Motto Ware

Last night, as part of our life on the edge lifestyle, my wife an I were watching a re-run episode from the Vicar of Dibley series and somebody said “better a flawed diamond than a flawless pebble”. I thought it was a wonderful motto and tried to recall ever having seen it on a piece of Motto Ware.

Motto Ware was first introduced at Aller Vale, near Newton Abbott. The Aller Vale Pottery was founded in 1881 by John Philips.

Motto Ware is essentially everyday household items inscribed with light hearted sayings and rhyming mottos, often extolling the virtues of hard work and sober living. All production was without mechanisation, the clay was dug locally, the Pottery hand thrown on a wheel and the paints and glazes made on the premises.

A typical piece of Motto Ware will have a yellow slip ground covering most of the piece, leaving edges, spouts and handles in the dark brown slip. The most common pattern is the “Scandy” pattern, which is highly coloured stylised feathers. Sgraffito is the name given to the pattern which forms the letters of the motto. It simply means scratching through the yellow slip to form the letters.

Motto Ware was made until the mid 20th century. Examples are fairly easy to find and generally they are undervalued. An investment opportunity awaits the collector perhaps?

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Clarice Cliff

One of my favourite designers and, due to our generational differences, someone I have never met, is Clarice Cliff. I have written about her more than once over the many years of my weekly missive and I have, I am sure said rare shapes, rare patterns and rare colours are by far the most expensive of her products. I have also said that the mundane pieces never attract a great deal of interest.

However, I have never really discussed Clarice herself. What an amazing woman she was. Unlike her four sisters Sara, Hannah, Dorothy and Ethel, Clarice had a goal for herself and she was determined to achieve it.

At the age of 17, due to a shortage of workers caused by the First World War, Clarice Cliff began a job as an apprentice lithographer with the A J Wilkinson factory in Burslem. Here she began to learn the techniques of modelling, gilding and decorating. The girls who worked with Clarice at this time recalled that she was never really one of them. When they left for home Clarice stayed behind practicing and modelling because she regarded her work as more than just a job.

For a female to become a designer in the 1920’s was really unheard of and it was largely due to her incredibly strong personality, amazing talent and her association with one of the Shorter brothers who owned the factory.

When the brothers purchased Newport Pottery, the adjoining factory to their own, Colley Shorter quickly recognised Clarice Cliffs talents. He became her protector, her sponsor, and her lover. By 1927 he had set her up in her own small studio and on 21st December 1940 he married her.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website


I have a wife, who is female, three out of my four children are female and four out of my many grandchildren are female. It is fair to say therefore that I am familiar with the doll as a toy. There is one doll all my females, including my wife in her oh so distant childhood, all loved; enter Barbie.

Barbie was developed by the toy company Mattel, run by Harold Mattson and Elliot Handler. Elliot’s wife Ruth created the idea and made Barbie a success.

By the 1950s Mattel was enjoying great success. Ruth’s idea to produce a plastic doll which would aid imaginary play, having watched her daughter playing make believe with paper dolls, did not go down well with her male colleagues. The costs and scepticism at producing a doll with explicit adult features also met with resistance, despite that Ruth had observed her daughter recreating adult like situations with her paper dolls.

It was in Switzerland on holiday that Ruth noticed in a shop window a doll similar to her own idea. However this doll was targeting a purely adult market. Eventually Mattel acquired the patent for this doll and after an analysis of every technical detail of the body design, the doll we know today was born, named after Ruth’s daughter Barbara, finally arriving on the American toy market in 1959.

The first Barbie ever produced measured 11.5” and was available in both blonde and brunette. She wore a black and white swim suit, black high heeled shoes, white sunglasses and gold earrings.

