In January 2020, David in Ottawa asked to help him with an exciting family vase depicting “Kirkstall Abbey”. It is 29cm high (11.5 inches) and the underside shows the crisp terra cotta clay imprinted with two different monograms which I guess would be pretty easy to identify. Over a six month period, on and off, I started browsing several books on English pottery marks in my library. I’ve found nothing.
I decided to contact Bill Kime, decorative arts manager at the Waddington auction house in Toronto. A few more weeks passed until Bill replied that he was also stuck. The quality of this work of art is very high, which prompted me to broaden my search to include all European and American ceramic brands – again, to no avail.
Then – months later, out of the blue – a phone call. Bill had been disturbed enough by this puzzle to contact a friend of his, David Simmons, at Port Hope – a British ceramics specialist who provided the answer – at Langley Mill Pottery based near Nottingham, England. Bill developed the information by disentangling the monograms to be those of the two artists who designed the decoration of the vase – a collaboration between George Leighton Parkinson and Helen Goodyer during their tenure at the Calvert & Lovatt Pottery Partnership between 1883 and 1895. I wrote the breaking news and quickly added it to the newspaper’s column request as a solid $ 500 coin – just under a year in preparation for the end of January 2021. Mystery solved!
Meanwhile, a ray of hope credited to the events of COVID had given me some time to organize my tax records and my library. I was also preparing for a pending and uncertain operation and focused my attention on collecting reading material in case things progressed. I rediscovered a wonderful monthly to which I had subscribed for several years – ‘Antique Collecting’ – then published by the Antique Collectors’ Club. I had only read about half of what I received and hopefully grabbed about 10 issues still contained in their unopened mailing envelopes. I canceled my subscription over 13 years ago.
My scheduled surgery was January 29, 2021 – the birthday of my best friend and neighbor, Dorothy Babcock. Just the day before, she had said it would be a good day because of the coincidence. It was 9:10 a.m. on January 29, 2021 – just two hours before I was on the stretcher waiting to be taken to the operating room for my necessary but routine surgery.
At that point, I decided to do something that Google cannot do. I opened the first issue in the stack of 10 – February 2003 – and started “flipping” through it like we did with those big little books that had individual designs in the top corners that resulted in a ” movie “. I was scanning from back to front and was almost done when a title popped up to me: “Langley Mill Pottery! I was amazed. In front of me were the first two pages of a six-page article by John and Jenifer Giblin depicting a pair of similar vases and the artists’ monograms. They are the authors of a book on the subject. The history of pottery was in the following pages along with catalog pages and illustrations of other items they produced.
There was my temptation to heal – the prospect of a good read on completing a year-long vase mystery information – that sat under my nose, in my own library, for almost 20 years.