Auction should show what Moorcroft pottery is really worth these days

By James Cockington | The Sydney Morning Herald | Money | Thursday 9 June 2016

Moorcroft Pottery

The collecting of Moorcroft pottery took off in the late 1990s with extraordinary prices being paid. By the early 2000s the speculators had moved in with the expectation that values would keep on rising. A few invested large chunks of their self-managed super packages in their Moorcroft collections.


Then the market collapsed. You used to see collections gathering dust in the darker corners of antiques centres, over-priced and unwanted. Only recently has Moorcroft started to move again and an auction to be held by Shapiro in Sydney on June 21 should show what Moorcroft is really worth these days.

Featuring over 140 pieces, the Mary Smart collection is claimed as the largest single-owner sale to be held here. Mary, who passed away from cancer, was one of the most enthusiastic Moorcroft collectors in Australia.

She researched the subject carefully through books and, before the internet took over, went on long road trips in search of rare pieces, accompanied by her husband Joe Weller. The bulk of the collection was sourced in Australia.

Joe happily describes himself as a "small-time suburban solicitor … with the emphasis on small-time". He's reluctantly selling the collection which took pride of place in their home in Lewisham in Sydney's inner west. He admits that if Mary were still alive these would never have been sold.

The earliest pieces date from 1898 with the core of the collection comes from 1910 to 1920, the desirable Art Nouveau period. Many rare shapes and patterns are available at the sale but Andrew Shapiro is most impressed by their condition which is close to pristine in the majority of cases.

Born in Staffordshire in 1872, William Moorcroft studied at the Royal College of Art in London. As a young man he began working for the James McIntyre company where he developed his trademark style of highly-lustred glazes with bold patterns and colours, influenced by Oriental design. He later formed his own company, selling through Liberty & Co. in England and Tiffany's in New York. In 1928 he was appointed official potter to Queen Mary.

Mary Smart's collection comes with surprisingly conservative estimates reflecting the general drop in the Moorcroft market over the past decade. For example, a significant pair of Florian Ware vases, circa 1900, are estimated at $2000 to $3000 with a 1914 Spanish vase measuring 47 centimetres high, listed at $3000 to $5000. These might have sold for double the higher estimates in the boom years.

In the top price range is a Cornflower twin-handled vase, circa 1925, with estimates of $5000 to $7000. But the hero piece is a circular dish, circa 1920, with the very rare Waratah design. These are highly sought after by Moorcroft collectors as well as lovers of Australiana. Estimates are $4000 to $6000. Waratah Plate

The expectation is that these estimates will encourage some frantic bidding, much of it expected to come from the UK. Here the work of William Moorcroft has been rediscovered through endlessly repeated episodes of the Antiques Roadshow.

There is strong interest in this period of arts and crafts. Also in the sale is a rare sterling silver picture frame designed by Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co. A similar piece realised $90,000 at a Christies London sale in May 2013.

The Collection of Moorcroft Pottery from The Estate of Mary Smart will be sold on June 21 at Shapiro Auctioneers in Sydney.

Full catalogue available online.