An Introduction to Carlton Ware

[ad#muted blue rectangle]When you mention Carlton Ware to people one of the first things they usually think of is the Guinness toucan, which was first introduced in 1950 or the mugs on legs, commonly known as ‘walking ware’ which first appeared in the 1970s. There is, however, a lot more to Carlton Ware and their colourful ceramics are much sought after and very collectable.

Carlton Ware began in 1890 when James Frederick Wiltshaw and brothers JA and WH Robinson formed the company Wiltshaw and Robinson in Stoke-on-Trent and named it the Carlton Works.  There was huge competition in the pottery industry but Carlton Ware got off to a good start with ‘Blush ware’, a range of floral patterns applied to tinted earthenware.  It was very successful and soon proved serious competition for Fieldings Crown Devon, who were the market leader at the time.

Disaster struck when James Wiltshaw, who was by now the sole proprietor, was killed by a train 1918.  His young son Frederick Cuthbert Wiltshaw took over and allowed the designers to explore and introduce the new lustrous glazes and exotic patterns inspired by the orient, which were very fashionable at the time.  He saw the work of a young artist, Violet Elmer, at a local exhibition in the mid 1920s and offered her a job.  She accepted and it it proved inspirational, it brought the company huge success.

It is easy to identify Carlton Ware because it is well marked and easy to date because of a chronological timeline of patterns and well documented list of pattern numbers; it is not quite as easy to identify designers.  In 1951 a fire at the factory destroyed much of the detailed history and it was lost forever.

In 1921 Enoch Boulton, who had first worked at the factory in 1908, became senior design manager.  His stylish and colourful designs gave us many of Carlton Ware’s most popular lines of which two of the most outstanding were ‘Chinaland’ and Tutankamun ware, which was introduced to celebrate Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutan Kamun.  These are much sought after today and collectors will pay between £500 – £1,000 for a vase or bowl.  The record for a rare ‘Tomb’ jar is £6,000 which was sold at Christie’s in 2000.

In the late 1920s Carlton Ware began to experiment with patterns such as ‘Paradise Bird and Tree’ and ‘Feathered Tail Bird’, these were landscapes with layers of decoration, rich gilding and sumptuous enamels applied over lustrous grounds.  When Enoch Boulton left the company in 1930 Violet Elmer took his place.  She introduced dramatic new designs and also helped develop the forms on which they would be displayed, such as tea cups, vases, dishes, pedestal bowls and ginger jars.  They often contained geometric forms, abstract motifs, zigzags and flashes and can be seen in patterns such as ‘Scimitar’ and ‘Floral Comets’.  One of the most valuable patterns of the time was ‘Mephistopheles’ and it propelled Carlton Ware to the very top.  The intricate designs were time consuming and expensive to produce which put them into the luxury bracket and they were purchased by the wealthiest people of the day to adorn their homes.

When Violet Elmer left at the end of the 1930s to get married, her place was taken by Rene Pemberton who had been trained by Susie Cooper at Gray’s Pottery.  The patterns ‘Spider’s Webb’, ‘Heron and Magical Tree’ and ‘Rabbits at Dusk’ are believed to be hers.

Nowadays Carlton Ware is not as popular as it was and prices peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s when you would have had to pay between £2,000 – £5,000.  As prices have come down a bit now might be a good time to buy if you are interested in collecting Carlton Ware.  You should be able to get a small bowl or vase for around £50, but the top end patterns like ‘Scimitar’ and ‘Mephistopheles’ will fetch four figure sums.  While this is a lot of money you are buying a piece that is beautifully crafted and could possibly prove to be a good investment.



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