One of my favourite porcelain factories has to be Royal Crown Derby and I am always drawn to the brightly coloured Imari wares and in particular their range of paperweights.
The Derby porcelain company was formed in the 1750’s when an entrepreneur called Andrew Planche who emigrated from France partnered with a wealthy English merchant William Duesbury and set up a ceramic factory. The firm specialised in figurines and dinner wares and their wares soon became popular throughout Europe and therefore the firm attracted the best and most skilled artists to the Derby porcelain factory.
But let’s get back to paperweights. Paperweights are normally made of glass but in 1981 a lady called Jo Ledger the Art Director of Royal Crown Derby came up with the idea of producing a range of paperweights made of porcelain that would be a functional but also a decorative item.
They decided to model the paperweights in the form of birds and animals in a style that would appeal to modern tastes but decorate them in the traditional Derby Imari colours of blue, dark red and gilt against a white background. Imari decoration dates back to the 18th century taking its influence from the Japanese porcelain that was exported to Europe at the time.
The launch of the new range of paperweights took place at a reception at Chatsworth House in September 1981 and consisted of five designs- duck, owl, penguin, quail, rabbit and wren. These early examples were filled with sand with gilt metal stoppers but this proved to be unsatisfactory as they were heavy to post and often leaked. After this white porcelain stoppers which were fired on were used but customers did not like their appearance so it was decided to make the paperweights a little more robust and revert back to the gilt metal stoppers.
Over 480 different designs have been created to date as well as many special editions for specialist China shops and retailers such as Harrods. These range from cats, birds and rabbits to exotic and mythical creatures and are usually boxed and come with a certificate. They have become very popular with collectors who always look out for the rarer examples such as the Ashbourne Hedgehog and the Smiling Cheshire Cat which can fetch a few hundred pounds at auction.
Condition is as always very important watch out for 2nd quality pieces which can be identified in two ways. Firstly the Royal Crown Derby mark is scored through if it is a second and the stopper rather than being the usual gold colour is silver. These pieces can of course be picked up slightly cheaper and often the fault is just a minor imperfection which is usually hard to spot.
So with Christmas just around the corner why not treat an animal or bird lover a gift of a Royal Crown Derby paperweight!