This smudged mark from a Flow Blue wash basin should be hint that it might not be genuine.
To collectors, well-seasoned or novice, the subject of determining a maker or origin of a piece can be very confusing if it is outside their normal area of interest. Any markings that can be found can often help unravel the mystery if you know what the marks mean. If you don’t, however, they can lead you well astray of the truth. In this series of Q&A articles, I’m going to answer the questions I hear most often regarding marks on antiques and provide a straight path off an often twisted trail, as our first question indicates.
QUESTION: I have an antique Flow Blue wash basin set I bought at an auction some 15 years ago. Based on the mark, it would appear to be 1850s English Staffordshire, but I’ve not been able to find a match for it in any reference books. The company stamp is quite large and it’s marked “Ironstone Victoria Ware.” I’m more concerned about finding out some history about it rather than its value.
ANSWER: There is a very good reason why you have not been able to find this mark in any references for Staffordshire pottery: your set is a late 20th-century Chinese reproduction. The marking on it is supposed to give the impression it’s the “Lion and Unicorn” British Royal Arms, which was used as the basis of the markings on a good deal of 19th-century Staffordshire potteries. These fake “Royal Arms” marking always seem to be oversize and smudged compared to the 19th-century originals; this one is so badly smudged it’s hard to tell what’s actually depicted.
The original marks were quite clear and easy to read, mainly because, after all, they were meant as a form of advertising; a marking one could not read was useless for this purpose and would be seen as a sign of poor quality. Below are two renditions of genuine Royal Arms markings. As you can see they are both quite clear. The one on the left (below) has the maker’s name, while some—like the one on the right—will not have the full company name, sometimes just using initials of the company name.
A mark for Morley & Ashworth Imperial Ironstone that uses the “Royal Arms” lion and unicorn.
This mark simply uses the manufacturer’s initials, H and B, but also employs the “royal Arms” lion and unicorn.
I should also point out that on genuine pieces of English Staffordshire, the Royal Arms marking can also help date the piece that it’s on. For example, the quartered shield as can be seen on both images above tend to be found on pieces made after1837. Pieces made prior to 1837 use an older Royal Arms marking that shows an extra shield placed in the center of the oval quartered shield, as can be seen in the image below.
A Royal Arms mark used prior to 1837.
As for the maker of your set, it’s reported such sets have been produced by the “Staffordshire Figure Company Ltd.” Its circa-1996 catalog lists about 20 different pieces, including wash basin sets in a variety of Victorian type transfer patterns. Last I checked, this company has dissolved and is no longer in operation. I first noticed these reproduction pieces like this in the 1980s and, judging by the huge amount of it still being sold in forms I’ve not seen before, it would appear someone is still importing it.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.
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