Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Top It All Off...

Here is the latest addition to my BISTO collection and I am so delighted by it. Like every other pottery manufacturer, Bishop & Stonier had to advertise their wares. A pin dish such as this may have been given free to retailers to help plug the company's name with their customers or simply to remind the retailer to buy from them again. It shows the company's two prevailing trademark maker's marks of the day: the wand of caduceus and the oriental ivory man with parasol. The mark on the back says of the type of pottery that is is "Semi Imperial Porcelain". Quite what this means I have no idea! It is quite likely that although it was not true bone china or fine porcelain, the company still wanted to give the message to it's customers that it was a fine type of pottery. Also on the reverse of the dish is an impressed caduceus mark and the number 04, signifying that it was potted in 1904 - so an early Edwardian piece when the company truly was of "WORLD WIDE REPUTATION" as it so boldly states.


Well, what can I say? This really is a trully stunning coffee set, handpainted with mountain and lakeland landscape scenes and deliciously decorated with gilt on the handles and coffeepot spout. My hunch is that there would've been a tray in the set too, but sadly the seller doesn't have it. I am crossing all fingers and toes that i will be able to add this to my collection shortly as i will sit so nicely next to the other handpainted pieces i already own.
On a completely unrelated and non-pottery note ("what's this? a diversion from ceramics," you ask. Well, yes, I just had to share this fantastic song by Calpernia Adams, a transexual with Attitude, as it sums up this coffeeset so well for me - just follow the link)

More London Landmarks

I recently blogged about P.B & S London landmark series which includes images such as the Crystal Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Marble Arch etc. Well, here is a plate with the image of the Palace of Westminster fromt he other side of the river Thames. The foliate ornament is hand-coloured with enamels as is the geometric border.

Wishful Thinking

I normally buy things to add to my collection from antiques fairs, junk shops, charity shops and occasionally auctions, but most often from Ebay. Ebay has some sellers with their own online shops - presumably they have a physical retail premises somewhere but also choose to sell online. It was whilst browsing the ebay shops that i found a 1931 'part' dining set with hand coloured flower decoration. To many people's eyes they would be quite gross (in fact, i must admit, they're really NOT my cup of tea either and would've been much better for not having the sponged rim). Anyway, the astonishing, astounding and quite unbelievable part of this find was the price being asked. I'm not sure if this strategy works for this particular seller, but they sell parts of services on an individual "Buy It Now" basis. So, to actually buy their whole stock of this pattern, you would need to part with a whopping £549.82 to buy each individual plate, platter and tureen. All I can say is "Good luck" to them, coz i think they'll need it.
OF COURSE, the moral of this story is that things are only worth what someone is prepared to pay for them. As i have noticed that they have re-listed and re-listed this set many times with no sucess in selling them, I would suggest that in this instance, there is a bit of wishful thinking going on here - and as I am myself (to my knowledge), one of the biggest collectors of Bishop & Stonier and I would not be prepared to pay the price being asked, even if i did win the lottery, I would state the case even more firmly. Have a look and see what you think.
If you are the seller of this set and you've found my blog, it's obviously not up to me what you charge for things, i just wish you all the best!

Friday, June 13, 2008

How times change

In the 1920s and 30s, Bishop & Stonier produced quite a collection of illustrated pottery which may now be termed as 'Nursey Ware' because the images often depicted popular childrens stories, or folktales. This baby plate ( not in my collection, but i'm hoping it will be) depicts the rhyme of "A Frog He Would A Wooing Go, Whether His Mother Would Let Him Or No". One could quite easily fill entire cabinets with BISTO nursey ware as it appears this became a staple market for the company of this period and there are many delightful designs to be found. This teapot - sadly not in my collection (yet!) shows just how times have changed and how things that once were widly acceptable, are now very no PC. This design by Kathleen Ainslie was taken from Florence Upton’s “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog" and shows, presumably, the Two Dutch Dolls. The example above was sold on the website for £150 - so obviously something to look out for folks!

How much?!?

I was recently contacted by a lady who wanted some advice on a tureen that she had - an ivory body with the pattern named ASTER. I commented that part of the design, the border, was used on other pieces. With this info in mind, i set about looking for a picture to illustrate my point and came across this platter from P.B&S London series which illustrated famous London landmarks - in this instance, the Crystal Palace. As it turned out, I was wrong that the border pattern was exactly the same - sorry Jessica - but i'm sure you'll agree it is very similar. I have seen a few things from the London landmarks series before, sometimes in plain brown transfer, sometimes handcoloured. What surprised me most about this piece was not the pattern, but the price being asked by the retailer - $395 I knew the image of the Crystal Palace was collectable, but that is quite astounding for something that was really meant as just a bit of tourist ware.

