The name Portmeirion to many people conjures up images of the beautiful Italian style village in North Wales or they find themselves reminiscing the cult 1960s television series “The Prisoner”. To collectors the name Portmeirion is innovative and decorative designs in pottery created by Susan William Ellis.
Sir Clough William-Ellis created the idealic Portmeirion village in North Wales back in 1925 to encourage visitors to holiday cheaply in pleasant but unusual surroundings.
His daughter Susan had a love for art and had always had made design part of her life but it was not until she began work for the Portmeirion gift shop situated in the village that her designs became her own and Portmeirion pottery started to evolve.
Susan married Euan Cooper-Ellis in 1945 and together they ran the gift shop. They bought in cheap souvenirs to sell to the holiday makers but Susan became frustrated wanting to buy more saleable objects that caught the customers eye. Her father had an association with the “Grays” factory well know today for Susie Cooper’s early designs. Susan found a copper plate depicting the picture of a lady in Welsh costume and sent this to the factory, Gray’s then produced an exclusive range of souvenirs for the gift shop from Susan’s design.
From then on Susan designed many items including Portmeirion Dolphin – all the earlier pieces bear the yellow ship back stamp. Unfortunately the pottery was losing money and demand from Susan was high as she now had another shop owned by her and her husband in Pond Street, London. In 1960 Susan and Euan made the decision to buy the Grays factory in order for Susan to produce more designs.
The following year another pottery was purchased, Kirkhams Ltd. This enabled Susan to concentrate on actually making pottery as well as designing. Kirkhams was very run down and needed modernising, once this was finished, the Grays pottery was sold, all the staff moved to the Kirkhams site and “The Portmeirion Potteries Ltd” was born.
One of Susan’s first creations “Totem” was launched in 1963 and is highly sought after by collectors today, reasonably easy to find on the secondary market it was produced by cutting abstract shapes into the moulds. This particular design resulted in putting Portmeirion on the map. Such was the demand that Portmeirion had trouble keeping up with the orders.
“Cypher” had been introduced along side “Totem” which again proved an instant hit! “Jupiter” a similar design but with a pattern or small circular shaped impressions was introduced in 1964. Both Cypher and Jupiter were in the shape of the new “Sherif” range. Unfortunately Jupiter had a problem in the glaze – it marked easily when used from certain acid substances such as fruit, so this was quickly discontinued. Examples of this design are now extremely hard to find.
Other potteries began to copy the “Totem” design and sell at cheaper prices, causing Susan to come up with more design ideas and to bring the “Totem” range to an end.
Samarkand was also available around this time, launched in 1965 again it was extremely popular. All of the early designs were produced in the cylinder shape which is easily recognisable to collectors of Portmeirion today
“Magic City” produced in 1966 was probably the most popular design of its time and is extremely sought after by collectors eager to buy pieces on the secondary market, expect to pay from £70 upwards for a coffee pot in mint condition. It depicts scenes inspired by Susan’s travels and is also part of the “Sherif” range.
“Magic Garden” introduced four years later was not as successful as “Magic City” but now collectors frantically try to find examples for their collections.
Aztec and Phoenix amongst others were produced in the 1960s with usually gold, platinum and copper lustre designs on a black background. Extremely attractive and eye catching these too have a similar value as “Magic City” on the secondary market.
The 1970s saw the creation of Pormeirion’s most collected and successful range to date, “Botanic Garden”. This design is transfer printed and is produced in the “Drum” shape. Originally launched in 1972, more than thirty years later this design is still in production and is the main stay of the pottery.
Inspiration for this range was drawn from books purchased by Susan. The illustrator of the book “ Morals of Flowers” was William Clarke, a botanical painter; his drawings resulted in the patterns for the “Botanic Garden” range.
Floral designs in this range include flowers such as Venus’s Fly Trap, Purple Iris, Spanish Gum Cistus, Honeysuckle, Speedwell and many more.
All avid Portmeirion collectors know there are hundreds of different designs and shapes that it is almost impossible to cover all of them, this also applies to the designs in the Botanic Garden range.
Rare items such as the Yellow Crown Imperial and Manchineel Tree plates can fetch in excess of £100 on the secondary market with collectors desperate to lay their hands on them.
Stephen P McKay author of “Portmeirion Pottery” published by Richard Dennis publications says “Prices are all over the place at the moment due to world wide financial uncertainties. American Botanic Collectors are paying up to £100 for rare plates and the Double Camellia and Austrian Lilies are hitting £200 when they appear. Rare coffee pots are going for £70 to £150 for Magic Garden. All the above prices are typical for E-Bay and Antique fairs, you can still get bargains at local auctions and car boot sales if you can spare the time to look. ”
With over forty years under its belt and going from strength to strength Portmeirion is without doubt one of the most successful potteries still in existence today.
There are dedicated collectors clubs for Botanic Garden as well as the general Portmeirion pieces. Collectors of Botanic Garden are predominantly ladies who have built up their collections over the years, adding new items as they are introduced and finances permit.
Portmeirion now regularly hold Collectors days at the Portmeirion Village. They have their own evaluation service where collectors can enjoy a day out and find out how much their collections are worth.
PORTMEIRION POTTERY FACT FILE
- Susan William-Ellis studied at the Chelsea Polytechnic under the famous sculptor, Henry Moore.
- She designed a set of tiles for Poole Pottery for “Britain can make it Exhibition” in 1946.
- Susan also produced four panels for the Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain in 1951.
- Susan and Euan purchased the pottery decorating business “Grays” in 1960.
- Malachite and Moss Agate designs were inspired by the study of the semi-precious minerals.
- Both these designs were only in production for a very short time because of expensive and production time for each piece.
- “Gold Diamond” was Susan’s first multi-motif pattern.
- Kirkhams Ltd was purchased in 1961.
- Cylinder range was launched in 1962.
- Zodiac mugs were produced in 1970, for this Susan wrote her own horoscopes for each of the twelve star signs.
- All “Botanic Garden” pottery other than cookware made after 1982 has a tiny 8 2 hidden in the backstamp.
“Portmeirion Pottery” by Steven Jenkins and Stephen P. McKay published by Richard Dennis Publications (01460 240044).
Visit Portmeirion’s official website www.portmeirion.co.uk for up to date information on nearest stockists, products, collectors forum and general information on the pottery.
UK Customer Services
Portmeirion Pottery, London Road, Stoke on Trent, ST4 7QQ
UK Enquiry Line : Tel: +44 (0)1782 743427
US Enquiry Line : Tel: 1-888-778-1471
Email : [email protected]
Visit www.portmeirion.tv for Botanic Garden collectors
Images of Portmeirion Pottery Copyright and Courtesy of Portmeirion