My grandfather collected, amongst other things, Staffordshire figures, ironstone plates, blue and white, and a bargeware teapot, so Victorian pottery was something I grew up with, and has childhood associations and familiarity. When I started collecting lustre plaques though, I thought I'd found something entirely my own. But mum has since told me there were two ship plaques in the house in Hull where I spent my early years - 'Truelove from Hull' and 'The Unfortunate London'. It seems likely, aged 3 or 4, I was dandled in front of them. So perhaps plaques were always there, buried in my subconscious.
I've been looking for a Truelove from Hull for over 10 years now. A broken one came up on eBay 7 or 8 years ago. I underestimated the bidding - it sold for over £200 as I remember. A square orange one with rubbed lustre came up about the same time in a group lot at auction, and I missed out on that too. So despite a hairline and faded lustre, I was happy to get the plaque below in a Derby saleroom recently.
How many of them exist? An impossible question to answer, but not many. There's one in Hull's Maritime Museum. And although I've only been searching a decade or so, I've had access to some very large collections of Sunderland lustre, built up over much longer periods, and never seen another. I have added it to the rare ships page, with links to information about the ship's fascinating history. Truelove was captured by the British in the American War of Independence, and sailed for 124 years. I couldn't resist including this photo of the ship's Captain Parker in 1854 (from here). Like something straight out of Melville!
The plaque is one of a series of ships by Anthony Scott of Southwick. If you wanted to quick-start a collection of ships, Martyn Edgell has the selection below for sale, for a very reasonable £165 each. Click here to browse Martyn's site.
I bought one from Martyn myself (see below left). If someone is looking to make up a set, I will sell my other near-perfect example (below right) for £165. Just drop me an e-mail.
Congratulations to Hull for being named City of Culture 2017. Hull was the home of William Wilberforce, and, we were always told, one of Queen Victoria's favourite cities.
Thanks to a tip off in an auction listing from Anderson and Garland, I recently purchased a copy of "Our Dumb Companions". It has, so far, provided printed sources for 5 transfers on plaques attributed to Scott of Southwick. Be sure to take a look at the new page I've just added.
If you think you have further plaques in this series, drop me a line and I will try to match them up with illustrations from the book.
As prices for common examples of Sunderland lustre (and Victorian pottery in general) slowly fall, strangely, the prices fetched by the reproduction ship plaques titled 'Agamemnon' and 'Flying Cloud Boston' appear to be on the rise.
I blogged about these reproductions several times in the early days of this website, and added a page on reproductions. Ian Holmes valiantly e-mails eBay sellers to tell them that the items are fakes and were made in the latter half of the 20th century. Some sellers defer to Ian's greater knowledge and change their listings, others argue that they purchased the plaques from 'a reputable auction house', and although other sellers' Flying Cloud Bostons and Agamemnons may be fake, their example is definitely 19th century.
Sad to say, if your plaque looks like the titled ship plaques above, it is, without any shadow of a doubt, a modern fake (even if it appears to have an old crackle to the glaze). There are no known 19th century Sunderland lustre originals like these with these titles.
Here are a few recently listed: eBay number 390650457018 sold for £47.10; eBay number 181214125187 sold for £48.95; eBay number 290972418687 sold for £47.00; and eBay number 141044042847, which sold for a jaw-dropping £98.85. There's currently a Flying Cloud Boston, eBay number 350910531493, which is already at £52.00, but at least the seller has had the decency to publish a question about its authenticity, and has admitted his own ignorance of its age.
Interestingly, the entirely original plaque below sold on eBay for £27. OK, it is far from being the best example of its kind (!), but at least it has some age to it. Note, there is no title under the transfer. The ship shown is actually the Marco Polo (see the common ships page for more details).
Ian glimpsed the pair of repros in the background of the set of the horror film, Holocaust 2000, filmed in England in 1977. They do seem quite at home in the realm of horror (see below). So if we're looking to date them, the 1960s to mid 1970s seems about right. They were mass produced in thousands.
I have a cupboard full of these reproduction plaques (only a slight exaggeration), which were thrown into job lots by 'reputable auction houses' to make up the numbers. Ian says he has a box of them too. So if you'd like to purchase a pair of repros for £80, please drop me a line. You'll be doing me a huge favour!
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.