Friday, July 4, 2014

Buyer beware!

I've had a few days home with the flu - which gave me time to wander my way through all the Crown Lynn listings on TradeMe... and I was pretty appalled by what I found. 

A novice collector in particular could very easily be caught out by some listings which are advertised as Crown Lynn when they patently are not. 

'Crown Lynn???' does not mean Crown Lynn.  Nor does 'In the style of Crown Lynn' or 'Might be Crown Lynn' or 'It is not marked but I have no doubt that it was made by Crown Lynn' or other such assertions.

Generally, I have to believe that the seller is acting with integrity, but there are a few cases where I wonder. There are a couple of traders who are notorious for advertising items as 'Crown Lynn' - usually  with a few question marks, and using that same heading for countless re-listings no matter how often they are told that they are wrong.   Unfortunately I can't name that trader but I would love to!

Crown Lynn is very complex, and as we all know it's not always easy to establish what is and what is not Crown Lynn.  Without blowing my own trumpet, (much!) my Crown Lynn Collector's Handbook is a very useful guide. 

First let's deal with what is Crown Lynn. Many CL items are unmarked, and many others bear marks which appear to have no relation to Crown Lynn.  I have given three common examples below.

This lovely duo is marked 'Symphony British'.

This gorgeous honey glaze beer stein carries the very common Crown Lynn four-digit shape number and 'Made in New Zealand' in capitals. (I love the way honey glaze comes up so beautifully in photos. How can I ever have been derisive about this ware - but indeed I was)

And this handkerchief dish from the 1940s has only a three-digit shape number, as was common practice at that time.

You will also come across dinnerware marked with 'Genuine Ironstone' or 'Contemporary Ceramics' - or a slew of other brands all used by Crown Lynn.

So where can we get into trouble and buy what is not Crown Lynn?  There are two very common pitfalls - Hobby Ceramics and the Crown Lynn replicas made by Studio Ceramics. 

A while ago there was a white 'Crown Lynn' shell on TradeMe which gave me buyer's envy - mine is rather garish and I would have much preferred the white.  Then, after it had sold, I realised that Studio Ceramics makes a white version and that's probably what was on TradeMe... but saying that, I can't guarantee that CL never made a white shell! 

Studio Ceramics has in no way attempted to mis-represent what they make, and you often see items listed 'Crown Lynn replica' and the like, which is perfectly acceptable.  For the record, here is the link to the Studio Ceramics Retro Lynn range currently in production.  I believe that the replicas are now backstamped Studio Ceramics but that may not always have been the case in the past.

Then we have Hobby Ceramics.  This was hugely popular in the 1980s/1990s - you went to a class and were given a bisque ware 'blank' which you painted with supplied glazes in your own design. Your work was then fired and you took it home.  Some Crown Lynn shapes found their way into Hobby Ceramics classes.  This dish for example is almost exactly the same as the lovely version decorated by Frank Carpay below... but it is Hobby Ceramics.
Besides the quality of the artwork, the clue is on the base. In the pic below you can see the familiar Crown Lynn shape number 2142, but there is also a scratched mark - the initials of the person who hand-painted it. In addition most Hobby Ceramics items look amateurish - ceramic decoration is a skilled occupation that you can't learn in a single class.  Hobby Ceramic glazes are also quite distinctive - the pale speckly effect above was quite popular. 
Experienced buyers are aware of the pitfalls of Hobby Ceramics, so if you see something that seems to be rather special but no-one else is bidding, perhaps you need to reconsider. You can pretty much guarantee that other collectors will have seen the listing and decided there's something odd about it.
Yet another common pitfall is to see other NZ manufacturers' works listed as Crown Lynn - for example 'Clay Craft/Crown Lynn.'   Clay Craft had nothing to do with Crown Lynn. It was a totally separate company, making completely different ware - lovely and collectable in its own right, but not Crown Lynn.  The same applies to many other NZ manufacturers, eg Orzel, Temuka etc.
However Titian and Luke Adams are both associated with Crown Lynn, and I will tackle their stories another time. Both were taken over by Crown Lynn, so some of their output can be attributed to Crown Lynn and some cannot. The honey glaze beer stein above is very typical of the type of ware made at the Titian factory after the takeover. 
In summary, it is buyer beware out there. Although recent legislation has given online buyers more protection, I don't like your chances of getting your money back if you buy something that proves not to be authentic. I can't emphasise enough, if an item seems too good to be true it probably is. If it's as rare and valuable as the seller implies, then others will be bidding. If not, it is either not authentic or overpriced. Or both.
There are not a lot of misleading entries, but enough to cause concern.
Lastly - life is full of surprises!  Recently the New Zealand Pottery site had some discussion about Crown Lynn made in Mexico.  Huh??? Mexico???? In all my years researching and collecting, I had never come across this connection, but now we have a backstamped item to prove it - it appears that Crown Lynn commissioned some work from the Lofisa factory in Mexico.  As you will see from the discussion on this link, there is still a lot to be discovered about this Mexican connection.
More soon