This has nothing to do with animals, obviously. Vetting is the process that occurs the day before certain, usually higher end, art and antiques fairs open. Teams of independent experts grouped by discipline (silver, glass, jewellery etc) move around the fair looking at every object in the fair in their category, closely examining any they feel the need to. Some are dealers at the fair, but most are not and travel in for the day. The point is to ensure that everything for sale is exactly what it is described as being – authenticity, condition, attributions and date must all be correct. Price isn’t included in vetting. That’s down to the dealer selling the item. A vetter may have an opinion, and/or experience, which they may voice to the dealer if they feel it’s appropriate, but generally a vetter is encouraged to keep their opinion on price to themselves. At some fairs I’ve vetted, thoughts on price are offered where a vetter feels that the object is under-priced in the market. Helpful stuff – as is when when a dealer …

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A few years ago, I bought a Minton majolica tile (above and below) at auction that, according to the handwritten labels on the back (see below), had a rather interesting provenance to the Great Exhibition of 1851. I wrote a blog post about it appealing for more information, which you can read by clicking here. I had a few helpful responses shortly after but was delighted to hear very recently from Michael Spender, a tile collector and the Museum and Arts Manager at Poole Museum. He was the original owner of my tile and had researched it and the other, similar tiles he owned. He wrote about his discoveries in 2004 in Glazed Expressions, the magazine of TACS, the Tiles & Architectural Ceramics Society. Michael was kind enough to pass on scans of the article and here is what I learnt from reading his in-depth research. Michael traced the source of the design of a stylised flower-head in an ogee arch to a row of tiles shown in an illustration …

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I love ephemera! By that term, I mean things that were produced for a single use, or for short term enjoyment, before being discarded or thrown away. They are literally ‘ephemeral’, which is where the term is obviously derived from. Good examples are tickets, flyers and similar promotional material, or even things like ‘sample cups’ produced by brands such as Coca Cola so you can taste their world-famous drink. Ephemera is typically made from paper or card, and is usually printed. It also often has a strong social history element. Even if I can’t find anything of interest to buy for stock or my collection in an antiques shop, centre or antiquarian bookshop, I nearly always find something interesting to buy in a basket or box full of photos and such papery things. A good example is this ticket, which I found on a recent visit to Henley-on-Thames, where I stumbled across the truly excellent Richard Way Books. Although there were plenty of books I could have bought, my budget was tight and I decided on some ephemera …

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One of the aspects I love about my job the most is finding objects I love but don’t know anything about. It’s almost like a challenge – the piece taunts and teases me. Who am I? Where was I made? Who designed and produced me? When? What do I mean? Often looking at them periodically over a long period of time yields something I hadn’t spotted or considered, or else I stumble across something that helps as I go about my job and daily life. Although there’s a huge amount of rubbish to be found on the internet, sometimes just posting something and ‘putting it out there’, or scanning through Google Images helps too. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant lead can yield something. You just need to know where to start or, more precisely, where to start looking. My latest acquisition is this striking terracotta plaque, showing two men, one crouching and one standing above him holding sheaves of paper and with an eagle perched on his shoulder. The Communist star can be seen on the right hand side, …

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In April this year, I was lucky enough to be able to secure the central exhibition space at the Spring Antiques For Everyone fair at the National Exhibition centre in Birmingham to promote Skrdlovice glass. Although the accompanying book ‘Berànek & Skrdlovice: Legends of Czech Glass‘ was launched later that month, we were able to mount the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, covering glass made at the factory from the mid 1940s until it closed in 2008. The glass was generously provided from the private collection of glass historian and collector Robert Bevan Jones, who organised it into sections and created the display. Along with along with Jindrich Parik, he is one of the two authors of the accompanying book – the first on the factory and its designers. As you can see from the photographs below, the display made an immense visual impact. As a result, it was visited by many thousands of people who visited the fair – comments were extremely positive and everyone came away having learnt many new things …

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A few months ago, I published a post about some exciting new Italian ceramics by the mysterious ‘Flower Painter’ that I had found. You can read the post by clicking here. As they sadly didn’t reveal the identity of the designer or factory, but just tantalised with more clues, I set the challenge of finding out more. A number of you very kindly got back to me with different names found on similar ceramics in your collections. These included ‘Milvia’ and ‘Simo’, the latter found by George from Virginia, USA on a vase. I’m usually very suspicious about names signed in the image on Italian ceramics, mainly as they were usually simply put there to add value, making the vase look ‘artist-signed’. The most notable examples of this were made in San Marino. Although I can’t find anything more out about Simo (yet?), Milvia ‘has legs’. A little light research shows that the name also appears on a range of tea towels produced in 1973 for a homewares company called Zucchi …

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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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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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Those of you who have bought Alla Moda, my new book on mid-century Italian ceramics, will have seen a double page spread of quirky ceramics by an as yet unknown company and designer who ‘signs’ each piece with a stylised four petalled flower. I’ve pretty much fallen in love with them! At the Midcentury Fair last weekend, Haji & White were on the stand next to me. One of their favourite areas is the 1958 Brussels Exposition, or World’s Fair, which was an important showcase of postwar design and industry. Amidst the brochures, models of the Atomium, and posters, I was delighted to spot three ceramics by The Flower Painter, a large wall charger, a small square dish, and a ‘one-person’ tiny ashtray. Each shows the famously friendly hostesses that helped visitors to the park and pavilions. A price for the three pieces was worked out, and I added them to my collection. Although they still don’t reveal the identity of the maker or designer, I have learnt a number of new …

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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 designer’s …

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