Barbie’s initial success and prevailing popularity is not in her adult features, but in her wardrobe, her ability to be transformed simply with a change of outfit. There are endless accessories on sale today and Barbie still has the ability to inspire children’s imagination, the essence of Ruth’s initial vision.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Goldscheider Figurines

The Goldscheider Porcelain Manufacturer and Majolica Factory was founded in Vienna in 1885 by Freidrich Goldscheider. It quickly earned itself international acclaim becoming one of the leading ceramics companies in Europe opening branches in Paris, Florence, Leipzig and Berlin. Freidrich worked with his sons Walter and Marcell who would later move to America and England respectively to continue expanding the business after Hilter’s regime forced the family to flee Austria in 1938.

The Goldscheider factories are probably the most well known of the potteries who made the beautiful Art Deco figurines that were so popular in the 1920s and 30s. The figurines depicted elegant, slim-lined and fashionable ladies typically displayed in movement, whether it was mid-dance, an acrobatic stance or simply a sweeping gesture, with dramatic curves that allowed their flowing dresses and sleeves to produce eye-catching, decorative features for the pieces.

The large flat areas of the extended dresses, scarves or sleeves were decorated with intricate, colourful designs that contrasted with the light, porcelain-like skin tones of the women. A high quality of detail and skill in the artwork as well as a characterful and appealing face all add value to these figurines. Erotic subjects are particularly popular. Damage or poor restoration can dramatically reduce desirability and thus value.

Many talented designers worked with Goldscheider at this time and work by two of the best, Stefan Dakon and Josef Lorenzl is particularly desirable. Dakon and Lorenzl worked on a huge range of these stylish and stylised women, working not just in ceramics but also in the more desirable and expensive bronze and ivory.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Buying at Auction during lockdown…

Hammer up…hammer down….Buying at Auction in 2020……. An Auctioneers tips…

Perhaps beyond school boy Latin or an auctioneers stock Latin of ‘caveat emptor’, the origins of the word auction come from the Latin  ‘auctum’ broadly translated as ‘I increase’. Through history this is usually what happens to a price in an auction…it goes up. Bid with a hand, a wink, a nod, a wave, written down, or on a telephone and now as technology advances and times change, through the technology of the internet. 

Auctions date back in history many thousands of years to the Roman and Greek empires, however the modern auction as perhaps it is known today started to gain some favour in the 18th Century with Christies being founded by James Christie in the 1760’s. The development of auctions since then has seen advances in technology that have been game changers, photography perhaps one area that comes to mind, but it is unlikely there has been a more influencial change than the dawn of the internet. 

There are 2  developments in the world of auctions in the last 50 years that have at times created significant commentary, the dawn of the buyers commission in 1975, and in the early 2000’s the dawn of auction online marketing and bidding. However both appear to be here to stay and in these challenging times the world of the internet and online bidding are key to running an auction at minimum risk to all.     

Back in the 17th Century the concept of the ‘candle auction’ was popular. It was a simple formula where the last bid shouted out before the candle went out was the winner. To help ensure you do not get your fingers burnt in the modern world of auctions, here are some tips to help from the rostrum:   

  1. Once you have identified a lot you may be interested in read the description carefully and study the photograph, if you require any further information contact the auction house for a more detailed description often referred to as a ‘Condition Report’, or ask a  specific question.  
  2. If the photographs available online are not enough or the angle you require is not pictured, ask the auctioneers to send you further images. 
  3. Condition reports and extra photographs take time to process,and during these times requests have increased many fold so get your requests in early to avoid any disappointment.   
  4. When it comes to registering to take part in the auction always try and register in plenty of time. You may experience teething problems or if there is a question over your registration it can take time to resolve. 
  5. Once the auction starts, get involved with your bidding as soon as you can. Remember you can see the auctioneer, they cannot see you so cannot use any other sign of your intention other than you pressing the button and participating. 
  6. Online auctions are often slower than those in different times, so if you are planning your timing take this into account. Ask the auction house how many lots per hour they might do.  
  7. Although auctioneers may be closed to public attendance, bidding online may not be the only way you can participate, you may be able to leave direct commission bids with the auctioneers, or book a telephone line. Contact the auctioneer to find out all the options 
  8. Be sure you are aware of all the charges you may have to pay depending on how you intend to bid to avoid any surprises and to help you set your limit. 
  9. In these strange times remember to plan carefully how you pare to get hold of your winning lots and do not get caught out by size, weight or cost. Options might include pack and post direct from the auctioneer, courier, mail companies and some auction houses may have a limited direct and controlled collection service. If you are unsure speak to the auctioneers before the auction and get any relevant quotes. 
  11. After the sale if you are experiencing any challenges over your purchase, contact the auctioneers and keep them informed.
  12. Occasionally items may go unsold during a sale. If you are interested in any of these items contact the auctioneers direct after the sale to see if a deal can be done on these items.     

