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Hidden treasures – pottery collectables and glassware

Emma-Lou Montgomery

We might live in an era in which minimalist style and flat-pack design is king, but there’s a surprising market in porcelain and pottery collectables and glassware that means there could be treasures aplenty tucked away at the home of anyone who hasn’t cleared away the clutter in haste.

Retro collectables from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and even 80s have sparked huge interest in recent years. Whether people buy these items to recapture their childhood or to discover the style of an era before they were born, you will find that what might look like worthless bric a brac can in fact be worth some serious money.

Mark Hill, co-author of ‘Miller's Collectables Price Guide’ says: "Look out for anything from the 50s onwards. Lots of people were given teapots and other kitchenware in the 60s as wedding presents and they've been forgotten about in cupboards."

As fashions come and go, these forgotten curios can make quite a come-back. They may not be your cup of tea, but odds are that that if you find a Pendelfin or Portmeirion in the attic, or at the back of cupboard, you could have stumbled upon some hidden treasure, worth more than just a few pounds.

Here’s what to look out for:

Pendelfin rabbits

They might be cutsie and something of an acquired taste, but Pendelfin rabbits produced back in the 50s and 60s, are a serious find. Hand painted, these stonecraft figures of bunnies started out as a way for Jeannie Todd and Jean Walmsley Heap to make gifts for friends, back in the 1950s.

From left to right: Thin Neck Mother; Uncle Soames; Dungaree Father. c1955-1960. Image Perfect Pieces

From Burnley in Lancashire, the popularity of these cute figures quickly spread and they are still being produced today, albeit by a different company. If you find one, or as is more likely, a small collection of these figures, take care of them, because there are certain ones which are rare today and extremely collectable.

The larger figures, such as mother and father rabbit can sell for as much as £800-£1,200 in mint condition. To get this high-end price they must be the very earliest figures, produced in the late 50s or early 60s.

Dungaree-wearing father rabbit (pictured above right) is the earliest and most prized of the Pendelfin rabbits. He was designed by Pendelfin founder Walmsley Heap, and made by the Pendelfin Studios from about 1955 until they retired him in 1960.

Often wearing a pair of light blue dungarees (although colours vary with some more desirable than others) and  with a thin neck and very large ears he was prone to breaking, which meant he was eventually remodelled and produced as ‘Kipper tie’ father rabbit.

However, experts say you don’t need the very earliest version to get a good price. The second father rabbit, who comes ‘dressed’ complete with a kipper tie was produced between 1960 and 1970 and can fetch as much as £800 in pristine condition and, most importantly, with green felt and the Pendelfin Studios label on the base.

The second version of mother rabbit, produced between 1968 and 1978 is also a lucrative find. She can fetch between £200 and £400, depending on the condition, and that all-important label on the base.

Pendelfin rabbits are still being by a company called Collectables, based in the north east of England, but these look very different to the original bunnies, despite still being sold under the Pendelfin brand, and are not worth much in today’s market.

Of course, how much you get depends on the moving market and how much someone is prepared to pay. Such is the appetite for Pendelfin rabbits that a number of companies hold specialist sales on an ad hoc basis.

One piece of advice from one collector for budding sellers is to avoid wrapping the pieces in newspaper. The newsprint damages the finish, and will, no doubt, reduce how much another collector will be willing to pay for it.

Portmeirion Pottery

Another popular name to look out for is Portmeirion. Still very much in production, and with the likes of Sophie Conran designing pieces for them now, it’s the early pieces again that you need to keep an eye out for.

Pieces bearing the back-stamp ‘Gray's Pottery Portmeirionware’, date back to the 1950s, while pieces that are stamped ‘Portmeirion Potteries’ date back to 1961 and up to the present day. The early pieces were designed by Susan Williams-Ellis, the daughter of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis creator of the village of Portmeirion, made famous when it was used as the location of the cult 1960s series, ‘The Prisoner’ starring Patrick McGoohan.

Portmeirion has been out of favour in recent years, but with the death of Susan in 2007 and the company’s 50th anniversary in 2010, prices have started to rise. If you find one of the designs produced in small quantities like Malachite, produced in the 1960s, Moss Agate and Magic Garden, you could be in possession of pieces worth as much as £100 a pop.

Interestingly, Stephen McKay, author of Portmeirion Pottery, says the US market is best for selling older Botanic Garden pieces, while British collectors generally prefer the other designs. If you have one of the tall coffee pots in your possession you could be looking at a staggering £5,000 at auction.

Handkerchief vase

Glassware is also highly collectable. And being even more fragile can command high prices in mint condition if you have one of the cherished ‘names’ in your collection.

Keep an eye out for the iconic handkerchief vase. It was originally designed by Paolo Venini and Fulvio Bianconi in 1949, and was produced in an enormous variety of designs throughout the 1950s, in everything from stripes to spirals and two-tone patterns.

Find an original 'vaso fazzoletto' or Venini handkerchief vase (pictured above) and you can expect to get upwards of £100 if it is in mint condition, with absolutely no chips or damage. But there are also plenty of copies around and find one of these, again in perfect condition, and you’ll still be looking at between £50 and £100.

So take a good look at those knick-knacks gathering dust on the mantelpiece or tucked away in the loft. It could be worth dusting them off and seeing if you have one of the sixties, seventies or earlier fifties pieces that collectors will pay good money for today.