer. The set is edged with gold, and is stamped in gold as well. It also has a hand painted number on the bottom of the saucer. The saucer itself is rather strangely shaped. It extends out to one side so that a lady can use it for a breakfast set, and put down her piece of toast! This was another lucky find from a second hand shop.

Finally I have a very delicate and pearlescent tiny gravy boat and saucer. This has the most vivid colours of anything in my collection, and the red flower that is a feature of the design is off center from the edge of the gravy boat. It’s really stunning, it positively glows! This has meaning to me because my brother and sister in law paid a visit to Napier, and bought it especially for me in an antique shop.

I am always on the lookout for ‘new’ pieces, and as you are a collector I will hand you on some hints and tips.

Crown Devon was a well regarded name, but a lot of the pieces sold for ‘tuppence’ in the 20′s and 30′s. If you come across an estate sale or similar, you might be lucky enough to find pieces that were lumped in with other household crockery. There are many different ‘names’, but some I think are interesting are the ‘Royals’. These are Royal Devon, Royal Stuart (because that’s my brothers name) but the one to look for is Royal Scotia. Another area of interest to me are the animal pieces which were pained before 1914. So if you see an elderly animal languishing in an old shop, make sure you have a closer look. I would love to find a pheasant, dog or one of the cattle pieces, because my grandparents were farmers and my great-grandfather particularly liked going pheasant-shooting so I have an association there, and I think that is what collecting is all about. It has to be something personal to you, that gives you pleasure, and not just collecting for the sake of it.

Don’t be frightened to use and handle your china. I keep mine for special afternoon tea parties which is a lot of fun and people appreciate it! But when you’re finished, do not put the pieces in the dishwasher! The detergent is far too strong. I also don’t trust the action of the water washing around in there, I think it’s too harsh.

If food is spilt on the dishes, rinse them off in good time to avoid anything getting stuck on that you might have to scrub to remove.

Put a tea towel in the bottom of your sink and run some warm water. Don’t have it too hot, and also make sure your detergent is mild. If you need to use gloves to put your hands in the water, it is probably too hot. I use a dishcloth to watch the pieces, not a brush. Let them air dry on another tea towel.

If you are going to stack your pieces, the best thing to do is to put a paper towel in between each one. This will hopefully avoid chipping. I have never chipped any of my pieces, all you have to do is be aware that you are handling something precious that might not be as strong as it used to be and you’ll be fine.

Don’t subject the dishes to extremes of temperature, and be prepared that some items will have some crazing. This is when the surface is covered in a fine pattern of ‘cracks’. This is the glaze, not the item itself. Some people attempt to clean this as it can discolour, I have never tried, just in case.

Another point to consider is that it makes it a lot more fun to collect piece you feel a personal attachment to. I personally like items that can be used for afternoon tea. I’m not so interested in the big tureens, for example. So I like to look for jugs and cups and saucers, you might like something like vases. You might decide to only collect a particular colour or shape.

There are many reference books around in which you can look up the backmarks (the marks/stamps on the bottom of the piece). You can find out interesting facts from these! And learning the history of the different factories is great too. I laughed when I found out I was attracted to two different types of china whose manufacturers had been so full of rivalry towards each other! A book I would love to acquire (if I ever got my hands on it) was written by Ray Barker, and was named ‘The Crown Devon Collectors Handbook’. It quickly became very popular and you pay a lot of money for a copy of it now, if you can find one.

If you are like me, you will spend many happy hours scouring through second hand shops as well as attending auctions to see what’s available. The next thing that will happen – you’ll decide you need to collect the appropriate tea-spoons, linen, table-cloths and other accoutrements to set the scene properly …


Our expert of this article is Bella Squee is a free lance writer and life long collector of Crown Devon china. You can reach her at www.squee.com.au