Remember when the hammer goes down….it’s sold. Stay safe, good luck and happy hunting ‘online’!


Forty three years ago last week my wife and I plunged headlong into life together. For our honeymoon I treated my bride to four nights in the Lake District, in a little known hostel, costing the princely sum of six pounds a night, which I excitedly told her included breakfast, an evening meal and en-suite facilities. I loved her so much I would have bought her one of the missing Faberge Imperial eggs, but she seemed happy enough with our room.

Peter Carl Faberge was born in 1846 and he gained a reputation for elegance and originality in his jewellery design after taking over his father’s shop in St Petersburg at the tender age of twenty four.

In 1884 he was commissioned by the Tsar Alexander III to make the first Imperial Easter egg. These projects became top priority for the company and were planned and worked on far in advance, sometimes for over a year. Fifty six Imperial eggs were made and the location of all but about ten is known.

This relationship with the Imperial family blossomed and lasted right up until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and it opened up many doors of influence for Faberge. Perhaps his greatest success was expanding production to include purely decorative objects, called his ‘Objects of Fantasy’

Many of the Faberge pieces sold today fetches huge prices on the international stage with a ‘jet set’ following. However it is still possible to purchase some of the more ‘modest’ brooches or smaller jewellery items such as tiepins and cuff links in salerooms at more reasonable prices. The miniature enamel and jewelled egg pendants are still far and away the most popular of all these ‘more affordable’ gems.

What about fakes? Well, fakes are so common in the field of Faberge that the Fine Art world came up with a special little phrase, ‘Fauxberge’ to encompass them all. They include everything from near perfect matches to disastrous copies.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Auctions Covid Style

I remember many, many years ago, when my father was alive and computers were in their infancy, having a discussion with him about the internet and he said to me “one day we will sell a whole auction on a computer and no one will be in the saleroom”. I remember laughing with him in a “Yeh, right Dad?!” sort of a way. Well Dad…. you were right.

Last Monday at Sheffield Auction Gallery that happened. No one there, but everyone there, no need to distance because everyone was at home. It was amazing and the prices were exactly what we would have expected from a “regular” auction and in some cases, better.

One thing Covid-19 has done for us all is to make us think outside of the usual box our thoughts tend to be restricted to. The pub pulling pints of beer from the back of a van, until it was stopped. The restaurants turning into takeaways. Endless small shops delivering food, filling a gap the supermarkets can’t cope with. The list goes on and on.

Believe it or not, the auction fraternity is also thinking outside of it’s own little box. Well, some of us are. Now it is well known in many circles that my ability with and love of, all things IT is questionable, so it is difficult for me to take any credit for Monday’s auction, but by golly I am still going to bask in it’s glory. It was brilliant.

This is the way forward through our Covid-19 experience and ourselves along with some of the other Auction Houses around the country are marching onward. When the present crisis is a dim and distant memory these sales will still be running alongside the regular auctions.

Collection of goods following the sale will still be very controlled with strict distancing observed by all and of course the postal delivery service will take a great deal.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website


In our dining room we have a Bakelite telephone. Once upon a time this was connected to our extensive ‘two phone’ telephone system. The problem was because of a fault on the receiver we were forced to shout to be heard, resulting in conversations being somewhat stilted. Repair was always discussed but never enacted so a modern replacement now graces our dining area. The Bakelite telephone is still around though and the grandchildren love it.

