Potter to the Queen

In 1928, Queen Mary issued a Royal Warrant naming William Moorcroft "Potter to the Queen." Beloved by royalty and the general public alike, Moorcroft Pottery was fashioned in a variety of styles and colors during the early 20th century. The current Moorcroft auction includes a wide array of attractive examples that showcase the skill and artistry of this venerable English maker.

William Moorcroft joined James Macintyre & Co. in 1897 and produced his first Florian Ware designs later that year. After becoming head of the company's art pottery division in 1898, Moorcroft continued to expand the Florian Ware line, which features flowers like poppies, irises, and tulips rendered with heavy slip and translucent glazes. Florian Ware created quite a stir at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904, making William Moorcroft an instant celebrity in the ceramics world.

The Hazledene line originated prior to William Moorcroft being let go by James Macintyre & Co., but most examples date from the early years of Moorcroft Pottery, founded in 1913, through the 1920s when landscape pottery was very much in vogue. While Hazledene and Florian Ware have similar color palettes, all scenic elements in Hazledene are done in a rich blue-green set against a yellowish cream ground. Retailed at Liberty & Co. in London, Hazledene is characterized by an elegant, ordered presentation of nature.

William Moorcroft for James Macintyre & Co., Florian Ware vases with violets, pair
Lot 112: William Moorcroft for James Macintyre & Co.
Florian Ware vases with violets, pair
Moorcroft Pottery, Hazledene landscape vase
Lot 117: Moorcroft Pottery
Hazledene landscape vase

William Moorcroft's Claremont line debuted just after the St. Louis World's Fair and immediately appealed to art pottery enthusiasts. The ground for Claremont ranges in hue from indigo to olive to mustard. The most common decoration for this type of Moorcroft is toadstools or mushrooms, often painted in crimson and/or pale yellow. In some cases, toadstools are placed in landscapes with trees and floral motifs. Although Moorcroft continued to make Claremont well into 1920s, the most prized examples are early and rare forms from 1905 or 1906.

William Moorcroft for James Macintyre & Co., Rare three-piece Claremont coffee set with toadstools and overlay
Lot 105: William Moorcroft for James Macintyre & Co.
Rare three-piece Claremont coffee set with toadstools and overlay

In the late 1910s, Moorcroft unveiled its Moonlit Blue line, which boasts a deep blue ground adorned with stylized trees featuring rounded branches in light blue and green with gold accents. Although somewhat reminiscent of Hazledene, Moonlit Blue is clearly influenced by Art Nouveau and renders the natural world in an extravagant, dreamlike manner.

The Eventide line began not long after Moonlit Blue and they are quite similar, as both present exaggerated, Art Nouveau trees foregrounded in rural landscapes. In contrast to the cool tones of Moonlit Blue, Eventide suggests sunset or dusk, with skies of red and amber above golden-brown hills. The trees in Eventide are painted a mix of gold, brown, and pale green.

Moorcroft Pottery, Moonlit Blue vase
Lot 100: Moorcroft Pottery
Moonlit Blue vase

Moorcroft Pottery, Rare Eventide pitcher
Lot 130: Moorcroft Pottery
Rare Eventide pitcher

Moorcroft Pottery

Potter William Moorcroft was born in 1872 in Burslem, Staffordshire, England. He studied art in Burslem and London before joining James Macintyre & Co. as a pottery designer in 1897. Within a year, Moorcroft took direction of the firm's art pottery studio. He focused initially on Victorian-style Aurelian Ware featuring transfer-printed and enameled decoration in vibrant hues of red, blue, and gold.

Over time, Moorcroft produced original high-luster glazes and employed Asian-influenced designs and motifs. His first major innovation, however, was the Art Nouveau-inspired Florian Ware line, featuring floral patterns in subtle colors achieved through heavy slip and translucent glazes. Florian Ware is marked by its intricate hand decoration, often incorporating poppies, tulips, and other flowers. At the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, Moorcroft's Florian Ware designs for James Macintyre & Co. received rave reviews. While an uncommon practice, Moorcroft personally signed almost all of the pottery that he designed. This, combined with Moorcroft's growing reputation after the St. Louis World's Fair, led to resentment on the part of his colleagues and employers. In 1912, James Macintyre & Co. opted to close Moorcroft's pottery studio and terminated its star designer.

William Moorcroft started his own pottery works in 1913 at Cobridge with a group of former coworkers from James Macintyre & Co. This venture was supported with funds from Liberty & Co. of London, which secured a partial ownership stake in the company and retailed Moorcroft Pottery along with Tiffany & Co. in New York City. Further bolstering the firm's reputation, Queen Mary declared William Moorcroft "Potter to the Queen" via a Royal Warrant in 1928. This assignation was thenceforth stamped on all Moorcroft Pottery.

Along with Florian Ware, there are various early 20th century lines that Moorcroft Pottery collectors value. Not long after William Moorcroft founded his company, Hazledene became prevalent, depicting trees in shades of soft blue and green on a yellowish cream ground, and gained prominence in the 1920s as the demand for landscape pottery grew. The Moonlit Blue series was developed in the late 1910s and showcases a rich blue ground with blue-green trees rendered in a rounded, stylized manner. In contrast to Moonlit Blue, the Eventide line offers a warmer color palette in red, amber, brown, and gold, but it also features trees set in landscapes.

William Moorcroft's son Walter joined the pottery at age twenty and assumed control of the business in 1945 shortly before William's passing. Moorcroft Pottery continued to prosper such that the Royal Warrant was renewed in 1946. This allowed Walter Moorcroft to buy out Liberty & Co. to obtain full ownership at last. Unfortunately, the high cost of materials and labor eventually forced the sale of Moorcroft Pottery in the 1980s. Walter Moorcroft stayed on as director until 1987 while the business shifted to mass production. After rebranding as Moorcroft Design Studio in 1998, the company was able to stabilize and is still operating today as W. Moorcroft Ltd.

Auction Results Moorcroft Pottery