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A Short Introduction To Gray’s Pottery

Art Deco 1930s Gray's Pottery Cream Wall Pocket Vase

A Short Introduction To Gray’s Pottery

Gray’s Pottery was founded in 1907 by Albert Edward Gray (AE Gray). The company was initially set up in Manchester, England prior to moving to Hanley, Staffordshire in 1912.

They are most widely noted as a pottery decorating company, however, in the 1930s there was a fashion for matt glazed undecorated products, and several undecorated pieces were produced. This trend was most notably led by Keith Murray at Wedgwood.

Wedgwood Keith Murray Tankard Mug
Wedgwood Keith Murray Tankard Mug

Grays most famous designer was Susie Cooper, who worked there between 1922 and 1929. She started as a production-line painter before reaching the level of Art Director. Cooper implemented floral, banding and strong geometric patterns, and also produced lustre vases.

Susie Cooper Gray’s Pottery

The Gloria Lustre range was a silver-medal winner at the 1925 Paris Exhibition.

Susie Cooper ‘Oranges’ Gloria Lustre

Backmarks for Gray’s Pottery

The most iconic back mark for Gray’s pottery includes the ‘Clipper’ or ‘Galleon.’ This mark appears as early as the 1910s.

Earliest Gray’s Pottery Backstamp, 1910s, with the iconic galleon

A variation of this backstamp was used right up to the 1950s and included two variations of Galleons, the Liner, the Clipper and the Pharaoh’s Boat. There was one exception which was the ‘Sunburst’ backmark used for the Gloria Lustre.

This commemorative plate nicely illustrates some of the main backstamps used by Gray’s.

Gary’s Pottery Backstamps


The following image shows a 1930s Back Stamp. All brown and approximately 28x5mm in size.
This uncommon mark appeared on ware made exclusively for Gray’s Pottery.

Art Deco 1930s Gray's Pottery Cream Wall Pocket Vase
Art Deco 1930s Gray’s Pottery Cream Wall Pocket Vase with brown 1930s backstamp


Gray’s pottery can often be found with two (dual) backstamps, one for the original maker of the white ware with a second, often superimposed, mark for Gray’s.

The ‘Zebra’ lustre pattern was one of the last to be produced by Gray’s in the 1950s and bears the 1950s clipper backstamp.

1950’s Gray’s Pottery ‘Zebra’


Gray also made collectibles for many large retailers including Dunhill, Heals, Mappin and Webb, and Mottahedeh (new York). The backstamps included the name of the retailer.


Grays was bought out by Portmeirion Potteries, in 1959, on the death of Edward Gray. One of the most famous designers/ owners of Portmeirion pottery was Susan Williams- Ellis, daughter of the renowned Sir Clough William-Ellis.

Sir Clough was the creator of the beautiful Italianate village in Portmeirion, North Wales. This may be better known, at least for fans of the 1960s TV series ‘The Prisoner,’ as the home of Number 6 (Patrick McGoohan): the one with the bouncy ball on the beach, and the people in stripy blazers and straw boaters….

Sir Clough William-Ellis Portmeirion Italianate Village in North Wales

For a more comprehensive look at Gray’s Pottery then click on this link to the rather wonderful ‘go to’ resource

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What Is A Wall Pocket Vase?

SylvaC 320 Pottery Wall Pocket Vase With Pixies

What is a Wall Pocket Vase? An Introduction To Wall Pockets

What Is A Wall Pocket Vase?  Today, we probably think of them as a flat backed ceramic vase, which can be wall mounted and filled with flowers but they are much more versatile than this.

A wall pocket is not to be confused with a:

  • Wall sconce, which is effectively a wall light or a receptacle for holding a light e.g. candles or, these days, electrical wires.
Meissen Porcelain Wall Sconce
  • Wall plaque a thin, flat plate or tablet of metal or porcelain intended for use as ornament.
Art Deco Cope & Co Lady wall mask
Art Deco Cope & Co Lady wall mask/ plaque

Wall pockets date back many centuries to when they were made out of cloth or wood. In fact, they are an early form of storage for those things you wouldn’t want to lose if you hadn’t the luxury of a chest of drawers or cupboards!

Cloth pockets stored things like scissors, needles and thread. Prior to the 17th Century, wooden wall pockets became popular for holding pipes, spills, candles, matches and eating utensils. Even today, you will often see a mounted wooden candle box holder in a church or stately home. Some of these may be modern reproductions but there are many antiques out there too!

Wooden wall pocket for storing candles

It wasn’t until the 18th century that we first saw stylish porcelain wall pocket vases with the arrival of the potteries in UK and abroad.

Most of these early pottery wall pockets were just too expensive for many people but, during the industrial revolution, cheaper methods of making ceramics were introduced, and the popularity of these wonderful objects just exploded.

Most potteries and manufacturers produced a version of a wall pocket including:

  • UK potteries: too numerous to mention e.g. Bretby, Royal Worcester, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Grays, Crown Devon, SylvaC, Arthur Wood.


