Totem Signs

Recently my wife and I, together with two friends, took a day trip to Pickering and the North York Moors Railway.

Our plan was to travel on the steam train to Goathland and then hike the pleasant downhill trail to Grosmont to catch the return train to Pickering. The tale is a long one, so cutting to the chase, so to speak, the sun turned to torrential rain and ten minutes from Grosmond we realised a spirited jog was the only way we would catch our ride home. Being the fitter, by a very short head, we dispatched our male friend to attempt to hold up the train. His story, that he was leading a walking party who were just around the corner, worked perfectly. As the three of us emerged through the trees, looking as though we had just stepped from a swimming pool, the driver, station staff and other passengers cheered us aboard. It was just like a scene from The Railway Children.

I recount this rain soaked tale as it reminds me of the nostalgia generated by anything train related. Take for example the totem signs which were introduced onto stations from 1948 when the railways were nationalised and split into six regions. The totem signs were a branding exercise by British Railways and the standard size was 36” long.

Totem signs were made in different colours for each region. There was pale blue for Scottish, orange for North Eastern, maroon/burgundy for Midlands, brown for Western and navy for Eastern. The background was coloured and the lettering was white.

British Railways (BR) began trading as British Rail from 1965 and so began the gradual removal of the totem signs from stations. As with most collectables, the value of totem signs depends largely on rarity but also condition and desirability; if the station or place was particularly interesting or remarkable or regionally important then this also affects the value. Some totem signs appear regularly at auction while some may never have been listed for auction or private sale and may not even have survived.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Leica Cameras

Whenever I am shown a group shot photograph the first person I look for is myself. If I am not there the relief is palpable, if I am, the image which stares back at me never fails to disappoint. The expression “the camera never lies” just adds to my disappointment.

With all the ‘apps’ available today though, the camera can in fact lie very easily. Images can be improved with very little effort. All those years ago when the pioneers were struggling just to develop a clear black and white photograph, the thought of taking, viewing, improving and printing a colour photograph in less time than it took to set up their camera, would never have entered their Victorian heads.

The same can be said for Oskar Barnack. Who was Oskar Barnack? He was a very clever gentleman who in 1911 joined the Leitz company run by Ernst Leitz and who had a passion for photography and was dedicated to building a portable camera. In 1913 he built a prototype and in 1914 he developed it enough for Ernst to take with him on a trip to New York.

Between 1914 and 1924 a lot of water flows under the company’s bridges and the camera goes into production. It is called Leica 1, Lei from the company name and ca from the word camera. In 1925 it is presented at the Leipzig Spring Fair and the rest is history. The camera is a rip-roaring success, the quality is superb and all future developments to it and other models are amazing.

Surprisingly it was not until 1986 that the company changed the name from Leitz to Leica and the Leica Camera division became a private independent company. What a company it was and still today their products are the envy of the world.

Collectors the world over love a Leica and in a recent auction we conducted with a collection of cameras, including many Leicas, most of the estimates were exceeded by large amounts. We are privileged and I have to say excited that on Thursday 14th October we have another camera auction with more Leicas on display. Can life get any better?

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Stan Shaw Knives

If I have had a hard day at work and my last valuation has been in a particularly dirty and badly neglected property I may arrive home somewhat disheveled, which my wife refers to as my ‘boy scout’ look. She has done this for many years as I am often disheveled. These thoughts take me back to my days in the Boy Scouts, which I have to say we’re by no means covered in glory, but I did love all the paraphernalia, especially the penknives.

In my youth both my father and I had a small collection of penknives, but as I grew my interest in the collection waned and now sadly it no longer exists. I say sadly because the interest in penknives is very strong at the moment and the market is very buoyant. Floating at the very top of that buoyant market are penknives by one of the best makers and Little Mesters, Mr Stan Shaw.

