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Hammer falls on Alboin Birks’ personal collection at £17,287

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Lot 429, a ‘Le Collier’ cabinet plate, circa 1913, decorated
by Birks himself with figures of Venus and Cupid on a
blue background with ivory and gilt borders and a pierced
rim achieved £3,776

A collection of photographs, sketches, letters, other ephemera and items of pâte-sur-pâte porcelain belonging to the private collection of Minton’s master of the lauded decorative art form, Alboin Birks, sold last Friday for £17,287. Poignantly, the collection sold at Cuttlestones Auction House in Birks’ home county of Staffordshire.

The delicate beauty of pâte-sur-pâte ware was popular in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries; with Stoke’s Minton factory becoming its most prolific producer with the recruitment of its pioneer, Frenchman Marc-Louis Solon. Solon had turned what was initially an industrial mistake into a decorative form in its own right at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres in the 1850s, before fleeing to England with the advent of the Franco-Prussian war. Minton capitalised on their refugee artisan’s talents with a number of young designers, including Birks, tutored by the French master in the art of creating relief design on an unfired, unglazed body through the application of successive layers of white slip with a brush.

Birks went onto become one of the most celebrated decorators of pâte-sur-pâte porcelain and his pieces, the majority of which carry his signature ‘AB’ alongside the Mintons’ factory mark, are highly collectable.

Among the sixteen lots into which Birks’ private collection was split for sale, several stood out. Lot 429, a ‘Le Collier’ cabinet plate, circa 1913, decorated by Birks himself with figures of Venus and Cupid on a blue background with ivory and gilt borders and a pierced rim was apparently admired by King George V on a visit to the Minton factory in 1913. It is noted that the King hinted that he would like it for his wife, but Alboin advised that he was making it for his own wife and the King declared he must then, of course, pass it to her. The lot achieved £3,776.

Lot 434, a cabinet plate decorate by Birks featuring a seated Putto (possibly Cupid) on a chocolate background holding a heart in one hand with a string of hearts in the other, signed A.Birks, fetched £2,242. A pair of plaques making up lot 435, decorated with a classical female reaching into a sack held by a putto on a pedestal, on a dark blue ground, signed ‘A Birks’ and both framed achieved £2,124 despite carrying damage whilst lot 439, a collection of 26 miniatures all with classical scenes of ladies, putti and chariots, including two delightful tiny circular examples, sold for £1,652 – again despite some damage. Last of the stand-out lots was lot 440, seated putto holding a hammer and chisel sculpting the profile of a mythological warrior, on a green ground and again signed ‘A Birks’, on which the hammer fell at £2,242.

Whilst impressive, the achieved sums reflect the rarity of the collection in question as auctioneer, Ben Gamble, explains:

Being just a few miles from the Potteries we naturally get a lot of good quality ceramics through the door;  but a collection so directly linked to a major figure within the industry itself is rare. This would have represented a unique opportunity to collectors of pâte-sur-pâte or Minton pieces in general, as well as those who solely collect Birks. We attracted significant interest from home and abroad in what is, without doubt, a collection of International significance, with bids via the internet, telephone lines, commission and within room all well represented.”

For full results of Cuttlestones’ Friday, 14th September Fine Art & Antiques Auction, visit


Please note achieved prices inclusive of buyer’s premium

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