A collectible fit for royalty

Local woman collects Moorcroft pottery

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Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series profiling the various personal collections of residents of Marshalltown and the surrounding area.

The English-made Moorcroft pottery has been an internationally treasured collectible since its originator William Moorcroft first introduced its design in 1897. Still manufactured in Straffordshire, England, the pottery brings great joy to local octogenarian, Pat Preece, whose collection spans 104 pieces.

“My parents, who were Canadians, got Moorcroft pieces as wedding gifts back when they got married in 1922, and I still have those items,” Preece said.

The collector, who is a native of Chicago, has lived in Marshalltown for many years, and currently resides at the Embers. She noted that being around Moorcroft pottery as a child inspired her to start collecting the company’s moderately-priced domestic tableware as an adult.

“I never remember buying it in department stores, only antique stores and yard sales,” she noted. “At that time, I could afford to buy pieces that were selling for $10-15.”

Preece’s collection ranges from vases, teapots, lamps, candy dishes, plates, platters, canisters, jewelry and more — all styled in the company’s signature floral and fruit patterns.

“Most of Moorcroft pottery is painted in dark colors, but I have a few lighter colored pieces, too,” she said.

It all began when William Moorcroft secured employment in 1897 at the Staffordshire pottery manufacturing company, James Macintyre & Co. Ltd. In a year’s time, he was operating the firm’s art pottery studio and receiving international notice. The company decided to close down his studio (reportedly out of jealousy for his abilities), so he established his own self-named enterprise in 1913. In 1928, the Moorcroft company received the honor of becoming “Potters to H.M. The Queen,” as Queen Mary of the United Kingdom (1867-1953), wife of King-Emperor George V, was an avid collector of this brand.

“Queen Elizabeth II still collects Moorcroft, and I know she gives it as gifts,” Preece said. “I agree with the queen; it’s good craftsmanship and good quality.”

A finished product undergoes several steps to create that signature Moorcroft look: mould making, slip casting, hand turning, tube-lining, hand painting, kiln firing, and lastly, glazing. Tube-lining is a decorating technique that uses soft clay piped from a bag and affixed to the body of the pottery. This is what gives the flowers and other shapes their raised, textured feel.

An active collector, Preece’s latest piece is a charming pitcher depicting the likeness of William Moorcroft. The item in her collection which is likely to have the greater monetary value is a miniature vase which stands a mere two inches tall.

“It’s called a salesmen sample — it’s what salesmen would show to customers,” Preece explained.

According to the company’s website: “Shortly before the death of William in 1945, his elder son, Walter Moorcroft, took control of the business, which he continued to develop … Design continued to evolve under the stewardship of Walter, as he developed his own style which experts say matured in the 1950s. It was Walter who introduced many exotic flowers into Moorcroft design. A dramatic use of colour began to emerge from the Moorcroft kilns after WWII, and coming as they did in the wake of the sombre mood of war, this was a welcome change.”

Preece noted how a collector can tell when a piece was crafted, by which of the company’s artists, and what number in the series it is, by deciphering the markings found on the underside. Paper labels bearing the company’s markings are hard to find intact.

“You pay for those,” she said. “The labels add to the price.”

Today, the company has branched out its design concept to include depicting fruits, animals, landscapes and people. Limited addition patterns fetch the greatest sums of money.

“The pottery they make today is different, and some pieces are pricey,” she said.

Preece has showcased her collection in the Ember’s display case, and at Early American Glass Club meetings, of which she is a member.

“It’s been something I look for when I go into stores, and I just recognize it,” Preece said. “If it fits with something I have already, and I just plain like it, and it blows me away, I buy it.”

If you collect something interesting or unusual, contact this writer at the information below.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com