Yesterday my friend Nicki and I went to Collector’s Day at Emma Bridgewater’s Factory in Stoke on Trent.
This is why the mugs cost so much, because ladies like this lovely lady who allowed me to take hundreds of pictures of her, add each piece of the design by hand. They are artistic superstars.
There are three Collector’s Days every year, usually the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the last week of term. You buy your ticket and go for the whole day. People start queueing at dawn for specials. Specials are one off, hand decorated pieces that are made exclusively for Collector’s Day. There are usually samples to buy as well, which are prototypes of designs which may or may not have eventually gone into production. This year there was also an archives table of old pieces that were being sold off. You need serious money for this kind of thing, so it was no bad thing that because of child care juggling we didn’t get there until eleven when all the serious bun fighting over who had what was over, and we could just get on with enjoying the day.
These were the only specials that were left by the time we arrived. The big bowls were £300 each. They are one offs, but even so. EEK!
Last year I went on Friday and managed a whole hour there before Tilly’s school called me to say I needed to come and collect her. This year I was working on the Thursday and Friday, so plumped for the Saturday. It was nice because it meant Nicky could come with me, and I love stroking pots, but I love stroking pots better with friends.
This is Nicki stroking a rare, green hellebore baby mug. We should not have been here, or doing this, which is why she is looking very naughty indeed. Because she is being very naughty indeed.
I had arranged child care and back up child care and an emergency power supply and taught the children how to build their own nuclear bunker out of cat spit and twigs, and showed them where all the emergency tins of Spam were hidden, so I was pretty sure we would be alright, and would not have to come haring back across country at high speed in a blind panic.
My children, praise be to Cheezus, are always well behaved in public, no matter how vile they might be at home, so I don’t worry about taking them to places like Bridgewater. But it is so nice not to have to be constantly worrying about where they are, and what they might be touching. The staff have always been remarkably relaxed about having children around, and incredibly welcoming and friendly, but it does not stop you being vigilant, especially when they are hovering enthusiastically around pieces worth three or four hundred pounds, and you can practically see their elbows getting pointer by the second.
Apart from my hour alone last year, I think it is the first time I have ever been to Bridgewater without children. We had such fun.
We met up with lots of my fellow pottery collecting friends, all of whom are wonderful company and who made Nicki feel welcome, which is so nice, because then I didn’t have to worry at all about anything. I pretty much suspected they would be lovely to her, because they are lovely people and they just can’t help themselves, but it was wonderful to have my theory confirmed.
We went on a factory tour, which even though I’ve done them before, is always worth going on, because when you get to the bit where they do the decorating you can have endless fun as a collector, spotting new designs and shapes, and also looking at some of the older designs that the decorators are usually using pieces of to wash brushes in or some other such sacrilegious behaviour.
Nicki and I capered around taking photos and opening cupboards and fondling pots and generally feeling like industrial spies, only loud, squeaky, excited industrial spies who would have been found out in about ten seconds flat under ordinary circumstances, but were too busy having a fabulous time to care.
We poked at the tiny handful of specials that were left and ogled the acres of archive pieces that were left. The specials that were left were the ones nobody else fancied, and I could kind of see why although I did love one of the salad bowls very much, but at £300 it had to stay on the table.
We stroked lots and lots of lovely archive pieces which were so very, unbelievably expensive that even hardened collectors were having a hard time swallowing how ludicrous the pricing was, particularly of archive pieces that were still in production.
These tiny, dollies’ tea set pieces are in a design called Tea Time Toast. Each piece was £50. The milk jug says Stolen Milk, and the cup says Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Each bit fits into the palm of your hand.
This Ivy pattern mug was £300. I loved it, but blimey o’reilly’s trousers.
This lady does things called fettling and dibbling. It sounds like something from a specialist magazine but it is basically smoothing all the pieces by hand to make sure they are as perfect as perfect before they go for firing.
We poked our way around the seconds shop, and I was hugely disappointed to find absolutely no samples at all. Apparently most of the sample pieces got sold on Sale day a few weeks back, and there were only a handful that got put out on Thursday’s collector’s day, which were but a distant memory by Saturday. Some of my favourite bits are sample pieces, and they are usually not that hideously priced, so it was a bit rubbish to be honest.
Then to lunch. We got a goodie bag with gifts inside. Mine was a Sampler decorated pen that Tallulah has been eyeing beadily ever since I brought it home. I had thought to put it away as one of her Christmas stocking fillers as she is rather fond of this pattern, but she spotted it too soon.
Lunch was tolerably good, but by then we were so hungry that Nicki and I were eyeing up the flower arrangements with the glazed eyes of foodie lust, so that helped a lot.
Me having a pie faced moment of enjoyment over my lunch.
They drew the raffle after lunch and I was so close to winning the prize of a lustreware crown, of which only three have been made, I could have wept. On the other hand it was, in my opinion, truly hideous and it would have gone straight on EBay so I’m quite glad someone else, who looked genuinely thrilled to get it, won instead.
Nicki didn’t win the cake competition, and I think she was robbed, although I am biased, and I am glad that my friend Joanne’s daughter won a prize for her orange fairy cakes which were very sweet and beautifully decorated, so all was not lost.
After lunch we wandered up to the Design Studio. This is not open very often. In fact this is the first time I have ever been to the Design Studio in all the times I’ve visited. I LOVED it there. It was such an amazing place and we got to see some beautiful (and not so beautiful) pieces that are coming out soon, and some samples for clients, some of which made my heart sing. Persephone Books have commissioned some amazing pieces with pomegranates on that are coming home to me as soon as I can get my hands on some. York Minster are getting some mugs, and the samples, with medieval style, birds on were beautiful, but apparently the client hates them so they won’t get made.
WHY? WHY? WHY? Oh foolish Minster? They are glorious and you are a fule.
I could not take pictures in there. I was gutted.
In the afternoon we did our shopping. I did pretty well at sticking to my budget and got some things I was very happy with, and we went home sated with pottery wonder after having stuffed our faces with cake and gossiping until our jaws ached.
Oh, and I got to meet Alice Pyne who is one of the most inspirational young ladies I have had the privilege to meet, and it made my day.
My only sadnesses, and you know I can’t leave a blog post without at least one good moan were that neither Matthew Rice nor Emma Bridgewater were there, despite Matthew being billed as attending, and giving us a talk in the afternoon. I was really looking forward to hearing him speak, and he had been there on the previous two days, which was doubly disappointing.
Then there was the tea towel printing. Upstairs they had a studio space where you could go and print tea towels for free, and it looked like loads of fun, messing around with fabric paints and sponges, but when we got up there just after lunch they had run out of paint, so we couldn’t do it. We had gone up before lunch and were told they were too busy so could we come back, and when we did, we couldn’t. The event is ticketed, so it is a bit of a shame that they hadn’t been able to work out how much paint they would need given that they knew how many people were coming beforehand. I know it was only a small thing, but it was a little bit sad making.
On a cheery note I will show you the one piece of archive pottery I did succumb to, and which, though it doesn’t look much, is making me very happy to look at this morning.