15/02/2022 General News
David Broom of Keys Auctioneers & Valuers explores the enduring appeal of Royal Worcester porcelain.
In the 18th century, the undisputed epicentre of European porcelain making was Meissen in Germany, (and after 1760, also Sèvres in France). The factory at Meissen, near Dresden, was the first in Europe to use hard-paste porcelain (which had been made in China for 1,000 years before that), and as such it, along with Sèvres, became the benchmark against which all European porcelain was judged.
This didn’t stop an English porcelain industry growing up in the second half of the 1700s, with factories at Worcester and Derby setting up within a year of each other in 1750 and 1751 (although the Chelsea porcelain manufactory, which made soft-paste porcelain, pre-dates both, having been set up in 1745).
Whilst Meissen and Sèvres remain the real saleroom stars, there are plenty of collectors of English porcelain, and arguably Royal Worcester – the factory was granted a royal warrant in 1789 by King George III – is the most in-demand of our domestic producers.
In its early years, due to the huge popularity of Meissen, most of the English makers tried to emulate the German producer when it came to design and especially decoration, with Royal Worcester employing artists such as Thomas Baxter and William Billingsley.
Royal Worcester porcelain is still made today, although following the collapse of the company at the end of 2008, the name and brand are now owned by the Portmeirion Pottery Group.
Royal Worcester of all vintages continues to sell well in the saleroom, with a combination of rarity and exquisite decoration being the thing that collectors will pay really good prices for.
These don’t necessarily need to be from the early years of the factory. One beautiful plate dating from the 1920s will go under the hammer at the end of this month in our Fine Sale. The main pattern is a fine painting of apples and blackberries. The porcelain artists who did this work were extraordinary – paid on a pretty basic piecework rate, they would churn out plates at an astonishing rate, and yet the artistry is superb.
The plate also features amazingly intricate goldwork around the outside, which would also have been applied by hand. It’s difficult to see how these pieces could be made in today’s labour market, and indeed they were really expensive when new. We are expecting the plate to sell for between £500 and £700.
In the same sale is a much earlier piece of Royal Worcester, a small serrated-edge pickle dish, dating from 1765. These would usually have been made in plain underglazed blue, as the vinegar in the pickles would quickly wear away any hand painting which had been applied after firing.
So this example – very much decorated to emulate the Meissen look – would either have been bought as a decorative item, or as a show of wealth, demonstrating that the buyer could afford to keep replacing pickle dishes as the decoration faded. Either way, it is very rare to see a hand painted Royal Worcester pickle dish in such good condition, and we have a conservative pre-sale estimate of £700-£900 on the piece.