Plastics and Bakelite really epitomise the energy of modern design between the wars. Their bright colours, exciting styling and new affordable materials caught people’s imagination at the time and now their appeal is being rediscovered because these early plastic items are an easy inexpensive way to achieve the Art Deco look.

Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, was developed in1907 by a Belgian, Dr Leo Baekeland. In the 1920’s and 1930’s it hit its peak in popularity and was known as the ‘material of a thousand uses’. Bakelite and its imitations ushered in a new age of colourful and stylish, yet inexpensive household goods.

Bakelite can be identified by the strong carbolic smell it gives off when rubbed. It was made in mottled and plain browns, black, green, red and blue. Colours other than brown and black make any plastic object more desirable and larger objects, particularly in Bakelite, are rare and so more valuable.

Styling is also very important and pieces that reflect the Art Deco style of the 1930’s – typified by stepped forms, streamlining and clean lines- are especially collectable. Plastics from the 1950’s onwards tend to be less desirable and so less valuable as styling is not as strong and the quality is generally poorer than the early plastics made between 1910 and 1930.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Carriage Clocks

I love the motor car and I love all the gadgets and accessories found inside the motor car. Had I been born in the 19th century I am sure I would have been just as passionate about the carriage and without doubt one of the first “in carriage” accessories I would have purchased would have been a carriage clock. They were a marvellous little mechanism.

If the basic carriage clock had had a tin, it would have done exactly what it said on it. It was a clock, it told the time and it could be taken into a carriage. A standard carriage clock is plain, made of brass, has clear glass panels and a white enamel dial. It stands about five inches tall.

Following the invention of the coil spring in the 16th century the carriage clock and other portable clocks became far more attractive propositions. The French were leaders in carriage clock production, although we English did make some larger heavier examples. The 19th century was the hey-day of the carriage clock and when the First World War began in1914 production faltered greatly and never really recovered

Value is influenced by many things. Quality, as always, is a great barometer. Size also affects value, with small and tiny clocks being very desirable. Enamelling on the brass frames adds to collectability.

A carriage clock with a repeater mechanism is always more highly prized and the minute repeater is the best of all. In the dark, through the case the weary traveller can press a button on top of the clock and then listen to the time. First count the hour strike, then count the quarters striking and finally count the minutes past the last quarter being struck.

Simple, very technical and very expensive.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website


Recently my wife and I decided, for a fixed period, to stop drinking wine. This went well until we found ourselves in an Italian restaurant with two friends. We decided that eating out in company could be an exception. The following week our son and his family came to stay and we decided that eating in with visitors would also count as an exception. We are searching hard for further exceptions as the corkscrew awaits our next move.

Worldwide there are a thousand patents for different types of bottle openers, but the most common remains the corkscrew. There are essentially two types; the straight pull, which relies on strength and the mechanical versions which are more sought after and more valuable.

The interest in corkscrews comes from a mixture of things, including the mechanism used such as levers, crank handles and complex concertina styles, the handles made in a variety of materials and their individual style including decorative form and advertising.

The first English corkscrew patent was taken out by Samuel Henshall in 1795 for a T-shaped straight pull and it lasted for fourteen years. Early versions of the corkscrew are very rare and can be extremely valuable.

During the 19th century many patents were taken out for a variety of different corkscrews. Examples to look out for include Robert Jones’ design of 1840, which has a brass ‘worm’ or screw and three prongs to pierce and grip the cork. Jones’ design enjoyed limited success in its day, probably because like many of today’s tin openers, it didn’t work very well. Today however it is a rare and valuable find, sometimes realising more than four figure sums in auction, if intact and in good condition.

Corkscrews of the twentieth century are less valuable, due to the simpler less appealing designs and the volume of their production, but they would be a good place to start a collection. Unusual examples with fine mechanisms or beautifully crafted versions are always worth watching out for though.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website