Stan Shaw only died very recently, in February to be exact. I never met him, but wish our paths had crossed over the years. From all I have heard and all I have read he was quite simply a lovely, kind and unassuming man. A quote from the Sheffield Industrial Museum Trust said he was a Sheffield legend and a true gentleman.

Stan Shaw worked in the industry from his apprenticeship with George Ibberson and Co. in 1941 right up to his death in 2021. That is really quite incredible, it is 80 years experience…… no wonder his knives were so special. One of the other things that made Stan’s knifes so special was that he made the whole knife, from start to finish. He did the forging, the grinding and the hafting which are usually separate processes.

The waiting list for a Stan Shaw knife, when he was alive, was four years and over his life time in the industry he made knives for Elvis Presley, some US Presidents and even the Queen. There is little wonder that in 2017 Stan was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to manufacturing.

Do these really special knives ever appear in the salerooms? The answer is yes they do, but they are by no means a common sight. We have been lucky enough to sell some in the past and we are privileged to have some more for sale in our Fine Sale on 28th October, so it’s not a four year wait but who knows when the next opportunity to buy will present itself.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Chelsea Porcelain

We have had our kitchen modernised. Actually we have had it practically rebuilt. To carry out this exciting rebuild has cost five or six times the price of our first house. Obviously we bought that house many moons ago and everything is relative, but I sincerely hope we will never need another kitchen.

Our previous kitchen incorporated a formal dining area, accessed through an arch and furnished in oak and it contained a pair of my late parents Chelsea figures, a gorgeous pair, but heavily restored. The new kitchen is all kitchen, apparently this is the way to live these days, so I wonder what will become of the Chelsea figures.

Chelsea Porcelain is very clearly divided into four periods defined by the marks used. The first period; the triangle period (1745-49) saw pieces marked with an incised triangle. Wares from this period have a glassy white body due to a proportion of crushed lead glass in the soft paste that can appear to have ‘pinholes’ in it when held to the light. Designs tended to be based on silver work with particular Rococo influence.

By the raised anchor period (1749-52) marked with an applied anchor on a small oval medallion, there had been some improvement in the quality of the glaze with less translucency. Many designs had a Meissen influence and scenes from Aesop’s Fables were popular. A small red or occasionally brown anchor defined the Red anchor period (1752-56) which saw fashions favour decorative tableware with designs such as fruit, animals and vegetables becoming popular. Figures from this period are particularly notable; the best produced by Flemish modeller Josef Willems. Finally the Gold anchor period (1757-69) where the small anchor was now painted gold saw an increased use of gilding and coloured grounds, the return to Rococo designs and many more elaborate figures produced.

In 1769 the factory was sold to William Duesbury of the Derby Porcelain factory and until 1784 produced Chelsea-Derby porcelain. In 1784 the Chelsea workshops were demolished with the majority of the moulds destroyed.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Wristwatches

As a young man I tried to play many sports and sadly failed badly in most and very badly in some. As a more mature man I have found a sport at which I seem to be as good as everyone else. Walking.

I have taken to it like the proverbial duck to water. So much so that I have purchased a watch. This instrument tells me how far, how fast and how well I have walked. It also tells me if I have slept, eaten, sat down too long, stood still too long and where all this has taken place. Actually it really is a little tedious and such a far cry from the first wrist watches of the early twentieth century.

During the early years of the twentieth century the wristwatch gradually began to replace the pocket watch. A wristwatch was a far more practical timekeeping method and was issued in the military during the First World War in reflection of this. Accurate timekeeping was now necessary and watches became everyday items instead of expensive possessions few could afford. Following the war, a new market emerged and by the end of the 1930s sales of the wristwatch were outnumbering the pocket watch.

The design of the earliest wristwatches was not that different from the pocket watch; the face was a smaller version and was attached to the straps with wire ‘lugs’. The earliest versions from the 1920s and 30s were usually simple rectangular or circular faces, reflecting the fashion of the period for geometric shapes and clean lines. During the 1940s and 50s, wristwatch design expanded to include more extravagant creations and unusual shapes with many watches taking on more of the stylistic traits of jewellery from the period.

