Mago is absolutely right – it’s so often the earliest examples that show the most care and are particularly beautiful. Sometimes they are technically excellent too, sometimes not, but that isn’t always what matters.
If I were to start again with more knowledge and a better eye, I’d buy early printed books and early Chinese porcelain. If I were starting again with English china, I’d still go for the 18th century softpaste (or ‘artificial’) porcelain, but from more than one factory, so as to broaden my knowledge – though not from every factory by any means, because some of them don’t do a thing for me. Mind you, I’m not a collector by nature. I don’t have the need to buy or collect a lot of examples of something. And, like Mago, I don’t take the view that something old and precious is owned – one is simply the custodian for a while.
I’ve mentioned that I particularly love the earliest Lowestoft. This doesn’t mean that I don’t love individual pieces from later in the factory’s life (it was a going concern for a little over forty years, which doesn’t sound long, but it outlasted many of the early porcelain factories in England), but that there’s something about the care and time put into the earliest pieces – it wouldn’t have been economically possible to take so long over every piece in the long run. And the early glaze has a warmth that is very appealing – you might not notice it unless you saw it against a later piece, when it would really stand out.
Something that most collectors of Lowestoft would mention is its charm. It’s a provincial factory and doesn’t pretend to be grand, like Chelsea. The specially commissioned pieces, like the flask that we would have loved to buy which has a scene of shipbuilding painted on it, may be unique or restricted to a single tea service. The amazing little mug that the Sage will auction in a couple of weeks is a pastoral farming scene (the catalogue can be found by clicking on the ‘day job’ link to the right). Lowestoft was a comfortable, assured town with a boatbuilding and a fishing industry, surrounded by farms. The river gave access to wherries to transport goods and it must have been quite a prosperous place in those days, and the comfortable middle classes bought fashionable china, locally made, much of it in the Chinese style but sometimes with typically English scenes, and often specially commissioned to one’s own requirement.
Part of its charm is in the imperfections. A saucer may well be slightly out of round. An inscription (I think more Lowestoft was inscribed than any other factory, often with a name, sometimes a date too, sometimes the name of a place (“A Trifle from Lowestoft” – or another nearby town – showed a burgeoning tourist trade) might be inside a cartouche that wasn’t quite big enough, so the last two or three letters are squashed together. We’ve even got a mug with a large semicircular chunk out of part of the handly, glazed over in the factory and sold anyway – “that still work, dunt it?” and “thass all right” – you can still imagine that being said in Lowestoft. Damage is less regarded as a handicap to value in Lowestoft than in any other factory (not English Delft [tin-glazed earthenware], however, where the glaze almost always chips round the edge – what do you expect in something more than 200 years old? It wasn’t necessarily perfect to start with. If it’s appealing, then the odd chip or crack only adds to its individuality.
Anyway, it’s promising that the Sage likes this sort of china. It means that, the older and more cracked I become, the more he likes me.