China and ceramics from the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s have remained very popular with collectors and can often command high prices, especially the designs of Clarice Cliff. However, if you like the geometric style and bright colours of the Art Deco period you can quickly assemble a wonderful collection of good quality ceramics on little money.
While the pattern may have been designed by Clarice Cliff, the plates, cups and coffee pots were decorated by a number of different painters employed by the different potteries and the quality of the output varied greatly. As a collector you should be looking out for Gray’s Pottery who first employed female art studen Susie Cooper in 1922. Susie had studied at the Stoke-on-Trent City Art School under Gordon Forsyth who arranged her employment at Gray’s, where he himself worked. She moved very quickly from decorating to working alongside Gordon in design and she was appointed resident designer in 1923.
Few records were kept but her first pattern is thought to be 2866 and by the time she left to set up here own company in 1929 the numbers had reached 8450. Her contribution was huge and in 1927 a special backstamp was created incorporating the words ‘designed by Susie Cooper’.
In 1927 Gray’s launched a range of banded designs that were thought to be by Susie Cooper. They were made in many colour combinations with wavy bands. You would be able to pick up a tea canister in that pattern for around £20 or £30. Susie Cooper is well known for her geometric patterns and Cubist (8071) is probably the best known, containing primary colours with black lines and shapes. A coffee can and saucer would be between £200 and £300. Pattern 8127 is considered to be the rarest and a coffee can with saucer would set you back £300. A rare example of a Clarice Cliff Coffe can would be at least three times that.
The reason why Clarice Cliff sells at a premium is that fact that, as she was employed as a modeller at Wilkinsons, she had input regarding shape and form. Gray’s did not manufacture their own pottery but bought the pieces and then decorated them in house. This was one of the reasons why Susie Cooper left to set up her own business, that way she had control over every stage of the process. She could evolve her designs in step with contemporary trends and adapt her style to the needs of the British market.
Gray’s continued to produce Art Deco designs using a number of other artists, such as Dorothy Tomes and Sam Talbot. As they are less famous than Susie Cooper their designs can be had for a lot less, although they are just as attractive. Sam Talbot worked at Gray’s from 1925 and as there is little documentary evidence it is uncertain who designed what, Susie Cooper usually left space around her motifs so maybe we can assume that if the designs cover the shape more completely they are not by Susie Cooper. From around 1932 all new patterns were prefixed with the letter A.
If the Susie Cooper designs at Gray’s are still a bit too expensive for you there are cheaper alternatives. There were quite a number of potteries in the 1920s and 30s and you should look out for, Myotts, Crown Devon, Royal Winton, Charlotte Rhead’s early designs at Woods, and Burleigh Ware.
If you want to start collecting Art Deco china and ceramics you should visit a few antiques and collectors’ fairs and look at the pieces and get a feel for the prices. There are also a number of publications and websites that will give you a good introduction into art deco china and ceramics. Gray’s pottery have their own website which is will worth a look.
A note of caution if you want to collect the Geometric designs. Susie Cooper was not happy about these as the colours can flake off and some dealers and collectors have over-painted these. You should carefully examine each piece before you buy. Grey’s Geometrics were very expensive in the 1990s when the Japanese buyers came into the market, but the prices have dropped now and this might be a good time to start buying.