The Knowledge: Henry Sandon on Royal Worcester

In the first of our new series, Henry Sandon shares his expertise in Royal Worcester porcelain

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I first became interested in Royal Worcester in the 1950s, when I was in my twenties. I got involved in archaeological work in Worcester, where I lived, and it was discovering pottery in the ground that captured my interest. I uncovered medieval jugs at the bottom of wells and also Roman pots in my own garden – it was all terribly exciting! I became curator of what is now the Museum of Royal Worcester in 1966, and I stayed there for 17 happy years.

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The history of Royal Worcester is very complicated, as there were so many factories. Back then, Worcester was like a little Stoke-on-Trent, with masses of manufacturers. But there are a few key greats: the original was Dr Wall’s factory (1751–1783), then came the Flight & Barr partnerships (1783–1840), Chamberlain’s (1780s–1852), Grainger (1801–1902), Kerr and Binns (1852–1862), and Hadley & Sons (1896–1905). They all merged at various times, and became the Royal Worcester Porcelain Company, founded in 1862. I did say it was complicated!

The very early pieces from Dr Wall’s factory are highly collectable – I managed to buy the very first piece made there in 1751 at auction some time ago – as well as the fine things from the Flight & Barr and Chamberlain periods. The painter Thomas Baxter worked for both and was probably the greatest of all. Harry Davis, who came along in the 20th century, was another of the great porcelain painters. I have his very first apprentice plate and his first vase – I love them very much.

It’s a good time to purchase pieces from the 20th century, especially the horses by Doris Lindner, and Dorothy Doughty’s birds. They are marvellous. They don’t fetch the money they used to, but they will again one day. There was an auction recently where a whole string of Lindner’s horses and bulls were going for hundreds, whereas they used to fetch thousands. Affordable pieces like this are turning up at auction quite often nowadays.

Royal Worcester is always very well marked, so identifying pieces is straightforward. Each factory has its own mark – many key decorators and artists would sign their pieces, and any limited-edition items would also have been sold with certificates. Those by Harry Davis and the Stinton family, for instance – which are highly collectable – are always signed.

While there are some fakes about, they are rarely very good. Look at the artwork – if the gilding, decoration and the quality of the make all look brilliant, you should be safe. Fakes usually let themselves down on at least one of these. If it looks anything less than brilliant, I should give it a miss.

FIVE FACTS ABOUT HENRY

 Henry joined the Antiques Roadshow in 1979 for Series Two
 The most impressive ceramic Henry saw on the Roadshow was a slipware owl from the 1680s: ‘Ozzy the owl caused great excitement!’ He valued it at over £20,000.
 A collector of all types of pottery, Henry has a particular interest in pre-Columbian Peruvian ceramics.
 Henry is a keen choral singer – he was a lay clerk at Worcester Cathedral for many years and presented numerous episodes of Songs of Praise.
 The great mid 20th-century photographer Vivienne was Henry’s aunt. Five of her portraits of British prime ministers line the stairs of Number 10 Downing Street.

* For more information, read any one of Henry’s numerous books on the subject, or visit the Museum of Royal Worcester to see the world’s best collection of its eponymous porcelain. museumofroyalworcester.org

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Interview: Mel Sherwood
Portrait: Grant Scott