The Evolution of Moorcroft
1897 – The company was launched by William Moorcroft, who trained at the Royal College of Art in London. From the start, prestigious stores like Liberty and Harrods of London as well as New York’s Tiffany & Co. were customers – and this has continued to the present day.
1913 – The company moved to its present location on Sandbach Road, Stoke-on-Trent, England – right in the heart of the Potteries area.
1927 – The company was honoured to become “Potters to H.M. The QUEEN”
1945 – Walter Moorcroft took over the reins as sole designer.
1986 – The post of sole designer was taken up by Sally Tuffin. Sally brought in birds, animals and geometric shapes into her designs.
1993-1997 – Rachel Bishop was responsible for the design. She built on previous works and the international reputation of the company increased till further under her direction.
1997 – The Moorcroft Design Studio consisting of five top ceramics designers. This brought in fresh ideas with hundreds of new patterns being created by this talented group.
2017 – The Independent Design Consort came into being. They produce very contemporary works with abstract patterns, although the production is based on traditional methods. Often, they add the delicate lustre of gold or silver.
Production – From Clay to Master Piece
The production of these masterpieces is quite complex and requires highly skilled and trained artists.
Making the Mould
First, a “profile” is made by carving a solid piece of plaster. From this, a “model” is created and turned on a lathe to ensure the plaster model is the exact shape desired. The model is coated with plaster, usually in two halves, to make removal after it has set easier. This is the master “Block Mould”. From this, a ‘Case’ is made in a similar way with a tougher plaster as the Case must be used many times, usually up to 40 fills.
Next, Comes the Casting
The moulds are filled with slip and then left to dry. The plaster absorbs moisture from the slip and the longer it is left to dry, the thicker the final piece will be. They usually leave them about an hour, depending on the size. The surplus slip is tipped away leaving a hollow space and the remaining clay is left inside, lining the mould which continues to dry. When the clay is firm enough, they remove the mould and take the piece to the drying room where it remains overnight.
The Following Day
The turner uses a hand-held lathe to trim off excess clay and then uses specifically designed metal tools to perfect the trim. It is then burnished with a softer metal tool which smooths the surface.
Natural Sea Sponges
Natural Sea Sponges are used to create a really smooth finish and then the first mark is impressed.
The design is transferred from paper to cellophane. They use special ink for this. Then the tube liner transfers the design onto the pot. This is done by rubbing the cellophane which has been placed in position, with their fingertips. Then the tube liner uses a small rubber bag containing slip to make a trail of the pattern – a bit like icing a pattern onto a cake. This is a very skilled task.
To add finer detail, a sharp metal tool is used to incise the clay in a process called “sgraffito”. After this, the base of the item is stamped with the tube liners’ initials.
The artists use metallic oxides thickened with gum Arabic or bentonite. They add water to get the right strength of colour. Mostly, they use a floating technique, whereby the paint is allowed to float over a designated area. They can build up layers of paint to achieve the strength of colour desired. They might even use 2 or 3 different colours to obtain an exact shade. For shading, they use their fingertips to blend the paints. The painter highlights the factory marks and adds their own initials onto the base. Once the decoration is complete, the piece goes into a drying room overnight and the paint is absorbed into the clay.
Firing in the Biscuit Kiln
The pot enters the electric biscuit kiln. Temperatures reach 1100 °C and the process usually lasts overnight. The pot becomes rigid and the colours fast. The item is checked and if it passes scrutiny, the final marks are painted onto the base.
Glaze and Glost Firing
Finally, the pot is glazed and dried overnight. The next day, further firing takes place – again for about 8 hours and again at a temperature of 1100 °C. It is here that the lower colours burn through to the surface to be seen for the first time.
The first marks are impressed after the piece has been smoothed over with the sponges. There are three marks, the Moorcroft stamp, the Made in Stoke-on-Trent England stamp and a date stamp.
Moorcroft began to use the alphabet as a date stamp starting in 1990. But instead of using the letter, they use a symbol as shown below:
1990 – an impressed Arrow
1991 – an impressed Bell
1992 – a Candlestick
1993 – a Diamond shape
1994 – an Eye
1995 – a Flag
1996 – a Gate
1997 – an HC monogram for the centenary year
1998 – an Iron
1999 – a Jug/pitcher
2000 – a Key with a double ‘M’ for the teeth and so on…
The next stamp is the tube liners, followed by the painters. The final marks are painted onto the base after selection. These include the copyright as well as the year the design was originally drawn on paper. Each designer has their own individual mark, and these are also included on the numbered and limited editions.
Collectors – Note the Silver Stripe
The silver stripe means the piece is imperfect in some way. You can usually find this through the WM monogram if present. In fact, Moorcroft marks have become ever more elaborate and informative as the years pass. Here is more information on the marks together with illustrations.
A few words about Moorcroft Design Studio
At the time of writing, the Design Studio has five internationally successful members – each with their own unique and recognisable style. In addition, guest designers help to ensure that the work is always fresh and interesting. Adding to the original designs with flowers, fruits and landscapes, modern ideas are incorporated into the Moorcroft pieces. These include animals and birds, as well as contemporary geometric designs.
Rachel Bishop is the senior designer, with a worldwide reputation. Her work brings to mind William Morris and she features British flowers in many of her designs.
Emma Bosson produces highly popular items and has designed many successful limited editions – she is also the youngest member of the Royal Society of Arts because of her design skills.
Kerry Goodwin inserts humour into her designs – you will often find yourself smiling when you see her sometimes quirky creations. Her pieces have character!
Nicola Slaney creates rare collectable limited editions and pieces which are more affordable. Nicola is a very versatile designer, with many styles reminiscent of the flowers, fruit and landscapes which made Moorcroft so well known at the beginning
Vicky Lovatt incorporates her love of astronomy into many of her creations. She produces brilliantly coloured animals and birds, set against a black night sky background. It was Vicky who designed the nine giant ceramic globes for the medal-winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden.
Guest designers add their own skills to the mix of talent and include renowned artists like Paul Hilditch, Alicia Amison, Helen Dale and Anji Davenport.
The Design Consort
The Design Consort hones the development of the unique brand style. Independent of Moorcroft, it trials and tests designer ideas, filtering and weeding out those which do not quite fit their brand concepts. All the pieces are made on Staffordshire and many have delicate gold or silver lustre, adding to the trademark geometric and abstract patterns.
Popular with Famous People
If you are a collector of Moorcroft, then you are in good company. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, adds them to her royal collection, former US presidents, British prime ministers, together with many well-known actors and singers, collect Moorcroft. And Leonard A Lauder, President of the Estée Lauder cosmetics empire, has a very large collection.
Moorcroft has designed a unique style of tube lined works with brilliant colours and great artistic appeal. The earlier pieces featuring flowers and fruits have been extended to modern abstract designs while still using the traditional methods of manufacture. You can always find something interesting and stylish for your collection, prices ranging from the highly valued limited editions to the more affordable – yet still valuable ceramics. And the detailed marks make Moorcroft satisfying, and you always know what you are buying (if you look!).