An Ambleside Treasure at Auction

Steven Moore, my good friend and Antiques Roadshow colleague called me yesterday. He is Senior Specialist at Newcastle’s Anderson & Garland auction house, and had spotted something in their general auction today that he thought might interest me. And indeed it did – very much. Regular readers of my blog or Collect It magazine will know that I’m rather fond of Cumbria’s Ambleside Pottery, which sold primarily to tourists to the Lake District from the from the 1950s-80s. It was founded by George Cook, who produced all the designs and ran it until he sold it in 1968.
His hallmark range was decorated with black and blue matte glazes which were then scratched through to reveal the underlying white clay. This ‘sgrafitto’ technique has been used for centuries, but there’s nothing else traditional about his designs. From Modernist geometric lines to stylised leaf or bud-like designs that echo the work of Stig Lindberg and other Scandinavian Modern ceramicists, his patterns are firmly rooted in the 1950s & 60s. The design on this fish is absolutely typical, and the stylised, modern form only goes to reinforce the marvellous mid-century modernity of his work.
But the biggest surprise for me was the fact it is a fish. I’ve admired and sought out Ambleside ever since I came across it four years ago, but I’ve only seen flower pots, vases, small dishes, the odd lampbase, and (scarce) quirky three-legged bowls. I have never, ever, seen anything in any other shape! Not the usual tourist fare, I wonder if this chap was produced as a special commission or for an exhibition? I’m obviously not the only one who think he is an ignored potter, as prices have been rising slowly over the past few years – particularly for large or unusual pieces. As such, I had some competition in the saleroom but was able to win it for £70 plus buyer’s premium. Jolly delighted as I am, I haven’t spent even half as much on all the rest of my collection-ette!

2 thoughts on “An Ambleside Treasure at Auction

  1. odeon-artdeco says:

    Lucky you! I’ve just seen this and realised I was away on holiday otherwise I would have been there and I would have gone up to £100 plus commission for it. Already own one fish and have seen another in the the collection of the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle of all places. I think they were just made as fun decorative pieces, which of course they are, but there are so few about.
    If you ever want a researcher/collaborator in the north east when you come to write your book on Ambleside, give me a shout.


  2. Mark Hill says:

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for your comment – so there are at least another two. Not quite a shoal yet, and all interesting stuff. I didn’t think it could have been unique, and this proves it. How lovely to hear that there’s one in such a prestigious collection as that at the Bowes Museum.
    Thank you also for your kind offer, if I ever do decide to write a book, then I’ll certainly be in touch!
    I think I was lucky that you were on holiday – I hope you enjoyed it.
    Best wishes,

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