YOU’VE SEEN them at countless car boot sales, and you’ve been embarrassed when you’ve asked the stallholder how much he wants for the naff set of NatWest piggy banks, the SylvaC bunnies or the preserve pots shaped like onions modelled with faces on the sides.
But it’s okay. Help is at hand in the shape of the latest glossy hardback to come from the stable of the Antique Collectors’ Club, entitled "Starting to Collect 20th Century Ceramics". Author Andrew Casey is an acknowledged expert on the subject and his book has been produced specially with the novice collector in mind.
From the Lord of the Rings figures from the Middle Earth Series produced by Royal Doulton in 1980 to the Homemaker designs made in the 1950s for Woolworth’s by Ridgway Potteries, Mr Casey’s book is not just an exercise in "Do people really collect those?", but
also an excuse for the people who do to carry on regardless.
After all, no one was harmed in the process of calling objects made yesterday antiques and collectables (except of course the uninitiated). If you buy or sell 20th century pottery at antiques fairs, fleamarkets or car boot sales, then this book should be your bible.
For example, did you know that there are collectors who would kill for a rare piece of Roland Rat gift ware pottery? No, me neither.
To the purist, such as BBC Antiques Roadshow specialist and much loved character Henry Sandon, who wrote the foreword to the book, it is something of anathema to learn that 20th century ceramics are among the fastest growing field of collecting. But it’s true, and we’ll have to live with it.
Having watched a sale last week in which a collection of Beswick farm animals made eye-watering prices, it seems today’s collectors are more interested in kitsch than they are in fine Georgian silver or antique furniture.
As Mr Casey points out, the market for "collectables" — the preferred phrase for 20th century items rather than "antiques — has blossomed over the last 20 years, egged on by television programmes and Internet auctions.
Now, the stuff chucked out by our parents or blown to smithereens in the Blitz is the new Meissen, Chelsea and Bow.
Starting to Collect 20th Century Ceramics is a compendium of manufacturers in Britain, Europe and America. Many of the names are old favourites but there are plenty whom collectors have yet to focus and capitalise upon.
Take William Adams Ltd. The Adams family started manufacturing pottery in 1779 in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. In the 20th century, the firm produced a wide variety of tea, coffee and dinner wares that are highly collectable.
Ironically however, despite a strong interest in Susie Cooper pottery, the Meadowlands and Inspiration patterns she designed for Adams in circa 1983-84 have yet to be recognised and as such might be useful investment.
Or Barretts of Staffordshire Ltd. A relatively unknown pottery, Barretts was once owned by Great Universal Stores but subsequently the subject of a management buy-out in 1986.
In 1992, Barretts purchased the Royal Stafford company in receivership and the following year the companies were amalgamated to become known as Royal Stafford Tableware, who produced exclusive high-end dinner services for such stores as Ralph Lauren. The products are another one to watch.
Pottery by John Beswick Ltd is already priced beyond the reach of most but in contrast, the firm of E. Brain and Co was formed in 1855 at the Foley Works in Fenton, Stoke-On-Trent.
Foley’s bone china was the tableware of choice for the upper middle classes, but Andrew Casey advises collectors to look out for the small range of Brain fancies such as dishes from the late 1950s decorated with a whimsical images by Maureen Tanner.
The author suggests collectors keep a lookout for her Curlew shapes, the Art Deco designs from the early 30s such as Seagull, Panorama and Homestead and her Leaping Deer and Angel Fish figural table centres reissued by Wedgwood in 2002.
The Bourne family established the famous pottery in Denby, Derbyshire, in 1809 when they produced salt-glaze stoneware.
In the 1960s, every trendy home had a Denby dinner service but Andrew Casey advises collectors to seek their kitchenware such as Cottage Blue and Manor Green designed by Donald Gilbert in the 1930s.
Collectors are apparently also particularly keen on the rare designs and patterns such as the Cheviot Wares from 1956.
Even Royal Crown Derby, one of this country’s most significant and enduring companies has its collectables.
Founded in 1876, Derby competed with some of the finest English and Continental porcelain manufacturers and in 1890 was awarded a Royal warrant by Queen Victoria.
Shunning the traditional, apparently today’s collectors are drawn to the animal and bird paperweights designed by Robert Jefferson in the 1980s and skilfully painted pieces by such artists as Albert Gregory and Cuthbert Gresley.
However, for the less well heeled, he recommends collectors should also look out for the less well-known designs by John Butler, whilst American collectors are apparently eager to purchase a traditional landscape printed dinnerware with the Royal Staffordshire mark known as Tonquin.
I could go on … and on, but space precludes it. I recommend you buy the book. It’s a good read and highly informative. It’s also well illustrated with a host of colour photographs which is a real boon to spotting the bargains at car boot sales.
For the ceramics collector interested in new antiques, it would make a cracking Christmas present. Just don’t be too hacked off remembering what was on your dinner table when you were a child.
Starting to Collect 20th Century Ceramics is priced at £14.95. Contact The Antique Collectors’ Club on 01394 389950.