As a rule the very earliest wristwatches usually hold low monetary value to collectors unless they are unusual or of particularly fine quality. Value is found in many factors, including the maker, the materials, the style and date of the watch as well as the type and complexity of the movement.

Some of the makers to look out for include the more famous Rolex, Omega and Cartier as well as the lesser known Hamilton and Elgin. Rolex, the brand developed in 1905 at Wilsdorf & Davies in London, is particularly interesting as Hans Wildorf actually started his first wristwatch factory on the basis of his theory that the wristwatch would became more popular than the more dominant pocket watch; a gamble that definitely paid off.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Josiah Wedgwood

One of the most inspirational men of the 18th century and there were definitely many, was Josiah Wedgwood. How exciting it would have been to sit down and chat about his experiences and experiments.

Throughout his life Wedgwood experimented relentlessly with different materials and methods of manufacture. However, the enormous success of his factory was due not only to his artistic abilities but also to his realisation that the market needed to be expanded to cater for all levels of society.

From 1754 to 1759 Wedgwood worked alongside the potter Thomas Whieldon making experimental and tortoiseshell wares. Wedgwood never practised as a potter himself due to a leg injury and rather than being at a disadvantage this enabled him to work on developing pottery bodies and glazes and meticulously documenting his discoveries.

By 1759 he had set up his own business at the Ivy House Works in Staffordshire where he was making Redware, Whieldon type ware with translucent lead glazes, Blackware, salt glazed stoneware and Creamware.

In 1767 he formed a partnership with Liverpool merchant Thomas Bentley and opened a bigger factory called ‘Etruria’ ( after Etruscan pottery which inspired some of the factory’s production). During the next decade, right up until Bentley’s death in 1780, the company expanded and firmly established its position at the forefront of the market.

It was in the 1760’s that Wedgwood’s famous blue Jasperware was produced. A fine ground, unglazed stoneware, typically decorated with classical figures. One could say it was his signature dish.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Cornish Kitchenware

This summer, being the summer of staycation for many, seems to be the summer of grandparentscation for all Dowses and their offsprings. There is a saying, well known I believe, that it is possible to get “too much of a good thing”. I think we may have reached that point, especially as two of our Cornish Kitchen Ware jars have bitten the proverbial dust during these many “…cations”.

True Cornishware was produced by T.G. Green of Church Gresley in Derbyshire from the 1920s onwards. The name is said to have come from one of the employees who, on returning from holiday in Cornwall, saw the new range and said that the blue was like the Cornish skies and the white was like crests of Cornish waves.

By the 1980s Cornishware had declined in popularity and the rights to make it were sold to Cloverleaf of Swindon and in 2001 to Mason Cash and Co.

Maker’s marks on the base aid identification and dating. Early marks from the 1920-1940s are printed in green. Most original Cornishware bears a printed mark in green or black, showing the church at Church Gresley and is crossed by the words ‘Cornish Kitchen Ware’.

Named jars are more collectable than plain jars and rare names like ‘Lard’ and ‘Meal’ are even more desirable. Always check the name is not a later addition. Although blue and white is the most common colour others were produced. Red is by far the rarest, because it was produced as an experiment in the 1960s and never went into full production.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Toby Jugs

Once upon a time many years ago, when ‘horse power’ referred to how many horses pulled your coach and the tricorn hat rather than the baseball cap was the ‘go to’ choice for headgear, there lived a man called Henry Elwes.

Now Henry, even amongst his closest friends, had a reputation for being miserable. He was the king of miserable a short, fat man with dirty lanky hair and he held a record for drinking two thousand pints of Stingo. Stingo was very strong ale, but unfortunately there are no records to say how long it took Henry to drink all those pints. It matters not, however, how long it took, the mere fact it was drunk gave Henry Elwes the nickname Toby Fillpot.

