I led my post about the Mallams auction of 20th century studio pottery with a picture of a pretty teapot by Rosemary Wren with a nice decoration over tin-glaze. It sold for £50, a remarkably low price. Items by Lucie Rie, not surprisingly, fetched bids in the thousands and those by Leach, Hamada, Cardew and Staite-Murray in the hundreds. Cardew made tin-glazed pottery for a while and a teapot without a lid in this medium sold for £45. Mallams say this was a trial piece that misfired, but Cardew’s reputation is high and the piece has a good provenance, so it’s reasonable to conclude that the low price reflects the low esteem in which tin-glaze generally is held by collectors of studio pottery in Britain. Alan Caiger-Smith’s work is the exception and this superb 25cm high albarello (left) with a reduced lustre decoration sold for £240. Tin-glazed figurines also fetched better prices than the tin-glazed teapots.
Tin-glaze is still thought well of in Italy and Spain where it is made in large quantities, but the prejudice against it in Britain can’t be attributed to the absence of any tradition here. In the 17th century we had many good tin-glaze potters and decorators. Josiah Wedgwood developed a white clay body that displaced tin-glazed tableware, but the main reason why studio pottery connoisseurs don’t like it is because of the dominance in the post-war decades of rough stoneware. That cultural moment was complex because it was at the same time anti-modern in its regard for rural tradition and modernist in its preference for functionality and simple undecorated forms, and yet many of the stoneware potters – not least Hamada, Leach and Cardew – were superb decorators. Leach and Cardew both experimented in tin-glaze, but not for long and few collectors like it much.