I have been dealing in antiques and collectibles for over twenty years. I have to admit in all that time I have only been fortunate enough to see one piece of Birkenhead art pottery by the Della Robbia factory in the wild. However what I will say a single piece can pull a very handsome price meaning it is on my list of pieces to watch out for.
What Is Della Robbia Pottery?
Della Robbia is an art pottery factory set up by Harold Rathbone and Conrad Gustave Dressler in Birkenhead, Liverpool in 1894. The factory had a very short life of just twelve years and operated up until 1906. They produced art pottery in the antique Italian maiolica style with sgraffito decoration, bright bold colors, and a clear lead glaze.
The Style and Decoration of Della Robbia Pottery.
Harold Rathbone was a well-traveled man, It was his travels in Italy that decided the style of decoration when he set up his Della Robbia art pottery. Harold Rathbone fell in love with designs that he saw in the 15th and 16th centuries by Luca Dell Robbia works from Florence Italy who was known for bright colors and bright glazes.
The arts and crafts movement was very prominent at this time and Harold Rathbone not only wanted to to to re-create similar designs of antique Italian pottery but also followed the idealistic of William Morris with the use of traditional skills, pride, and skilled labor/artists, and tried to use locally sourced materials.
Artists were encouraged to explore their own skills and inspiration when creating their works almost giving them free rein. What this meant for the factory was every item was unique with no two items identical.
With these practices, the Della Robbia factory soon established itself as an influential school of arts. None of the Della Robbia pieces have printed decoration, everything is hand-painted and the use of the turquoise color was to be used almost as their hallmark.
The Life Span of The Della Robbia Factory.
The Della Robbia Factory was set up by Conrad Gustave Dressler and Harold Rathbone using family money. His factory producing products of art struggled to compete and quality control was let’s say not consistent, All this meant that the factory couldn’t make a profit and took a steady loss.
The only way for the factory to survive would be to create mass-produced items such as tableware. Harold Rathbone neither had the desire to create these products nor did the factory have the necessary means to do so.
The final years were stretched out by a little compromise and help however in 1906 after just twelve years the factory closed. This was considered by Harold Rathbone to be a personal failure. For a very long time, the ceramics produced by the Della Robbia factory were considered to be nothing more than bric-a-brac/junk and of little interest and value. however today they are highly prized.
What Did The Della Robbia Factory Make?
The Della Robbia factory produced highly artistic architectural objects and panels and tiles that were designed to be inserted into walls and furniture. they also created decorative objects such as plates, vases, mugs, etc. Towards the end of the factory’s twelve-year life span, they tried to compete with the likes of Pilkington’s Royal Lancastrian ware and Ruskin
The Price for Della Robbia Pottery.
It is no shock when you look at the short life span of only twelve years and the importance of the factory, that there are examples from this pottery on private websites for as much as a couple of thousand pounds, examples are regularly sold on eBay between £500 and £1200 and even damaged examples sell for one or two hundred. This factory is a hot ticket and needs to be added to your most-wanted list.
Marks on Della Robbia Pottery.
The ceramics produced at the Della Robbia factory were marked with a factory mark of a ship, Flanked by the letters D & R, also the artist mark, and sometimes the date. below is an example of marks found on their wear.
The Della Robbia name was taken from Luca Della Robia of the 15th and 16th centuries in Florence in Italy. There are other factories that use the Della Robbia name such as.
- Charles Canning from Tamworth created objects in a victorian taste.
- Also, an American company called Roseville Pottery created a line called Della Robbia, However, this is by far one of the most expensive Roseville patterns created.
Learning Material On Della Robbia Pottery.
I have searched the internet and read many articles on Della Robbia, These hold some really useful information, However, I recently purchased a specialist book on the subject. ( The Della Robbia Pottery Birkenhead 1894 – 1906 by Peter Hyland. This is a very in-depth book that holds so much information on the factory and its short life.
The book has approx 256 pages of facts, tips to help you spot examples and so many color illustrations. I would definitely recommend this book, you can find copies on eBay, Amazon, or online second-hand book stores. The ISBN number is. 978-1-85149-734-8. The book covers artist marks, designs shapes and so much more. I have included a few images of the book below but my recommendation is, The book is well worth buying.
(NOT A PAID PROMOTION)
Video of book review on youtube
In conclusion, the Della Robbia factory despite having a very influential presence and an abundance of great artists the work just wasn’t as in demand as other factories.
With the factory lacking in the necessary means and Harold Rathbone’s lack of desire to make more utilitarian objects, they struggled to make a profit. their work on the decorative arts side failed to compete with the likes of Pilkington and Ruskin.
And after steady losses, the factory closed its doors in 1906. Looking at some of the works created by this factory in its short life, I feel that they created something quite spectacular and unique, and maybe they were just in the wrong time period for their vision. today their work is appreciated and highly valued.