An Introduction to Clarice Cliff

Clarice Cliff was born in 1899 in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent and by the time she was 13 she had started an apprenticeship at a local pottery. When she was 17 she had joined A.J. Wilkinson’s who were a successful Burslem pottery. Her talent was soon spotted and in 1922 she was made an apprentice modeller and started working in the factory’s design studio.

Clarice Cliff’s talent and her close relationship with managing director Colley Shorter, her future husband, led to the Bizarre range and the Clarice Cliff brand.  Clarice was given her own studio at Newport Pottery and a full-time paintress.  Together they transformed tablewares that had been inherited when Wilkinson’s bought Newport Pottery in 1920.  This resulted in the birth of Bizarre, the first Clarice Cliff pattern.  It consisted of simple geometric designs of coloured bands, triangles and diamonds and the pattern served well to disguise the indifferent quality of the pieces.

Colley Shorter soon realised that he was looking at a fantastic marketing opportunity, there was not just the brandable personality of Clarice Cliff but also the concept of ‘by women, for women’ which would appeal to his predominantly female customers.  Each piece has the inscription ‘by Clarice Cliff’ on its base and in 1930 Clarice was made Art Director of the Newport Pottery, the first woman in the Potteries to hold such a high position.

The original Bizarre tableware was traditionally shaped as the underlying pieces were still in the shape of the Victorian fashion.  Once this had all been used Clarice was able to design shapes that suited her modern, Art Deco inspired patterns.

While the Athens and Globe shapes were still fairly traditional her Conical shape was based on triangles, pyramids and cones and was very differnt from anything else on the market and therefore proved a huge success.  Other potteries such as Shelley and Burgess & Leigh (the makers of Burleigh Ware) soon produced their own variations of the Clarice Cliff design.

Teasets were among the most popular pieces and these were sold at modest prices for regular use.  Particularly popular were the Clarice Cliff Early Morning or Tea for Two sets, comprising two cups and saucers, a teapot, milk jug, sugar bowl and one side plate.  These were designed for husband and wife to have early morning tea and toast or biscuits – hence the one plate for sharing.  These Early Morning sets were popular wedding gifts.  If you can find one of these in good condition you would probably have to pay several thousand pounds.  Among the most popular of Clarice Cliff’s teaware shapes is Stamford with its charateristic flat-sided teapot and solid handled cups.  The angles and curves are the epitomy of the Art Deco style and the flat-sided teapot was ideal for displaying the Clarice Cliff pattern.

Clarice Cliff did not restrict herself to teaware, her pieces also include chargers, large jugs, pitchers and vases as well as figurines, maskes, bookends, candlesticks and beakers.  These were made in smaller quantities and were more expensive.  They are therefore quite difficult to find and command a high price.  The larger pieces provided a good canvas for Clarice Cliff patterns and they are highly desirable, especially the Lotus and Iris shapes – you would have to part with several thousand pounds if you can find one.  A very fine example of Clarice Cliff’s work is the Conical sugar sifter.  If you can find a good example in a rare pattern it would cost over £1,000.

One of the instantly recognizable features of Clarice Cliff’s pieces is its golden coloured glaze.  This was known as Honeyglaze and was made by Wilkinson through the addition of one percent iron oxide to a clear glaze.  Most of Clarice Cliff’s work was glazed with Honeyglaze before being decorated.  The coloured enamels were painted on after the piece had been glazed and fired, it was then fired again to harden the enamels.

Clarice Cliff designed around 2000 patterns, too numerous to mention here, but considered to be among her finest are Crocus, Red Broth, Luxor, Orange Melon and Trees and House. The prices for Clarice Cliff have increased considerably over the last twenty years and you are unlikely to find a bargain.  The fact that the public has been made aware of the value by popular TV antiques programmes is keeping the prices high.  If you want to start collecting Clarice Cliff you should do some research and gain some understanding of her work.  I would also suggest that you buy pieces from reputable dealers, as there are quite a few fakes on the market.

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