My most valuable pot
Collectors are born not made. I am missing that essential gene, or at least in my DNA that gene is severely compromised, I just don’t have an obsession to accumulate. I do own pottery and porcelain, mostly acquired in recent years to decorate my home. Sometimes I buy things because I think they are a bargain, occasionally I find something I just don’t want to leave behind on an antique stall, but more of those aberrations another time.
I want to tell you about my most valuable possession. It isn’t worth much, it isn’t beautiful, and it isn’t in perfect condition – so why is it so precious to me?
It’s a heavy earthenware or stonechina plate, printed in that shade of purpley-black so popular in Victorian times. The border is heavily patterned with scrolling flowers and foliage, the centre has a modest floral spray. The underglaze printing is almost entirely covered with overglaze painting in red, green, blue, pink, and yellow; some heavy blue lines are edged with yellow ochre in imitation of expensive gilding.
But the reverse holds its charm for me. It is signed in yellow Lucretia Elkin underlined with a flourish. It was given to me by my grandmother whose maiden name was Lucretia Elkin and for decades I thought it was a sample of her work. Eventually, through a combination of family research and ceramic experience, I came to realise it was too old to be made by my grandmother and discovered it was made by my great grand aunt Lucretia Elkin.
Lucretia is a family name and this Lucretia Elkin was christened in March 1853 and married on October 17, 1869 aged 16. This gives a very limited timeframe in which the plate could have been decorated and signed with her maiden name. It is unlikely she began work before the age of 9 (Factory Act 1833) so that the plate was decorated sometime between 1862-1869, perhaps towards the end of that time as it is unlikely a beginner would be permitted to sign her work. We know she was born and lived most of her life in Hanley, within walking distance of the Old Hall factory of Charles Meigh & Sons where the plate was made. In the 1871 census Lucretia is listed as a pottery paintress and she continued in that trade for the rest of her working life, but whether she continued to work for at the Old Hall factory isn’t known.
The mark on the back of the plate is usually thought to pre-date 1861, but this seems unlikely given the information available from the painted inscription which suggests the C.M. & S mark of Charles Meigh & Son continued well into the 1860s.
The pattern name of this printed and painted design is ‘Gem’ and I guess you could say this is the gem of my collection.
What’s your most treasured ceramic? Post a comment.