20/01/2024 General News
Fashions in ceramics come and go, but one name which has never really faded is Moorcroft, writes David Broom. Despite – or perhaps because of – Moorcroft being a late starter in the world of Stoke pottery, the brand has been popular more or less from the moment it was introduced, and its prestige, and the prices it fetches in the saleroom, continue to grow.
William Moorcroft’s work was first launched into the world in 1897 while he was just 24 and employed at James Macintyre & Co in Stoke-on-Trent. Moorcroft was a graduate of what is now the Royal College of Art in London, and he brought a striking modernist approach to design. His first innovative range of pottery, Florian ware, won him a Gold Medal at the 1904 World Fair in St Louis, Missouri.
His work was soon being purchased by prestigious retailers such as Liberty, Harrods and Tiffany. Despite working for Macintyre, Moorcroft personalised each piece he made with his own signature or initials – which did little to endear him to his employer, whose own reputation was soon being overshadowed by that of his young employee.
In 1913, with the aid of a substantial investment from Liberty, Moorcroft was able to leave Macintyre and set up his own factory. He took with him many of the skilled workers from Macintyre and established himself not far from his erstwhile employer; the damage to Macintyre was such that the same year it closed its art pottery department and concentrated on making electrical insulators.
Queen Mary was an avid collector of Moorcroft’s work, and in 1928 a Royal Warrant as ‘Potters to HM The Queen’ was granted to the firm.
William Moorcroft continued designing right up until his death in 1945, when his son Walter took over; he would remain in charge until his retirement in 1987. The Moorcroft design studio still exists (as does the factory), under the leadership of Rachel Bishop, who joined in 1993 aged 24 – the same age that William Moorcroft joined Macintyre nearly 100 years previously.
Moorcroft was a hugely innovative designer, introducing completely new techniques including ‘tubelining’, a way of decorating the pottery by outlining the design by hand in a trailed slip (a bit like piping icing onto a cake), and experimenting with high temperature flambé techniques, which produces a high glaze with vibrant colours.
Because the Moorcroft factory is still operating, this is a maker which collectors can start to collect in an accessible and affordable way; but it is early 20th century pieces which are most prized in the auction room.
Such pieces come up rarely, and usually in small numbers, and the rarest designs, including pieces made exclusively for Liberty and striking flambé glazed pottery, command high prices. In Keys’ Summer Fine Sale last year, a one-owner collection of 16 stunning pieces ranging from the original Florian ware through Claremont and Hazeldene patterns to mid century vases in the Spring Flowers design, had collectors from all over the world buzzing, with several pieces selling in the thousands.
Perhaps because his designs were so far ahead of their time, the appeal of early Moorcroft pottery has been a constant in the saleroom over the years. Despite their age, they feel modern, and the simplicity of the designs distinguish them from more elaborate and ornate Victorian pottery.
It is difficult to imagine what an impact such an approach must have had in the early years of the 20th century, as Britain emerged from over 70 years of Victorian culture. These are timeless pieces which are not out of place in the most modern homes today.
The Moorcroft factory is still active. It continues to supply Liberty, and although it is the early pieces which are most sought-after in the saleroom, Moorcroft pottery from any period will always attract a buyer.