What the critics had to say

I ocassionally surf for titbits of info about Powell Bishop & Stonier and recently came across a contemporary review from an exhibition held in Melbourne, Australia in 1881. I think this review has been scanned into some DTP programme which "reads" the original - so unfortunately and inevitably, there are some transcription mistakes, but you can get the general idea at this link: It appears they won 5 medals for their works at that exhibition and were a well known company for both the quality and affordability of their wares.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

In Love with Lewes

Today was a beautiful sunny day on the third day of a two week holiday. It was touch and go whether i'd be doing anything at all today other than the housework as my partner's paycheck was not expected to be cleared - but miracle of miracles it was, so we headed off to Lewes in East Sussex. This beautiful town is a favourite haunt for antiques shopping and has half a dozen or so places to go for a good rummage. On my last visit, I bought a splendid oriental ivory jug which now sits in a line of other jugs on top of a bookcase, and the time before that I came away with a splendid Miako patterned tazza ( the rest of the set is still in the same shop, but it's heavily overpriced, so i think i'll wait another year to see if it's still there and whether there's room for negotiation! On this occasion, I didn't expect much in the way of the Bisto front as I thought i'd completely cleared out the town of it on my last trip. How wrong I was. In the first place we visited, the splendid Lewes Flea Market, I unearthed several plates and a trio set (cup, saucer and sandwich plate). These pieces were: a P.B&S (Powell Bishop & Stonier) oriental ivory range plate with the pattern name "Pagoda" ( i have the same pattern on a much fancier and more colourful plate which i've previously blogged - can you spot it?); A large soup bowl/dish with the Nankin pattern - my first piece with this pattern; a large, colourful plate with a chinoiserie pattern of a boy holding a flower - again a pattern that I have in another colourway; a handpainted trio set which is probably my youngest piece and bears the wand of caduceus mark with Bishop England underneath. This one shop's haul shows a wide range of the factory's wares and timeline. The trio shows clear influence from designers like Clarice Cliff. and the octagonal Pagoda plate is similar in style to Mason's Ashworth Ironstone. Whilst I would love to have complete services of all these patterns, it's almost impossible to track them down, complete services are usually extremely expensive and where would i put them? I'm now starting to think of boxing up much of my collection, cataloguing it and storing it in the loft. If this happens, i feel i may have to have a loft conversion if only to have the floor up there strengthened to take the weight of it all. Of course, that is the curse of being a collector, living with the consequences of your hoarding addiction! (Tom, you see, i was listening...)

time to powder my nose

This little pot is probably a powder pot from a vanity set - such a shame the rest of it (tray, ring tree, pin dish) was nowhere to be seen.
It has a swirling ribbed form that P.B&S used for many wares and is made of bone china. The design of 'gilded' flowers uses a mix of gold and silver that again, the factory used on various things (i've previously blogged a jug that has the same colour scheme).

toilet break

This was the absolute find of the day - a complete Bisto wash set: wash bowl and jug, soap dish (with it's drainer), toothbrush pot and a chamber pot (otherwise known as a "gazzunder" because it 'goes under' the bed). The oriental / chinoiserie design in a colour combination of purple and yellow - opposites on the colour spectrum - would probably make most people go "YUK!" which is perhaps why the price tag was reduced from £85 to £45. I had seen the set in the shop's window on my last visit to Lewes and thought at the time it MUST be by Bisto, but the store was closed so I couldn't investigate. Sadly, there is some damage, a large crack in the bowl, but this is not uncommon for pieces of this size and a broken handle on the chamber pot. Rather bizarrely, it looks like it's been repared with a sticking plaster that's been coloured black - not exactly conservation standards!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

I wants itz...i needs itz...the precious

I'm not unaccustomed to the dreadful sin of jealousy and I'm afraid this little pot turned me a deep shade of green.
My apologies that it is only a thumbnail sized picture but it was purloined from another website after a Bisto image search on Google. You might just about recognise the pattern of the freize as it's the same as on one of my vases that i blogged about some time ago... I'm afraid i'm one of those sad collectors that just HAS to have an example of everything produced by the factory i collect and in particular, various examples of the same pattern being used on different body shapes and materials. This is the point in collecting where you transcend from being an aesthete to an archivist.

