The Ruskin Pottery was named after the writer and art critic, John Ruskin, whose ideas about quality and beauty were in tune with the pottery’s stated aim: ‘good potting, beauty in form and rich or tender colourings’. It was founded in West Smethwick, near Birmingham, by Edward Taylor and his son, William Howson Taylor in 1898. However, it took £10,000 and three years of experimentation before the first pieces were available for sale. As the quality of the work was so high, it became extremely popular, despite prices as high as £50 (a huge amount at the time) for the best pieces.
Ruskin’s beautiful, decorative glazes can be divided into four categories: Soufflé, Lustre, crystalline and high-fired ‘flambé’ glazes.
- The earliest of the glazes, Soufflé, was derived from a form of 17th/18th century Chinese ceramic, in which Cobalt powder was blown onto wet glaze, producing a mottled effect. Howson Taylor used a variety of different coloured powders.
- The shiny, ‘jewel-like’ lustre glaze was produced from 1905 to 1925, in lemon, orange, lilac, green and ‘Kingfisher blue’: the most desirable colourway.
- Crystalline and matt wares, which could be created in just two firings, were produced from 1922, in an attempt to counter the cheap machine-machine wares appearing on the market. Crystalline pieces were heavy and often decorated with contrasting bands of colour, which were allowed to bleed into each other.
The most desirable Ruskin pieces are those decorated with Howson Taylor’s complex, high-fired glazes. From 1903, techniques, such as mottled ‘Snake Skin’ (shown left), were applied to a fine Porcelain and Stoneware mix body, which could withstand the sequence of high-temperature firings. Taylor claimed each piece was ‘unique and unrepeatable’.
Prices range from £100 for a small high-fired bowl, to £8,000-10,000 for larger pieces with more complicated glazes. More affordable Ruskin pieces are available, however. Most are worth between £800 and £3,000. Look out for small pieces in lustre, crystalline and matt glazes, though, as these can be found for as little as £15.