  • U.S.A e.g. Roseville, whom produced wall pockets in the form of art vases which are now highly prized.
Roseville ‘Foxglove’ Wall Pocket
  • Japan e.g Noritake.
  • Germany e.g. Meissen, Dresden

This lasted until about the 1960s when their popularity started to decline as fashions in homes changed. I blame the arrival of stores like Habitat with their range of more affordable, must have, home designs: only joking!

Wall pockets can be found in all sorts of shapes and sizes from people, characters from books, musical instruments, hats, clothing, shoes, household objects, animals, birds, houses, seashells, fantasy/ mythical/ biblical  creatures, flora and fauna. In fact, just about anything you can think of! Sizes can vary from small, 5-10cm (2-4 inches), to over 30cm (approx. 1 foot).


Manufacturers didn’t just stop at using ceramics either. Wall pockets were also made out of glass, wood, metal, cloth and plastic.

Vintage Pink Glass Wall Pocket

There are not many survivors from this era as they had a habit of falling off walls… Just look what was used to hang this Aldridge Easter Bonnet shaped Wall pocket!

Aldridge Pottery Wall Pocket Vase: hung up with electrical flex!

Prices for antique and vintage wall pockets vary from just a few pounds to 1000s of pounds for some of the rarest designs.

They had, and still have, a multitude of uses including displaying fresh and dried flowers, living plants, herbs, storing soap bars, pan scrubs, hair and tooth brushes, filing papers, and house keys. I even heard of one lady who bought a vintage mouse shaped pocket vase and kept her pet mouse in it. The mouse was able to run up and down the flocked wall paper to its house whenever he pleased…. Ugh!

Wall pockets are still made today and from all sorts of materials and called by a range of names e.g. wall planters, holders, racks but rarely pockets or even just vases. They include reproductions of vintage and antique wall pockets, sometimes using the original moulds, to glass test tubes, holding a single flower stem or herbs, with a suction cup to enable you to stick it on to a window.

In fact upcycling of old light bulbs and chemical glassware has led to a whole range of wonderful wall mounted vases and holders. Have a look on Etsy and Amazon if you need some ideas!

Love them or hate them, these versatile household items have been with us for centuries and are here to stay!



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A Short History Of Adams China Staffordshire Pottery

1970s Adams China Brown Chinese Bird Sugar Bowl & Milk Jug

A Short History Of Adams China Staffordshire Pottery

John Adams set up Adams China in Staffordshire, UK, which became known as the Brick House Works, during the 17th century. In the early years, the factory focused on recreating models that were brought in from the Far East.

In 1779, the son of John Adams, William, opened the Greengates factory in Tunstall, England.


The dish in this image dates from 1914-1940 and the image was found on the website. A very useful reference guide.

Earthenware, although durable, was not as strong as ironstone.  Ironstone was fired longer at higher temperatures and resulted in durable and easily decorated pottery that was cheaper than porcelain. Ironstone was patented by the British potter Charles James Mason in 1813.

John Adams was very innovative and invented an ironstone-like formula.It was an instant success overtaking, the then popular, earthenware market. This enabled the company to focus on manufacturing white ironstone, pottery and cookware.

Adams also produced Jasper ware, a type of matt stoneware pottery invented by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1770s. Adams pottery is one of the few Jasper ware manufacturers considered to have equivalent design and quality to Wedgwood Jasper ware. This is not surprising considering Adams designs were influenced by his friend and tutor, Josiah Wedgwood. Adams produced different colours of Jasper Ware compared with Wedgwood.


Cobalt Blue Adams Tunstall Jasper ware
Cobalt Blue Adams Tunstall Jasper ware

The William Adams company continued to be managed by the 11th and 12th generation direct descendants of the 17th Century Burslem Adams. An amazing achievement!

In the 20th Century, the pottery also developed Microtex, a more durable form of their ironstone formula.


Adams Pottery became part of the Wedgwood Group in 1966, with the intention of converting the factory to making giftware. However, this proved unprofitable and the company shifted to making hotel ware, which too became unprofitable.



Unfortunately, the Greengates factory was closed down by Wedgwood in 1992. After closing, somebody set fire to the factory and it was razed to the ground. A sad end to a three hundred year old company…

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What are Toby jugs and Character Jugs?

What are Toby jugs and Character Jugs: Two Small Vintage Hand Painted 'Janus' Artone Character Jugs

What are Toby jugs and Character Jugs?

What are Toby jugs and Characters Jug? It is very easy to confuse a toby jug with a character jug and vice versa, but they are different!

A toby jug/ mug depicts the full body of a figure, generally a rotund, jolly, tipsy gentleman, (occasionally a woman), usually with a tricorn hat and 18th century attire. A character jug/ mug usually shows just the head and shoulders and tend to be smaller.

Toby Jugs

Toby Jug
An Antique Toby Jug from our personal collection

Toby jugs have been around considerably longer than character jugs. They date back to at least the Mid-1700s where they were used as drinking vessels for ale in taverns and public houses.