Vulgar Victorians and Blushing Edwardians

This picture shows a handpainted charger - bought as a blank (a plain, undecorated plate) and then painted by an amateur artist. It illustrates the Victorian hobby for home Arts & Crafts where Joe Bloggs would have a go at decorating, designing, making, crafting all sorts of things at home in their spare time. This hobby was not limited to porcelain painting, but also woodworking, mosaics, woolwork, cardmaking and decoupage etc.; it was the forerunner of today's MASSIVE home crafts industry and was only possible as people found they had more wealth and time on their hands than they had ever previously enjoyed. Not everyone who had a go at painting ceramics was a talented artist and I wouldn't go as far to say that "E Jacobs" who did this charger was a Harry Pierce in the making, but it's not bad. The colour choice is however rather gloomy and the composition isn't great. The Victorians seemed to have a love of "heavy" and cluttered design and it was only in the hands of rather more skilled craftsmen and women that it was successful.

The small globe vases either side, which sit on very cute bun feet are yet again, another example of how it pays to go by instinct when buying on Ebay. The seller had described them as being "stained" at the tops below the blue and gilt necks. This obviously put off a large number of potential bidders, but my instinct told me that the "discolouration" was actually an intended part of the design and what is known in pottery as a 'Blush' technique. Blush pottery became extremely popular around the turn of the last century and some of the best examples were produced by the Worcester factories. There were several variations of colour available, mainly ivory or pink, but Bisto used the idea of a blush of colour (imagine the look of pink blusher makeup on someones face) and experimented with a sponge-like gilding technique. I have to admit, i'm not a fan of the gilded interpretation, as it tends to make the overall design look messy and accidental, but the ivory blush is quite elegant and the pansies on my vases are rather charming.


These handpainted Bisto plates are beautiful examples of Victorian landscape painting on pottery/porcelain. Apologies for the terrible glare of camera flash, they weren't the easiest things to photograph.
This is one of my recent aquisitions, a coffee pot with milk jug and sugar bowl (sadly no cups and saucers). This set nicely answers one of the questions that Fergus Gambon posed when I met him at the Antiques Roadshow - he asked if I knew whether the company ever did any handpainted work? The reason for asking was that the piece I brought to him for appraisal was most likely bought as a blank and then decorated at home. He wasn't sure if the company themselves ever did handpainted pieces. Well, the evidence above not only shows that they did indeed employ artists to handpaint some wares, but by George, weren't they a talented bunch as well!? Ok, Ok, so it's not on the same level as the best artists at Mintons or Worcester, but I would say that they were pretty skilful. Landscapes seem to have been a popular theme at this time (around the mid 1880s - 90s) and there was a tendancy to romanticise such scenes - some might even suggest that Victorian landscape artists were Chocolate box artists because the images now appear extremely sentimental and sickeningly idyllic. Commonly, Scottish highland and Devonshire moorland views abound.
This cup and saucer, although marked with the wand of caduceus, i think were bought as a blank and handpainted at home by a talented amateur art enthusiast. Their monogram is painted on the underside.

Registration Diamonds are Forever

You may have seen marks called Registration Diamonds on various things before. They were a devise used to show that the design of the item (be it pottery, glass, metalware etc) was registered by the manufacturer. The format of the Registration Diamond is very specific and can tell you a great deal about a piece if you don't have any other clues to go by (such as maker's mark) and if you know where to look for the referencing information. is a great resource to give you info you need to decifer pottery registration marks. Using the info this website provides, i can tell you that this Conway patterned plate by P.B&S was registered on the 6th December 1880. Why not look at your own collections and try it for yourselves?

The Mark of the Beast

I just thought I should give you some info about pottery marks for the various incarnations of this pottery manufacurer. One great site for finding staffordshire pottery marks is and the Bible of pottery marks is Goddens which is a very expensive tome. But here, for your delectation, is the minimum you'll need to know about Powell & Bishop, Powell Bishop & Stonier, and Bishop & Stonier. The key marks that you'll see on their pottery: i.) the wand of Caduceus ( a rod entwined by serpents flanked by a pair of wings - based on the Hermetic symbol and similar to the medical symbol) and ii.) a chinaman under a parasol for the Oriental Ivory range. The works of this factory are usually very well marked (except for some small pieces like saucers) so you can usually spot one of their pieces quite easily. Also, to my knowledge, there has been no fad for faking/forging their works as there aren't many pieces that command massive prices (except for the White Star Line wares), so you can be pretty confident that when it's marked, it's the genuine article. The factory tended to be fairly consistant in their marking of pattern names and numbers. I haven't, as yet, found out if individual painters and paintresses had marks - if anyone out there knows, please do tell me.

"The Mark of the Beast" was just a shameless title i thought might help me get a few more hits from Google searches!

About Me

My photo
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.