Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Leaf for a New Year

We are hurtling toward a new year, so it is time to turn a new leaf.

For many years, Boy has collected early English green feather-edge creamware, circa 1780-1825.  He always has his eye out for pieces of it when we are out and about at shows, auctions, and shoppes.  Several years ago he bought two leaf-form dishes, likely made to hold sweetmeats, to add to his collection.  He found the first—a small and very dearly priced one—at the New York Ceramics Fair.  The next day, at a show at the New York City piers, he carried away an almost identical example for a somewhat lower price.  A collection within a collection, instantly!  The other day, while foraging for vintage ornaments at a decidedly down-market group shoppe, Boy spotted this one, another example of the leaf-form dish:

Our "new" feather-edge sweetmeat dish, ca. 1820

We suspect its plain mold and detailing suggest that it is slightly later than our other two dishes.  The blue in the glaze of the two earlier pearlware examples in our collection is absent, as is the detailed veining, snipped edging, articulated stem, and raised base.  Our newly acquired dish is simply not as finely made or crisply detailed as the other dishes.  Also, it is subtly crazed and slightly discolored.  Because of these deficiencies Boy almost left it behind at the sales desk.  But since he rarely comes across such dishes in his travels, and this one was exceptionally well priced, home it came with us to Darlington House!

The "new" dish, in the foreground,
is not as white as our two finer examples

I hope that our "new" dish will brighten and whiten up nicely once we give it a hydrogen peroxide bath.  However, it wil never be as fine as our other sweetmeat dishes, regardless of its condition.  But so be it.  The dish was a bargain at the price we paid, and it is a happy addition to those already in our possession.

It also lacks the raised base and the sharp edging
of the two finer examples

Tell me, Dear Reader, how do you decide when faced with buying "up" or "down" for your collections?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick


  1. Oh, those are charming. See, I don't mind the crazing or few imperfections. What a great addition to your set.
    Over Christmas, I broke a Wedgwood plate of ours. If I spy one in a shop, I do not care what the price is, I would buy it. It's a different story if it's an item I'm *not* collecting.
    By the way, I *do* love your blog. It's on my top ten that I check daily.


  2. Oh, it looks like a sad little stepsister! I would buy down or up (if I could afford it) if I found something in the family of a favorite collection.

  3. As time goes by, and space becomes more restrained, I try to aim high, but I still often succumb to well-priced temptation.

    In the case of this dish, there was no question. It is appealing and useful in itself, and forms a good group with, and foil for, the other two. Collections need to show development and variation. It also happens every so often that the 'later' example proves to be earlier. Congratulations on a bargain.
    --Road to Parnassus

  4. At long last -- temptation!

    There are certain books, published a century ago, in editions of 250 or 500, which I almost always buy when they appear on abebooks or some other site. Over the years, I have driven prices up from 50 or 70 dollars to 300 or 400 dollars. Recently, I paid 500 for an appallingly bad copy, at which point I decided that I had enough copies, and that dealers in West Bupkis, VT were succumbing to what it is popularly known as The Graham Arader Syndrome.

    As a result, when an exceptionally poor copy of one of these books was recently offered for 650 dollars, I just laughed -- knowing that there's no one out there who would ever buy it but me, and that I wouldn't buy it for 10 percent of that price as I already owned two dozen much better copies. (It's worse than I'm letting on, because there's now a copyist market in India for copies on demand.)

    But in Boy's defense... I think there is a difference between the behavior of a neurotic book collector and that of a mildly fetishistic creamware collector.

    The latter is obliged certain latitudes.

  5. Charm or refinement...who can say one is better than the other?

  6. I will buy down if it is something good but not quite "there" -I then have no reservations about using it on the table , where a more precious version may be put in harms way-

  7. I agree with @Parnassus. Because I have very little space, I aim as high as I can, unless there is a really nice or different down market item. My main collection consists of rhinos and I will buy any different rhino, because they all seem to look the same. By different I mean not carved out of wood or stone. Some of my different rhinos: a tattoo, a pendant, a spoon, and a cardboard safari trophy.

    Dishes, on the other hand, are my weakness. I want them all.

  8. I've collected leaf plates for years. Some are more expensive and sophisticated, some are just cheapies that have made the collection more diverse and interesting. I say buy it if it goes. #3 goes beautifully and IMHO makes your collection more appealing to the eye.

  9. I think Parnassus said it well. A collection of virtually identical items is not very interesting. I tend to buy both up and down when the price is right and when the objects are something as lovely as these creamware dishes. When I satisfy my need for ups, I sometimes pass the downs on to my sister-in-law. (Please do keep that under your hat, though.)

  10. It's whatever strikes my fancy....and looks like it "belongs!"

  11. Just dropping in to wish you and Boy the happiest of New Year's. Much love!


  12. Unless the item is objectionable or too far outside the focus of the collection, I buy it as long as it does not break the bank. I like a little variation in a collection. The uniformity of things like dining room chairs (for example) is most often rightly smiled-upon but a collection should show some variation from piece to piece. A broader focus can cause one collection to split into two eventually, which can be fun.

    A collection shows development over time, often with some degree of scholarship on the part of the collector and flashes of serendipity in its unfolding. They can be fun and charming. A collection communicates the collector’s delight accumulated at each step in its creation. Each piece is loved. A mere assemblage with no variation however can be boring and soul-less, where each piece is reduced to a commodity and shows the owner was able to write an appropriately-sized check.

    Boy’s plates are as charming as they are beautiful and I know it is a thrill each time to find a “new” example in a well-loved genre.
    The peroxide is the right way to go … laundry bleach is too harsh.

    Best –
    - Mike

  13. Nothing to add pertaining to this particular topic, but just want to say how much I love your blog. A sweet comfort at the end of the evening. Thank you.

  14. It always causes one such excitement to discover a new item to add to a cherished collection and although the last dish might be the "ugly duckling" in comparison to the other two as a whole it contributes as much to a collection ¿no dahhhling?

  15. The thrill of the hunt is what matters most when collections are examined, and the stories the hunter can tell. A down market piece not only teaches us what is up market, the item is quite often more useful as one fears not that the piece might incurr harm. Boy did well!

    Happy New Year to you and Boy! I can not wait to read your next post. I hope is is charming and naughty.

  16. I've never had a collection. I've always loved books and buy at sales all the time. Only lately have I become interested in dishes and I find I love creamware. Your blog has helped me enjoy and not be anxious about starting a collection.

    I stumbled on your site as I began exploring the blogging world and am so glad I did. I check for new updates several times a week and love to see something new to read and enjoy as I sip my coffee.

    I wish a wonderful 2012 for you and Boy.

  17. Can you tell us how you use hydrogen peroxide to remove stains? I have quite a few pieces I'd like to try this on!


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