| There is enormous satisfaction in finding out more about your valuable pieces, and the background research itself can be great fun.
Whatever you collect, be it small silver objects, 20th century china, toy cars or even early prints, it is always worthwhile finding out as much as you can about your objects. Not only does this help to establish their value, it also makes them more interesting. Indeed, people are always fascinated by old things and, if you can tell a fascinating story about how, when and by whom your object was made, your listeners will be spellbound.
Serious collectors keep a written record, often with photographs, of all their objects. This can include such information as when and from whom they bought a piece, how much it cost, what its insurance value is and, of course, all the details of its age, maker and history that they've been able to find out.
HOW TO BEGIN
First of all examine your object very carefully and write down as full a description of it as possible. Describe, for example, the raised style of decoration on the blue and white vase above and look at it for any maker's marks. On the base of this one is a signature 'WM des' plus 'Rd No 326689' and the printed factory mark of Jas Macintyre of Burslem headed by 'Florian Ware'. This is a wealth of information and your next step is to find out what it all signifies by consulting specialist books at a library.
Most local libraries have only a limited range of reference books on antiques and collectables but should
be able to advise you of the nearest branch which has a more comprehensive range. In this instance, you would he looking for hooks on china marks and registration numbers, as well as dictionaries of pottery manufacturers and designers. Having found the relevant information, it's advisable to photocopy it (most libraries have a do-it-yourself copying service), noting on the top of your copies the author, title, publication date and library reference number of the books - in case you need to consult the books again and to prove that you've got your information from a reliable source.
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN
Detective work so far will have told you that your vase was made in 1898; potters began using a national scheme of consecutive registration numbers in 1884 - your Rd No is one of the ones from
1898. You will have also found that in 1897 Macintyre & Co set up an 'art pottery' section under the direction of William Moorcroft. You may need to go further afield to find out more about art pottery and Moorcroft in particular, for it would seem to be his signature on the vase.
A specialist book on the subject does exist and there are articles in antiques magazines and journals. Ask the librarian to consult various bibliographical lists (for the authors and titles of books or articles under that subject); he or she will then use a computer to tell you in which libraries these works will be found. Some libraries are also able to 'requisition' books for you, borrowing them for a certain period from another library.
Having gained access to specialist literature by the easiest possible means, sift through this for relevant information, using the indexes as your guide. You will find that Florian Ware, which proved immensely popular, was one of Moorcroft's first designs for Macintyre and that the raised pattern on the vase was produced by a technique known as slip trailing. Moorcroft established his own factory in 1913 and in 1930 was appointed potter to Queen Mary. Moorcroft's signature or initials appear on almost all of his work although he dropped the 'des' (for designer) in 1906; this confirms the early date of the vase illustrated.
Having gathered as much information as you can from libraries, it is now sensible to have your findings confirmed and your object valued. To do this, you can either go to one of the major auction houses (they have regional branches) or show it to a reputable dealer who specializes in your area of interest. Take the piece itself,
carefully wrapped in bubble plastic or newspaper, or, if the object is too large, two or three good, clear colour photographs (be sure to include ones which show maker's marks, special features and any damage).
Auction houses provide a free valuation service to the public and will give you a brief assessment of your piece and an estimate of what it might fetch at auction. This will be a lower figure than a valuation for insurance or a specialist dealer's retail price. An auction house, for instance, will tell you that the prices for Moorcroft pottery have steadily increased over the last few years and that his wares are much sought after; the vase could, in good condition, fetch several hundred pounds at auction.
The alternative to an auction house is a specialist dealer, who may charge a small fee for a valuation (be sure to agree this in advance) but may be more convenient to visit than an auction house. A dealer will give you roughly the same estimate - although, of course, he or she would hope to sell it with a profit for rather more.
Now for the personal history of your piece! If you found it at a car boot or jumble sale, you must assume that it is a cast-off, disliked and unvalued by its owner. If, on the other hand, it has been passed on by a relative, you should try to find out how and why it was acquired. Perhaps it was given many years ago as a gift to a great-aunt or grandmother by a friend with artistic inclinations or perhaps its original owner lived near Burslem. You may or may not be successful in your endeavours but the fun and interest is in the search itself.