DECO WALL VASES & PLAQUES
Though ceramic wall decorations were by no means a new idea, they had a tremendous surge of popularity between the World Wars.
The Jazz Age of the 1920s marked a great break with the traditions of the past. The Bright Young Things reacted against the carnage of World War 1 with a wholesale rejection of the values of their parents and grandparents.
This was as true of home decoration as it was of more weighty social attitudes.
The dark, heavy styles and emphasis on status and sobriety that were the legacy of the Victorians and Edwardians were gleefully swept away in favour of everything light, bright and modern.
Nowhere in the house was this stylistic revolution more apparent than in the hallway.
Fashionable people realized that this was the the room that introduced the house to a visitor.
To give the right impression they removed the cumbersome furniture and heavy gilt-framed paintings, and dispelled the gloom by redecorating the walls and hanging them with brightly-coloured ornaments in china, terracotta and plaster.
These decorations, which soon found their way into living-rooms and bedrooms, took the form of flat-backed heads, known as masks, and various plaques and vases.
Wall vases, sometimes known as wall pockets, were made to carry arrangements of cut or dried flowers, and to look just as good when empty. They came in a fabulous array of shapes, colours and subject matter, from Easter bonnets to more abstract creations in the art deco style.
Both plaques and vases were often sold in matched or mirror-image pairs to adorn each side of a chimney breast or doorway.
ANCIENT AND MODERN
Flamboyant designs by people like Clarice Cliff cheered many a wall and are very collectable today. Pieces with more restrained classical designs, taken from Ancient Greek and Roman art and sculpture, were just as popular.
They were thought to lend a certain elegance to a room. The popular imagination was fired by the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, leading to a flurry of designs with a flavour of Ancient Egypt.
Most plaques and vases, though, stuck to less exotic themes.
Birds, flowers and hats were all popular subjects, as were maritime scenes and landscapes.
Wall decorations depicting faces often used likenesses of film stars as their inspiration and show fashionable hairstyles and jewellery of the day.
Wall vases were used to display both fresh and dried flowers and make an attractive alternative to table vases.
All art deco wall decorations are now very collectable. Vases and plaques are easier to find than masks and tend to be a bit cheaper. Auctions are not necessarily the place to look if you're bargain-hunting.
Dealers haunt them, and will snap up anything worthwhile. It's better to scour bric-a-brac shops, while older relatives may well have some still hanging on their walls or gathering dust in an attic.
The main thing to watch out for is a strong art deco look. Anything by Clarice Cliff is likely to fetch a high price as her work has become very popular again in recent years.
However the great variety of size and colour ways in her designs can make an excellent subject for a collection.
In the same way, a collection based on the Egyptian style could be fun to collect and display.
All wall decorations had one or sometimes two holes drilled into the back before the glaze was applied, so they could be hung from a nail or screw.
Because they spent most of the time hanging up out of harm's way, vases, plaques and masks should not show the usual signs of wear and tear in use.
They were rarely handled, and a fall would more than likely have destroyed them.
Be on guard though, for signs of gluing and filling.
Some pieces were made with a crackled glaze, that can make cracks difficult to spot.
Try giving any suspect piece a gentle tap with a finger. You should hear a cleat note.
A dull thud suggests a crack somewhere.
It is not unusual to find interior tide marks in wall vases. This need not affect the value.
Discolouration of glazes and crazing due to contact with water are also common, but again this need not affect value overmuch providing the piece is not disfigured by it.
Fake pieces do exist, so be careful or consult an expert. Some reproduction pieces are also being sold, particularly of
Clarice Cliff designs. These should all be clearly marked as such on the base.