At the recent marvellous Antiques For Everyone fair at the NEC in Birmingham, a friendly dealer approached me with a folder of around 50 photographs of furniture, home accessories, and room designs. Her father was a teacher and had used them in the late 1950s and early 1960s as props for lessons. Since he retired, they had sat forgotten in his loft until she rediscovered them after he died. I found them fascinating – and turning them over revealed an even more fascinating feature. The backs all bore the names of the designers, manufacturers, and the dates of introduction. Some of the designs I recognised, some I did not. Although the dealer didn’t want much for them, I gave her £20, saying that it could always be donated to charity. If I’m lucky, I sometimes see such archives on the Antiques Roadshow, and I always advice that, copyright allowing, the owner scans them and posts them online. In some instances, the images are original artworks, and the owners are the children of the designers who created them. The …

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2006 saw the 40th anniversary of Dartington Glass, one of the UK’s only surviving independent glass companies. To commemorate this event, Graham Cooley exhibited hundreds of pieces of Dartington Glass dating from 1967 into the 1990s from his private collection. In conjunction with that, I wrote and published a book with Eve Thrower, the daughter of their chief designer Frank Thrower MBE, who sadly died in 1987. An hour long documentary on the company, the man behind it, and the designs he produced was also filmed, and sponsored by the Glass Association. Filmed by Nigel Edwards of inHouse Productions, who also produced the Fat Lava short film and DVD, it was sold on DVD and has been broadcast three times on Sky Arts. It includes interviews with Graham Cooley, almost certainly the UK’s most important and influential 20thC design collector, Charles Hajdamach, esteemed glass historian and specialist, Franks’ daughter Eve Thrower, Peter Robinson, Dartington’s Sales Director from the late 1960s-80s, glass designer and Frank’s mentor Ronald …

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It’s out and it’s on! Last Saturday I joined Graham Cooley at the King’s Lynn Arts Centre in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, to launch Alla Moda, the exhibition behind my latest book. With over 750 ceramics on display, Graham’s private collection is almost certainly the largest private collection of Italian ceramics in Europe, if not the world. The main room houses a truly stunning display of ceramics by major makers, and is dominated by a central grouping of hexagonal pedestals displaying Bitossi ceramics from the 1950s-80s. Even if you think you know Bitossi, you’re sure to find many surprises here. We know this as a number of dedicated Bitossi collectors kindly joined us for the launch, and all went home with dozens of ‘new’ ranges to look out for and add to their collections. Fans of Bitossi designer Aldo Londi’s famous ‘Rimini Blu’ range will be delighted by the 100+ pieces on display, which include his hotly sought-after stylised animals, and some very rare forms and glazes. Just because it’s Bitossi and blue, it doesn’t mean it’s …

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My new book on mid-century modern Italian ceramics, Alla Moda, has just arrived, and the exhibition is about to be launched. Sitting last night looking through the book made me remember the long journey I’ve made putting it together. I also thought about all the elements that went into making it, here are some statistics:

3,064 – kilometres (1,904 miles) travelled by plane on a return journey from London Gatwick to Pisa with British Airways 1,689 – kilometres (1,050 miles) travelled by car around the UK on photoshoots 988 – kilometres (614 miles) travelled through Italy in a speedy Fiat hire car 749 – metres above sea level – highest altitude reached while researching (Monte Titano) 478 – high resolution digital photographs shot by (mainly) a professional photographer 54 – centimetres (21.75in) of shelf space taken up by new books added to my library 16 – museums and archives visited 11 – nights in Italian hotels 9 – Italian cities, towns, or villages visited 5 – days of a professional editor’s time 4 – days of a professional …

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Masterpieces To Marvel Over

My next stop after seeing Ken Bull’s amazing collection of Mordan pencils was a darkened, quietly calm room where I met with a cool towel for my brow, more than one glass of something white and chilled, and a comfy chez longue. Once my equilibrium had been restored, it was back to Masterpiece to see the rest of the fair. This time, I was accompanied by the banker, but I doubt that even he could afford anything that we looked at. The fair is truly a feast for the eyes, mind, and heart. It’s where the world’s top dealers come to display their world-class finds, and where the world’s wealthy come to buy something that is truly worthy of the title ‘masterpiece’. At such an event, it’s impossible to choose any truly outstanding objects as there are simply too many contenders. However, some pieces took up residence in my mind for longer than I thought. I don’t wish to denigrate the importance and beauty of the items with my tawdry words, but here’s …

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Mordans at Masterpiece

Although I’m very much a 20th century boy, my collections do vary quite widely in terms of date. One of my oldest, both in terms of the date of the objects themselves and the fact it was one of my first targets, is my collection of 19thC Mordan pencils. I’ve been collecting these since I was about 17, as they were small, made of silver (oooh!) and could be found affordably at fairs and in centres. Even a paperboy’s weekly wage could afford one if you hunted hard enough. I don’t have many, but those I do have I love. Since then, I’ve written about Mordan on my blog and for a couple of books and magazines. You can read those posts by clicking here, and here. Naturally, I was extremely excited when I heard about the unveiling of a major private collection of Mordan and other high quality Victorian pencils at London’s prestigious Masterpiece fair, which is on now. Although I’ve fallen …

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