These included, at £15,000, a large blue and white tureen and cover, c.1768-70, signed by Robert Allen – the decorator who joined the factory aged 13 and lived to over 90.
The significance of this piece lies not just in its size and decoration but in the appearance of the signature Allin and the numeral 5 together. This appears to confirm the traditional association between pieces with Allen-type decoration and this decorator’s number.
In his book Lowestoft Porcelains (1985), Geoffrey Godden states that only two tureens of this shape and size are recorded, both painted with a Chinese river scene. This is a third example and painted with an unrecorded and quirky pattern of a farmhouse with half-timbered gable and a pantiled roof characteristic of buildings in eastern England.
The presence of Cupid within the interior of the vessel may suggest that it was made to celebrate a marriage, in which case it might well have been made for punch rather than soup. It was last sold by Bonhams in June 2015 when it took £13,500.
Historically the top prices for Lowestoft have been for pieces painted in blue with local views by Allen. In 2010, £24,000 was paid at Bonhams for a flask from the Godden collection painted in underglaze blue with what was probably a local shipbuilding scene to one side, while the auction record for the factory currently stands at £30,000, paid at Russell Sprake in 2011 for a guglet and basin painted with various scenes around the town and coastline.
Birth tablets, the 3in (7cm) circular plaques made to commemorate the births of local children, are unique to Lowestoft and add to the factory’s great sense of place.
An example at Bonhams, documented as early as 1931 and formerly part of the famed Colman collection, is inscribed Mary Rushmer born Octr 29 1796. Parish records show she was christened in Frostenden, just a few miles south of Lowestoft. Decorated verso with a floral sprig, it was one of the last personalised birth tablets to be made in Lowestoft before the factory closed in 1801.
The auction record for a tablet is that inscribed Thos Anderson Born Sept 13th 1790 and painted to the reverse with an Oriental landscape. Sold at Phillips in 1996 for £4600, it took £14,000 at Sprake in 2006. Prices today are more circumspect: Rushmer’s plaque took £7000 (guide £5000-8000).
Equally emblematic of the factory output are the ‘trifles’ made as tourist souvenirs. All are inscribed by the same hand, probably that of Robert Allen. Most are painted in coloured enamels and only a few are recorded in underglaze blue.
A slightly waisted cylindrical inkwell sold here at £6500 appears to be the last in the progression of shapes of Lowestoft inkwells and probably dates from c.1790-95. Another of the same form, also inscribed A Trifle From Lowestoft in blue, took £7000 as part of the Rev RC Wheeler Collection at Bonhams in April 2008.
The handful of small ornamental figures – usually animals – made in Suffolk are also in high demand with collectors, despite their often unsophisticated appearance.
A number appeared here including, from a collection of British ceramic felines, a 2in (5cm) model of a tabby cat seated on a green mound base, c.1770. The form corresponds to a mould that was excavated at the factory site. Another with the same naturalistic decoration sold for £5200 at Tennants in Leyburn in 2012.
This one had last sold as part of the Billie Pain collection (Bonhams, 2003) for £4400 and returned to the rooms to bring £5500.