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A buyer’s guide to… Clarice Cliff

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Ben Gamble is MD and head auctioneer at progressive Staffordshire auction house Cuttlestones, a regular venue for the filming of the BBC’s Cash in the Attic. In this series, Ben shares his expertise on how to spot great antiques and collectables, drawing on over seventeen years’ experience in the antiques trade.


A buyer’s guide to…
In this, his debut feature for The Lifestyle Magazine, Ben focuses on the highly collectable works of a local Midlands icon – the Art Deco pottery designer, Clarice Cliff.


A Cinderella story

The name Clarice Cliff is the antiques world’s equivalent to Marmite – you either love or hate the bold, geometric designs synonymous with her work. But, whichever side of the fence you sit on, one thing’s for sure; the legacy of this prolific designer is hard to ignore and the story behind the pottery’s rise from ‘cheap and cheerful’ homeware to valuable collectable is a fascinating one.


Nowadays the name Clarice Cliff is synonymous with the early 20th Century Art Deco movement – there is a thriving global collector’s market for her work and anyone with the vaguest interest in antiques will be familiar with the highly stylised designs that grace her most famous pieces.

 

A Clarice Cliff Fantasque series ‘Sunrise’ coffee set coming
up for sale in our Fri 25th May 2012 Fine Art Sale, with
an estimate of £600-£1,000

However, this wasn’t always the case; during a career that spanned over 50 years in the pottery industry and saw the creation of an estimated 2000 patterns, Clarice Cliff was associated with affordable, fashionable homeware that brightened the lives of countless families during the bleak inter and post-war years. As a measure of how commonly available Clarice Cliff was, a number of its ranges were stocked in that other great British institution; Woolworths.


It is partly down to these humble origins that Clarice Cliff pottery has become so popular and can command considerable prices today. It’s abundance in the early 20th century as every day, almost disposable, working pottery, was due largely due to it being low cost, and many pieces were broken or simply thrown away when they fell out of fashion. In 1972, almost a decade after Cliff’s retirement, an exhibition of her work at Brighton Museum sparked a renewed interest in her work, which continued to grow to form the global network of collectors and fanatics that exists today.


Despite its popularity, Clarice Cliff remains an accessible route into collecting and there are still some hidden gems out there waiting to be discovered – here’s our guide to helping you kick-start your collection.

 

Recognising Clarice Cliff

Shape & design

One of the things that makes Clarice Cliff pottery so popular is its strong design; this also helps make it relatively easy to spot. Keep an eye out for pieces with strong geometric designs and bright, bold colours. While some designs are instantly recognisable, there are an estimated 2000 variations across the Cliff collection – ranging from the purely geometric patterns to impressionist landscapes, floral designs, circus scenes – and everything in between!


In terms of shape, Cliff is most commonly known for strong Art-Deco forms that include cone-like salt and pepper pots and angular tea sets such as the famous ‘Conical’ and ‘Bonjour’ designs. There are less geometric shapes in the Cliff range which take a more practiced eye to spot, such as vases and plates, but bold, stylised artwork is once again a good indicator.


Backstamps

If you think you’ve spotted a piece of Clarice Cliff the next step is to check the backstamp, normally located on the underside of the item. Most genuine Cliff pieces are marked with the name of the design, her signature and a date. However, reading the stamps to get a genuine idea of date takes research – some stamps and designs overlap and often dates indicate the date of manufacture of the pottery rather than the application of the design itself.

 

Spotting a fake

As with any popular collectable, there are fake Clarice Cliff items out there – spotting a fake is not always easy, but simple checks include:
–    Check the weight of the piece – fakes may feel too heavy or too light
–    Assess the quality of finish – fakes may be poorly painted
–    If the price seems very low, beware!
The best way to be able to spot fake pieces is by taking the time to research and get to know the genuine articles; experienced collectors can spot the genuine article from a distance. If in doubt, ask for an expert opinion from your local auction house or visit the website of the Clarice Cliff Collectors’ Club www.claricecliff.com which has lots of useful information on how to spot a fake.


Starting a collection

One of the things that makes Clarice Cliff pottery so collectable is the sheer diversity of designs and patterns. There are a number of ways to start – many collectors begin through ‘pot luck’, either having inherited a piece or picking an item up somewhere and becoming hooked, then buying whatever pieces they happen to stumble upon.


However, by planning your collection from the outset you can elect to buy pieces by style, design or even type – for example, many people collect sugar shakers or salt and pepper pots in various designs as they are small, relatively inexpensive and easy to display and store.


Keeping Records

It’s a good idea to keep records of each and every piece in your collection; these should include photographs, date purchased, purchase price and valuation price. This will help you to build an invaluable record that will be useful for valuation purposes – for insurance or future sale – and also in the event of theft.


It is also important that you get your collection valued by an expert and inform your house insurance company of the value of your collection. It may be that you require additional insurance to cover the collection over and above your household contents premium.


If the remarkable story of the antique’s worlds very own ‘Cinderella’ collectable has inspired you to bring a little Clarice Cliff sunshine into your life, the best thing you can do is get out there and start searching your local auction houses, antique markets and car boot sales. Given the pottery’s humble origins and ‘love it or hate it’ designs, there are doubtless still bargain items hiding away in family china cabinets awaiting discovery!  
 

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