It’s pretty typical for really rather good things to appear and come in just after I’ve printed a book on them. And, typically, those pieces answer a question that I hadn’t been able to solve before printing the book. In this instance it concerned Alla Moda, my new book on Italian mid-century pottery. My keen-eyed friend Kevin Graham, of Fat Lava and Pottery & Glass Forum fame, spotted this vase on etsy and told me about it. I’ve very rarely spent £29 faster! The American seller knew that it was by Fratelli Fanciullacci from the label on the base, which has a prominent ‘FF’ logo. As readers of Alla Moda will know, the company is really rather important, and the yellow painted marks are usually another indicator of a Fanciullacci piece. But what interested me was the rest of the label, as it helps to answer what the numbers painted on the base may mean. ‘Art.’ must be article, so the shape of the object. ‘Cm.’ …

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My glasses have become an important part of how I project myself, and of what I want people to think of me. They’re not just a fashion statement. Obviously, they’re also rather important to my daily life. Goodness only knows where I’d end up without them. Probably nowhere, slowly. Every now and again I get a few emails asking me if they’re old or new, and where I bought them. Well, firstly they’re vintage, not new (obviously!), and date from the late 1940s or early 1950s. When I first started wearing this style in 2004, I didn’t choose vintage to be a ‘fancy pants’. I chose them because of the range and variety that vintage frames offer, and also because they were considerably less expensive than modern frames. The first pair were bought from Esther Harris of Vintage Eyewear of New York at the Atlantique City shows I used to visit twice a year when working for Miller’s. The second, and current, pair were bought from Barbara Blau in Philadelphia for around $45 (£28). I loved …

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Just because something is rare, it doesn’t have to be expensive. High values come from a mercurial combination of condition, age, rarity and the ever-present law of supply and demand. So I was delighted to stumble across this curvaceous Dartington storage jar for £22 at last week’s National Glass Fair in Birmingham. It was designed in 1967 by Frank Thrower, co-founder and sole designer at Dartington Glass until his untimely death in 1987. It’s shown in the very first, hand-drawn catalogue, and is numbered FT18. Dartington numbers were applied to shapes consecutively, which helps to date them to a period or, in the early years, often a year. Frank was inspired by Scandinavian glass of the 1950s & 60s, but also took some inspiration from 18th and 19th century glass and other, highly diverse forms and themes. Part of his brilliance lay in knowing what the market wanted, what it would pay, and taking all these inspirations and combining them with a quirky British twist. But not everything worked or proved popular, and it’s often …

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Magical Mayan Ceramics in Mexico

Having spent an entire day the previous week at the vast and awesome National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, I was keen to find out more about Mayan ceramics. To be honest, I was actually more keen to own a bit as I always prefer that when looking into an area. Although my knowledge of such pre-Columbian things is very limited, I know enough to know that the market is flooded with fakes, and original pieces are hard-to-find and good bits are typically very expensive. The more I looked, the more I thought I’d go for a good reproduction, almost in similar way to the ‘really rather good’ fake antique ceramics I bought in China. But where to go? I didn’t want to go for the higher-end, but still mass-produced, pieces sold in museum gift shops, even if they were in ‘limited editions’, so I decided to support today’s independent craftsmen and get my ‘fix’ that way. Asking around and flicking through guide books told me that the town of Ticul is known for it …

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The Portland vase is one of the most famous pieces of glass in the world, and is also amongst the oldest, finest and most celebrated. Made in ancient Rome around AD5-25, it can now be seen in the British Museum, having previously been in many prestigious collections. Collectors who owned it before 1810 include (in reverse order) British aristocrats, an ambassador, a dealer, Italian cardinals, Popes, and an Emperor. It was also famously lent to Josiah Wedgwood, who finally successfully copied it in his famous Jasperware ceramic in 1790, after four years of experimentation. Reproductions or copies in glass are considerably scarcer due to a combination of the material and the complexity and difficulty of the casing and the cutting. It’s hard enough to make the blank successfully, let alone complete the cameo carving with the finesse and detail of the original. Only a handful of glassmasters have taken on the challenge and achieved it successfully since Roman times. These include Philip Pargeter and John Northwood, who completed their £1,000 prize-winning replica by 1876, Benjamin …

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As well as being relaxing, the two weeks I spent in Mexico for our Summer holiday this year were most revealing. I had never really considered Mexican design before and, although I had seen Mexican folk art, I hadn’t considered it properly. These two weeks gave ample opportunities, from visiting museums to wandering the streets of Merida aimlessly for a day just to see what life there was like and what I encountered. What I did encounter was sizzingly sensational – a rainbow of vibrant colours, a mixing of motifs from religion, life and death, and enormously invigorating vivacity. The long-established epicentre of much of this is the annual ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration held in early November. It now seems that I’m not the only person to have had this revelation. To commemorate this year’s event, the FT had a double page spread about contemporary and modern Mexican design, and the popularity of traditional and modern folk art. Uber-dealer Mallett of London have also recently held an exhibition dedicated to Mexican design. Apart from the wonderful …

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