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Rare William Howson Taylor ceramicists to be auctioned


Rare William Howson Taylor ceramicists to be auctioned

Dreweatts is to present a private collection of works by one of the greatest British ceramicists of the 20th century, William Howson Taylor (1876-1935).

The collection originates from the famous Ruskin studio pottery in the West Midlands, which ran from 1898-1933. The 25 pieces come directly by descent, having been passed to Adam Ferneyhough (the current owner)’s father, Robert Ferneyhough (1919-1977) by William Howson Taylor himself, on closing the factory due to ill health. The pieces are particularly rare as the factory ran for 30 years and on its closure Howson Taylor instructed all machines used to make the pottery and all designs and techniques that he had devised, be destroyed, so that no ‘imitation’ Ruskin pottery could be made. The Adam Ferneyhough collection will be offered in the Dreweatts Interiors sale on January 9, 2024 and will offer an exciting opportunity to obtain a piece of this exceptionally rare pottery.

Mark Newstead, Specialist Consultant for Asian Ceramics and Works of Art at Dreweatts:

“This collection is special, as it forms part of a historic group of Ruskin Pottery, from the original factory collection and by descent from William Howson Taylor. Howson Taylor was the owner of the Ruskin Pottery (1898-1935) and his collection was left to the Ferneyhough family. When Howson Taylor died his secret formulae were destroyed. As a Chinese specialist, I greatly appreciate his mastery of the Chinese elusive copper-red glazes, adapted by Howson Taylor into something unique, making him one of the greatest potters of the 20th century.”

The Ruskin ceramics studio in Smethwick, West Midlands, UK was founded in 1898 by Edward Richard Taylor, the first principal of the Birmingham School of Art (and from a famous Staffordshire pottery family). He bought the studio for his son William Howson Taylor, a former student at the art school, who would become a master ceramicist, designing new techniques and creating Ruskin pottery’s unique style and colour scheme. The Taylors named the studio after the artist, writer and social thinker John Ruskin, as both agreed with his philosophies, little did they know that the name Ruskin would become such a force in the industry and so revered on a global level.

Howson Taylor developed special techniques, such as ice crystal effect and lustre glazes resulting in metallic effects, alongside misty soufflé glazes, crystalline and the most prized of all, the sang-de-boeuf and flambé glazes which created a blood red effect. The highly-skilled sang-de-boeuf glazes were formed using a reduction of copper and iron oxides at a high temperature. It was a skilled technique, originating from 13th century China and 19th century European art potters tried hard to recreate it in the late 19th century. The result of Howson Taylor’s skill and creativity was a broad selection of brightly coloured pots, vases, buttons, bowls, tea services and jewellery using high fired techniques in a range of colours and unique textured glaze effects.

This originality of designs and techniques however would go to the grave with Howson Taylor. On learning of his cancer diagnosis, he decided not to take any offers for the business, as he wanted the Ruskin name and practices to remain unadulterated. After 35 years of production, he directed solicitors to draw up legal papers that would ensure that the machines used to create these beautiful pieces and any written / illustrated designs of them (and any techniques used) would be destroyed, so that these unique pieces could never be replicated. This was carried out and is one of the reasons why these pieces are so rare today.

Howson exhibited at leading National and International Exhibitions up until the beginning of the First World War, both in England e.g. The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1920 (Brussels International Exposition in 1910 where Howson Taylor secured the grand prize and the Paris Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925).

Among the highlights is a large Ruskin high-fired vase dating from 1924 that features a slightly ribbed body with a liver red-streaked lavender glaze which was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in 1975. It carries an estimate of £2,000-£3,000. Also with a lavender glaze is a high-fired vase featuring a liver-red part ‘snakeskin’ glaze dating from 1923 (estimate £1,200-£1,800). An attractive pottery vase that was featured in a self-portrait of Edward Richard Taylor (founder of the studio) and illustrated in the 1993 book titled Ruskin Pottery is also in the sale. The vase is in a fine mottled buff colour glaze over ivory and dates from 1912. It carries an estimate of £600-£800.

A low-fired ‘Delphinium’ blue lustre caddy and cover in streaked blue and mushroom glazes was showcased in an exhibition titled Taylor Made at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 1976. Produced in 1920 it carries an estimate of £300-£400. An attractive high-fired lamp base has been created in a vivid streaked glaze in red, blue lavender, turquoise and mushroom. From circa 1930 it is estimated to fetch £700-£900.




A large collection of Ruskin Pottery is on public display at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery, Wednesbury, about 3.5 miles north of the factory. The collection is owned by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and is managed by Sandwell Museum Service. The location of the Ruskin studio is now an industrial estate, called Ruskin Place. A historical blue plaque marks the site, erected by the Smethwick Local History Society. Studio sales of the factory collection were held at Christie’s in 1991 and Sotheby’s in 1993.

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