There are many claims to the origin of the Toby jug, but one of the most convincing is that it is based on poor old Toby Fillpot. This is further backed by the work of a publisher Carington Bowles, who in 1761 published illustrations of a short, fat miserable man with lanky hair poking from a tricorn hat and titled him Toby Fillpot. A few years later Toby Jugs began to emerge from pottery factories.

Shakespeare’s Sir Toby Belch from “Twelfth Night”, who in the play is portrayed as an excessive drinker, is thought by some to be the source of the famous jug, but he just doesn’t have the portly misery of Mr Fillpot.

As time passed and more jugs were made, the grim face of Toby cheered up a little, particularly in examples like “The Sailor” and “Hearty Good Fellow”. The name, though, stuck, even when famous faces such as Winston Churchill appeared on these jugs, they remained Toby Jugs.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Wine Bottles

As I mature, slowly, with what I hope is a modicum of grace, into early middle age, I think the records need to be set straight. I have the eyesight of a healthy child, because I wear prescription glasses. I never get out of breath, because I never run anywhere. I never forget a thing, because I write everything down and when my wife isn’t in the car I drive like an adolescent.

Something else which matures particularly well is wine. This is a well discussed topic and matured rare wines are a great attraction in the saleroom. But what about the bottles.

Early wine bottles were made from darkly coloured glass, which had a hint of brown when held up to the light. This glass is known as ‘Black Glass’ and was used in wine bottles between 1650 and 1800. These early bottles are very collectable as they represent the earliest stages of consumerism in Britain. Due to their age there is usually surface deterioration, ranging from severe pitting to simple dullness. However, unlike many collectables, damage is acceptable in these old black glass wine bottles, so rare examples in very poor condition still produce good results in the saleroom.

Although not mass produced until the early 1800s, the production of glass was increasing throughout this early period with many glass houses opening up and different manufacturers gaining recognition for certain styles and shapes of bottle.

The commonest shapes in these early wine bottles are the ‘globe and shaft’, the ‘onion’ and the ‘mallet’, with rarer shapes, such as the octagonal being more collectable. More collectable still than the rare shape is the sealed bottle. These are bottles applied with a seal during manufacture which bears a family crest, a date or initials.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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

Suzie Cooper

Recently, during a house contents valuation I was conducting for Probate purposes in Clay Cross, near Chesterfield, I came across one of the most extensive collections of Susie Cooper ceramics I have ever seen. I have always been a take it or leave it sort of chap when it comes to Susie Cooper, but when i saw her talent en masse I have to say my opinion changed to one of admiration.

Susie Cooper was one of the most successful designers of the twentieth century. Born in 1902, she joined local potter A. E. Gray & Co. Ltd to gain the experience she required to attend London’s Royal College of Art. Initially Cooper was a production line painter, but her talent was quickly spotted and instead of going to London she became a designer at Gray’s.

Cooper was influenced by many artists, but her contribution to the company was highly personal. Gray’s used the factory mark “Designed by Susie Cooper” to identify her work and this early work of flowers and chintzware is still very popular with collectors.

By 1929 Susie Cooper had left Gray’s and set up on her own in premises at the Chelsea Works, Burslem. Products made after her departure from Gray’s are marked “A Susie Cooper Production”. However, in 1931, after interest from Wood & Sons, she moved to a larger studio at their Crown Works and products were then marked with the familiar leaping deer, that is most often associated with her.

The 1930s were the most dazzling years for Cooper and the high demand for her work led to her use of lithography at a time when most firms were still using mechanical decoration.

By the late 1930s Susie Cooper was producing up to 200 new designs a year, featuring banding, polka dots and stylised flowers. Patterns that were both modern and timeless such as “Patricia Rose” and “Endon” were the key to her success, appealing to a far wider audience than the work of many of her contemporaries.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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