Myrna and I exchanged e-mails yesterday about the way the internet has changed the market for Victorian pottery. Antique dealers sometimes grumble that the internet has ruined their trade. And in a way it has, through the process of 'disintermediation' – or to you and me, cutting out the middleman. But the fact is, many people still need dealers to tell them what is rare and what isn't. The premium you pay is for a lifetime's knowledge of their subject. Buying indiscriminately on eBay or at auction can be costly in terms of mistakes. However, my experience is that you can study a subject as hard as you like, but there's nothing like parting with cash to focus your powers of discrimination.
I strongly believe that there's never been a better time to start a collection of Victorian pottery. Even back in the 1970s, pottery was more expensive than now in real terms (i.e. as a percentage of salary). The people who collect tend to be in their 60s and 70s and many don't have access to the internet. This creates a unique opportunity for those who are interested, and have internet access.
Below is a photo of my bedroom wall (the great wall of China, we've dubbed it), where I display the more common variations of plaques. Ten years ago, such a collection would have cost tens of thousands of pounds, but now, many of the plaques can be acquired for less than £100.
Collecting plaques is relatively risk free. More often than not, damage is obvious and declared, and there are very few fakes or reproductions. So grab a bargain while prices remain low. My prediction is that within the next 5 years, when the global recession has lifted and the internet generation starts to collect, prices will rise again. But when you've purchased your first 100 plaques, I've no doubt you'll be as reliant as I am on dealers to push your collection that extra mile.
Stephen Smith lives in London, and is always happy to hear from other collectors. If you have an interesting collection of plaques, and are based in the UK, he will photograph them for you. Free advice given regarding selling and dispersal of a collection, or to those wishing to start one. Just get in touch...
This website is indebted to collectors, dealers and enthusiasts who have shared their knowledge or photos. In particular: Ian Holmes, Stephen Duckworth, Dick Henrywood, Norman Lowe, Keith Lovell, Donald H Ryan, Harold Crowder, Jack and Joyce Cockerill, Myrna Schkolne, Elinor Penna, Ian Sharp, Shauna Gregg at the Sunderland Museum, Keith Bell, Martyn Edgell, and Liz Denton.