1950s and 1960s Ceramics

In Britain in the early 1950s there were few attractive ceramics available, the best stuff was being exported to boost the British economy after the war. Many ceramic factories had been commissioned for war work and were not yet restored to their pre-war standard. Many of the designers were working for Scandinavian or American companies who had continued production throughout the 1940s.

The British public had been starved of new decorative ceramics after the war and were beginning to demand more freedom of choice and they wanted contemporary patterns. In the USA in the 1930s Russel Wright designed tableware with with organic and freeform shapes, named ‘American Modern’ and these pieces were sold in the 1950s. In Sweden Stig Lindberg was a prolific ceramic designer. There was a influence of art and technology on design in the 1950s and Dali motifs as well as sputniks and stars could be seen. Colours were fresh and bright and were often mixed with stark black and white.

The Festival of Britain held in 1951 brought us a variety of new designs by many familiar designers.  Wedgwood launched a Festival of Britain mug designed by Norman Makison.  It featured the Crystal Palace, site of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (it being the centenary that was celebrated during the Festival), and the Skylon and Dome of Discovery from 1951.  There was red and blue hand painting which added a patriotic touch.  The mug is only 7 cm high and the Festival logo can be seen on the base of the mug.  Wedgwood also introduced ‘Garden’ plates by Eric Ravilious and the ‘Zodiac Bull’ modelled by Arnold Machin.

The Wade factory produced some of its most graphic pieces of pottery during the 1950s and can be recognized by their strong use of colour as well as their stark black and whites.  Good examples of these are the ‘Zamba’ black and white vase, the illustrated trays by Rowland Emmet and the figural cat vases.

The Beswick factory had always had an eye for fashion and produced a range of decorative vases and bowls designed by Albert Hallam.  One of the most collected of the 1950s Beswick tableware patterns was ‘Circus’ and the teapot was especialy popular and together with the coffee pot are highly collectable.  The ‘Ballet’ pattern was also extremely popular and was produced into the 1960s.

W R Midwinter was founded in 1910 and Roy Midwinter, the son of the founder, took over in as design director after the World War II.  He was influenced by the American west-coast potteries and introduced his ‘Stylecraft’ shape in 1953.  The ‘Fashion’ shape of 1955 was even more extreme and in-house designer Jessie Tair, along with Hugh Casson and Terence Conran gave the factory a lead over its competitors.  Some of the vases, tureens and teapots designed by the likes of of Colin Melbourne and Terrence Conran are now highly desirable.  Midwinter’s ‘Fine’ shape launched in 1962 dictated the trends for the next decade.  The early patterns like ‘Sienna’ and ‘Queensberry’ were an immediate success and were much copied.  Psychedelic inspired patterns like ‘Spanish Garden’, ‘Eden’ and ‘Alpine Blue’ begin the flower-power pottery craze in the later 1960s.

Susan Williams-Ellis began to design original and striking coffee and tableware items during the early 1960s which became known as Portmeirion pottery.  Initially gold lustre featured heavily on her work but black and white engravings of Victorian imagery became popular in the mid 1960s and Susan produced her ‘Totem’ design which as well as her ‘Cylinder’ range of shapes put the factory on the map.  The black and white images were updated towards the end of the 1960s, being placed on bright psychedelic mugs, which were perfect for the younger generation.

Although the majority of 1950s and 1960s ceramics were produced for utilitarian purposes and would have been bought for use around the house, many have become collectable and you could build up a collection fairly quickly at not too great expense.

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