Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Rarity isn't everything

One of my old hobbies was collecting antique china, or porcelain as it's usually called in collecting circles. I don't know why I took it up, it just happened for some reason.

Anyway, I came to know quite a bit about the subject and together with my better half spent a lot of time hunting around antique fairs, junk shops or whatever. One day I came across the saucer dish pictured above. These shallow, straight-sided, flat-bottomed dishes were fashionable during the 1830s, possibly running into the 1840s. Nobody seems quite sure what they were used for even though they must have been very popular because loads have survived. Maybe they were soup dishes.

The dish I discovered isn't at all unusual apart from the mark on the back - the letters TE in a fancy border. Even when I first took a look at the thing, I knew I hadn't seen the mark before and was pretty sure it was a rarity. Often these dishes aren't marked at all or they have fake Chinese marks. Yes that's right - fake Chinese marks because China is the home of porcelain.

Anyway, I bought the thing for (I think) £4 and when I got it home I found that TE wasn't in the standard book of marks. Maybe it still isn't - I haven't looked recently. A bit of investigation and an opinion from an acknowledged national expert strongly indicated that this dish is a piece of Thomas Ellis porcelain. Thomas Ellis is recorded as a china-manufacturer in Longton, Staffordshire from about 1830 to 1835, so the mark fits well with this attribution.

The interesting thing for me was that there were no other recorded examples of Thomas Ellis porcelain. It was a unique piece - and possibly still is. All very satisfactory for a collector apart from one thing - as a piece of antique porcelain the quality is  crap. Too good for Oliver Twist's workhouse gruel, but that's the biggest lift you can give it.

The pattern is known as the Brosely pattern, a forerunner of Willow Pattern. This is a printed pattern and it is obvious that Thomas used second-hand printing plates because the pattern is decidedly blurred. It is very pale too, so Thomas was on a tight budget and had to be stingy with the cobalt. The stilt-marks where the dish rested on fire-clay supports during firing are also clearly visible - on the 'decorative' side at that.

So what's it worth?

Well obviously there are no collectors of Thomas Ellis porcelain apart from me and there are no collectors of crappy-quality antique porcelain either. No supply and no demand in other words. Poor old Thomas - it's a curio, worth very little. I still like it though, partly because there must be a story behind Thomas Ellis and his doomed enterprise and partly because it may be crappy but it is super-rare and I found it.    


Electro-Kevin said...

A good eye all the same.

That means you'll be ready for the big one when it happens along.

I've always wondered what I'd do if I found someone unaware of what they've got selling it ridiculously cheap. Would I snap it up ?

Or would I tell the dear old lady selling her late husband's 1957 Fender Stratocaster for a monkey that it's worth ten thousand quid ?

I don't think my conscience could bear it.

A K Haart said...

EK - I've had thoughts along those lines and I know I'd tell her what it's worth. In the end it's just stuff.