Some people owned their own toby jug and took it to the inn with them or kept it for their sole use: at least they knew whom had been drinking out of it, as it was easily identifiable! I’m not sure they bothered much with washing up in those days…

The origin of the name Toby has been attributed to several different sources:-

  • ‘Sir Toby Belch’ in Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night. An affable, but usually tipsy, character.
  • ‘Toby Fillpot (Philpot)’ a notorious 18th-century Yorkshire drinker whose real name was Henry Elwes. He was mentioned in an old English drinking song The Brown Jug, first published in 1761.
  • A ‘low Toby’: an 18th Century highwayman but without a horse!

Some of the finest early jugs were produced in the Staffordshire Potteries in England by Ralph Wood, Whieldon, Walton, and Astbury.  These jugs can command very high prices (£1000s).

Toby Jug
Ralph Wood, Burslem, Staffordshire, 1789-1801. A museum exhibit.

Through the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Toby jug became very popular and with it the style and level of characterisation increased. By the 19th and 20th centuries people began to collect Toby jugs modelled on characters from popular stories and famous characters e.g. politicians and monarchs. These were often comic caricatures, which probably didn’t go down well with the personality depicted!

Toby Jugs continued to be manufactured by the well known potteries e.g. Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Shorter, Burleigh, and Wade amongst many others. Many of the editions produced were limited, adding to their scarcity and current value.


Character Jugs/ Mugs

Vintage Hand Painted 18th Century Man Kelsboro Ware Character Jug
Vintage Hand Painted 18th Century Man Kelsboro Ware Character Jug

Character jugs/ mugs were probably introduced in the 19th Century and became popular in the 20th century as souvenirs, particular the miniatures.

Many of the 20th Century art potteries produced hand painted character jugs/mugs of popular personalities e.g. Winston Churchill or for their notoriety e.g. Dick Turpin, and fictional characters too, particularly from music hall or literature e.g. Charles Dickens.

Vintage Wood's Reproduction Toby Jug
Vintage Wood’s Reproduction Toby Jug

This character mug miniature is of ‘Bill Sykes’: the nasty one from Oliver Twist who kills Oliver’s friend ‘Nancy’ and has a horrible dog called ‘Bullseye’.

Small Vintage Hand Painted Cooper Clayton Bill Sykes Character Jug
Small Vintage Hand Painted Cooper Clayton Bill Sykes Character Jug


The most prized collector’s jugs are Royal Doulton whom produced them from 1934 to 2011. Some of the limited editions, unique models and colour ways, and prototypes are increasing in value from approximately £20 to £100s!

At the end of the 20th Century, it was said that ‘there is no room for Toby/ Character jugs in a modern home’, however, the tide is turning and more people are starting to collect these wonderful colourful jugs as designer pieces or to brighten a dark corner of a room.

Click on the following link for our collection of Toby and Character Jugs.

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Pin Cushion Lady Porcelain Half Dolls- What are they?

Vintage Half doll china bisque pin cushion lady

Vintage and Antique Pin Cushion Lady Porcelain Half Dolls- What are they?

I have always been a fan of pin cushion ladies or half-dolls with their delicate features and vibrant colours.

I remember, as a small child, my Granny having one attached to a huge patchwork skirt, which she used as a tea cosy over the enormous brown earthenware family, 10-cup, teapot. It was so heavy when filled that you couldn’t lift it! You just tipped it to pour!

The tea was always made from tea leaves and she used sterilised milk, which smelt and tasted absolutely disgusting! It’s no wonder that I prefer to drink coffee. Anyway, I digress….

Pin cushion half-doll

Pincushion dolls are not really dolls. They were mainly used to show off your needlework skills, including embroidery, bead knitting, cross stitch, embroidery, quilting and patchwork.  They are often referred to as “half-doll.”

The top half of each doll is made of porcelain and the bottom edge has several holes for the thread. This enabled you to stitch the half-doll on to a voluminous fabric skirt.

The finished figure was used to cover a hot pot of tea, (as already mentioned) but you can also find them covering a powder puff, pincushion, broom, brush (as in the image below), loo roll or lamps, and were also used as flower frogs or just to sit on shelves or trinket boxes.

Pin cushion Half doll table crumb brush

They were made in sizes from less than an inch (2.5cm) to over 9 inches (22.9cm) high. The one in the following image is only 4cm (1.6″) in height.

tiny half doll
Tiny (~4cm) Half doll pin cushion lady with a pink dress and pink tricorn hat

Pin cushion dolls were often hand-painted and date from the mid to late 19th century, to the mid 20th Century. Unfortunately, many bear no back mark or are just marked ‘Foreign’.

The finest half-dolls were made in Germany from renowned manufacturers such as Ernest Bohne Söhne (EBS). Reproductions are made to this day using some of the original moulds. The original EBS were slightly different in that they attached to wire frames, and hence their bases were solid and not hollow like the reproductions.

Art Deco Ernest Bohne Söhne Half-doll

Other notable makers include W.M Goebel, Dressel & Kister, Heubach & Lichte, and Sitzendorfer. The figurines ranged from bathing beauties, princesses and Queens, flower sellers, and ladies with pompadours. Some of the more unusual half-dolls are highly prized by collectors and can command quite high prices.

Bathing Beauty Half doll


The half-dolls make great display pieces with their lovely colours and finery. I have been half-tempted to start collecting the reproduction half-dolls but I have resisted, so far….