For a firm that by the 1880s was making 20 million tiles per year, a series of vases by Arts & Crafts guru Walter Crane (1845-1915) represented something of a departure.
Crane, who had designed tile patterns for Maw’s Benthall Works from 1874, was commissioned to create seven vases c.1889. Each decorated with the distinctive iridescent ruby glaze that had been developed for tile painting, together they demonstrate Crane’s interest in a wide range of historical forms and decoration, from classical antiquity to the Islamic world.
In the Art Journal, 1898, he recalled: “I designed a set of ases for lustre ware, giving the sections to the thrower and painting on the biscuit the designs, which were copied on duplicate vases in lustre.”
Among the best-known of the series is the 10in (25cm) wide vessel modelled as a galley with a swan-head prow and a fish tail stern. Dolphins and scenes from the Odyssey are painted to the sides, while to the base is Crane’s large cypher including a bird that plays on his surname.
The example offered by art pottery specialist Kingham & Orme in Evesham on July 28 was in perfect condition. Entered for sale from a private collection, it tipped over hopes of £6000-8000 to bring £8500 (plus 20% premium) from a UK collector, probably an auction high for this form.
Few collectors own the complete array of Crane’s Maw & Co vases, although the seven can be seen together at Rode Hall in Cheshire. The set was completed in 2006 with the purchase of a square-handled Four Seasons vase (deemed the rarest) at Lawrences of Bletchingley at £7600.
The record for the factory still stands at the staggering £42,000 bid for a 12½in (31cm) high Mermaids vase when Law Fine Art sold the Andrew Keith collection in 2005.