COLLECTING GUIDES Wemyss ware
Did you know? His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales has always had an interest in Wemyss ware, as did his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who had a Wemyss ware collection.
handling a few pieces, it is possible to tell the difference between the two, but it can be confusing. I have one or two items I am not sure about: both potteries have crazing, but the glaze on the English Bovey pottery seems to have less of it.
Scottish pieces can have a painted, or impressed Wemyss mark – or both. If it was sold through their London agent it will also have the printed oval mark of Thomas Goode & Co., South Audley Street, London. All three marks can appear on one piece. Signing on pots by the decorators was not allowed at either pottery, so signatures can only be found on pieces made for family and friends. Signed pieces are rare, but the decorators can sometimes be identified by the way they wrote “Wemyss” on the underside of their pots.
Left George at home in the garden
IDENTIFYING MARKS Pieces of English – or Bovey Wemyss as collectors call it – nearly always have a painted script mark and never the impressed Wemyss mark or the oval Thomas Goode & Co. printed mark. The painted mark usually has the words “Wemyss, Made in England” or “Wemyss Ware” or just “Wemyss”, often with Joseph Nekola’s distinctive handwriting. Occasionally, the piece was signed “Nekola Pinxt” with all marks ending with a full stop, and sometimes a stamped mark reading “Plichta, London, England.” These pieces were made for Jan Plichta, an important customer for the Bovey pottery. His name appears on many items of Bovey pottery, both in the upmarket Wemyss range and items from its cheaper end. Joseph worked at the Bovey pottery from 1930 until his death in 1952.
It can be interesting trying to identify the different decorators by the way “Wemyss” is painted on their pieces. Karel Nekola, James Sharp, Edwin Sandland and Joseph Nekola are the easiest to identify, but there were many other pieces marked by decorators whose identity still remains a mystery.
FIFE POTTERY Fife Pottery started up around 1817. It stood on the corner of Pottery Street and South Row in the Gallatown area of Kirkcaldy, although there is now nothing left of the large site, which probably housed four large kilns and several smaller ones. Owner Robert Heron inherited the pottery through marriage in 1837, and at first concentrated on producing undistinguished, though necessary, domestic pottery, which was sold in large quantities in the days before the advent of plastic. Jet ware – black enamelled teapots and other items, some gilded or decorated with small flowers – was also made and was popular in the Victorian age. A wide range of plates, soup bowls and jugs were also produced in transferware, a quick method of decoration that was easy to apply and needed relatively little skill. These items were usually marked on the base with R.H.&S., for Robert Heron and Son.
At that stage in its history, Fife Pottery was making a good turnover by supplying good quality and not unattractive items that were essential for everyday life and which provided a satisfactory income for the manufacturer. But Robert Heron’s son, Robert Methven Heron, set his sights higher. He was cosmopolitan in outlook and his imaginative boundaries stretched far beyond his native Fife, travelling to the continent to find the artists who he hoped could deliver the designs of his dreams.
Start of Wemyss It is thought that while he was on one of his many trips to Europe in the 1880s, Heron met several pottery decorators and persuaded them to come back to Fife to work. Most only stayed for a short time before returning home, but two men – Anton Weber and Karel Nekola – stayed to use their considerable artistic skills in the pottery.
Weber stayed for a few years until he left in 1884, after being best man at
Nekola’s wedding. Karel Nekola himself remained, marrying Isabella, who was cookhousekeeper to Robert Heron, and settling down in Kirkcaldy to raise their family of six children. It is no exaggeration to say that the iconic Wemyss ware decorations, which are so keenly collected today, are mainly due to Nekola’s talents and vision.
Growing skillbase Several other highly-skilled artists were also involved, including James Sharp, David Grinton, John Brown (who later worked at Methven’s Pottery in the Links area of Kirkcaldy), Christina McKinnon and her brother Hugh, James Adamson, and Karel’s son Joseph. The last major decorator to come to Heron’s after Nekola’s death was Edwin Sandland, who had trained as a potter on his father’s farm and also studied at the art college in Stoke on Trent. There were also other decorators whose names are not recorded. Some of the experimental and very
14 ANTIQUE COLLECTING