Sunday, November 11, 2007

A very bad host

Well, I have been rather remiss in my blogging duties and have not fulfilled the role of a good host. My apologies - the collecting bug has been soooooo strong recently that I have found very little time to pull myself away from staring, sometimes rather peculiarly and more often inappropriately at my collection (we pottery collectors are a very weird bunch indeed - at least so I found on a recent visit to the Stoke-on-Trent Ceramics festival). I have been encouraged to do more, however, by recent visitors and their messages; at last, some other Victorian pottery fans! I was beginning to think I was the only one in the village. It may still be early days to think of starting a Powell Bishop & Stonier or BISTO (non-gravy of course) collectors club as two or three members constitutes more of a menage than a bachanalian orgy of ceramic lust, but it's a start. And if I can go some way to tempting errant Carltonware, Wedgewood or Meakin (curator at The Potteries Museum, you know who you are ;-) collectors away from their perverse desires, so much the better.

Well, on with the blog...

One of the ways of proving yourself a good host in the Victorian period was to put on a good spread! Tea, coffee, sandwiches, cake and biscuits were all part of the Victorian's charm offensive. Just as today, people's everyday tableware was usually different to that used for guests and special ocassions; they were usually of better quality, more intricate or patterned and intended to show off the host's good taste and wealth. There were all sorts of manners and rituals around "high tea" - you can even now visit a rather peculiar tearoom in Brighton where the owner scorns if you dare dunk your biscuits in homage to the traditional etiquette of taking tea ( i'm afraid i can't remember the name of it, but i'm sure you'll find it on the internet). My collection has a few full & part teasets and coffeesets which i would like to share with you. This first coffee set is a fantastic art deco Bisto collection: a white porcelain body with black Egyptian inspired scarab type motifs and banding. It was an absolute steal on Ebay because of the badly listed title and poor photos so I was delighted to be able to add it to my collection so affordably. The Egyptian theme was very prominant in the early part of the 20th century because of Howard Carter's exploration of the Valley of the Kings and the discovery of Tutankamun's tomb. Hyroglyphs, egyptian motifs and "orientalist" scenes of deserts and camel riders were popular. In other arts, fantastic photographers like Zangaki and Lehnert & Landrock brought images of the mystical east to the gagging European market.

This part coffeeset ( i'm missing a cup and the coffee pot - if you know of any, do tell me!) is from around 1890-1900 and is very definitely an aesthetic movement design (I have previously written about the motifs and merits of this movement). It comes from the Oriental Ivory range and is very stylish in it's simple use of colour - coming away from the multi-enamelled pieces from a few years earlier. It is the beginning of a period when design became less fussy and cluttered and in a sense, more minimal - a precurssor to sharp and simple deco design.

This coffeeset ( i have previously featured one cup, but only recently managed to purchase the rest of the set) is again from the Aesthetic movement period and draws heavy influence from Japanese design. The colour scheme of black and orange transfers with small areas of turquoise enamels is extremely stylish and is perfectly finished off by the gilded edges. The fantastic octagonal shapes are delightful and illustrate the fine quality of this set as it was certainly not cheap to produce wares like this. This is a bone china Bisto piece and bears the wand of caduceus mark so must have been made some time soon after the company became Bishop & Stonier. I have also seen the same design in a red transfer colourway but i must say I prefer this version.

I recently took the teapot from this set to an Antiques Roadshow valuation day and met expert Fergus Gambon - son of Michael (Dumbledore) Gambon. He assured me that these kind of sets were indeed made with only two cups and saucers, probably for a husband and wife to enjoy tea in bed, brought by their maid servant! I had previously wondered if the whole "tea for two" thing was something that was made up by dealers who had broken 4-cup teasets and thought a "tete-a-tete" sounded better than a four piece with one broken cup and a chipped saucer. Fergus's valuation was very satisfying as he said it should fetch at least £200 for such a stylish aesthetic set.

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Sometimes, life doesn't turn out the way you expected. And sometimes, it is exactly as it was 'meant' to be. But whilst i'm not a believer in fate or fatalism, I do believe that life is a both a learning experience and an obstacle course to be climbed and clambered over in the most creative way possible! In doing so, you'll get to where you should be even if it's not where you'd imagined.