Bonhams to Find New Home for Unique Minton Archive

“…Simply the greatest 19th century industrial archive in Britain” Paul Atterbury – Art Historian

Royal Doulton Ltd, owner of the celebrated Minton archive, has commissioned Bonhams to advise on the future of the archive.

Bonhams’ recommendation is that the archive be preserved in a British institution on display as an entity, not only for historians, scholars and students of ceramic history, but a much wider public.

The Archive dates from 1793 to the present day, and includes thousands of original watercolours and drawings by artists associated with Minton. There are a substantial number by Augustus Pugin, including a series for The Great Exhibition Stove, made up of titles designed by Pugin and manufactured by Minton and set up in the Medieval Court of the exhibition of 1851. The collaboration between Minton and Pugin had a profound effect on English taste as seen in the Houses of Parliament or the huge floor at St George’s Hall, Liverpool.

Bonhams believes that the collection of over 120 watercolours of designs by the 19th century’s most important Design eye, that of Dr Christopher Dresser, may be the largest surviving anywhere. Dresser was the Victorian designer who anticipated the modern world. In quantity as well as quality this is an unrivalled treasure trove. In Dresser’s designs, some of which were executed as Art Wares by Minton, we glimpse his genius, his humour and his revolutionary ideas involving function and simplicity of form. Dresser was a skilful draughtsman and his drawings have been stunningly preserved with all their boldness and revolutionary design motifs. Indeed, so fresh and timeless are the designs, that they appear as striking today as they would have done 140 years ago.

Mark Oliver, Director of Design at Bonhams, said:

“In the auction world records for Christopher Dresser’s work continue to be broken. His silver plated teapots for Hukin & Heath have commanded in excess of £100,000, while Museums all over the world vie to own key examples of his modernist designs. In many ways his angular forms and Japanesque designs anticipated the spirit of Art Deco and Modernism some 50 years before these movements took shape. Even today at the start of the 21st Century we owe a great debt to Dresser. From the line of soaring skyscrapers to the uncluttered interiors of the contemporary apartment, he helped lead the way, while others followed in shaping our modern world.”

All of Minton’s stellar cast of other artists and designers are represented in the archive in the form of their original sketches, drawings and watercolours that would eventually be either discarded or fashioned into fine ceramics. Names such as Henry Stacey Marks, John Moyr Smith, Alboin Birks, Thomas Allen, Louis and Léon Solon, William Stephen Coleman, William Musill and John Wadsworth.

The range of Minton’s commissions extends from Kings, Queens and Tsarinas to a relatively workaday service for RMS Titanic. The archive contains original illustrations for the borders of Minton’s fabled masterpiece ‘The Lord Milton Dessert Service’ of 1867, which documents the expedition undertaken by Lord Milton and W.B. Cheadle through the Rocky Mountains to British Columbia between 1862-63. This very important dessert service was sold at Bonhams in 2002 with individual plates making £10,000 a piece. The scenes depicted on the service were taken from the expedition’s sketches.

Mark Oliver, who has spent several months assessing the collection, commented: “The Minton paper archive is one of the most important ceramic archives in the world, documenting so many aspects of the company’s activity and design since 1793 when Thomas Minton founded the company in Stoke on Trent. Its pattern books alone contain thousands of designs charting the history of the company from the humble teacup and saucer to the most prestigious and celebrated ceramic masterpieces, such as the famous Minton majolica peacock sold by Bonhams in July 2002 for £105,000.

Working with Mark Oliver is David Park, Director of Books and Manuscripts who has a considerable experience of dealing with various important archives. Commenting on the Minton archive, he said:

“The first thought, having had a chance to range through the material, is gratitude to Minton and successive generations of employees who saved what others allowed to be lost, not least in skips in recent years. This is doubly fortunate since Minton was also perhaps the pre-eminent firm in the second half of the 19th century. Ceramic historians are a partisan breed, with fierce loyalties to one factory or another, but it seems that they are united in acknowledging that these archives are unquestionably the most comprehensive to survive. “

“It must be preserved as an entity, for any breaking up would render it completely useless. The sale of the archive as an entity, to a suitable institution or collection should attract support from the Heritage Lottery Fund or similar bodies, well able to understand that the preservation of the Minton archive represents, in a very real sense, the chance in a lifetime,’’ says Paul Atterbury in an article to appear in the Summer issue of the Bonhams Magazine.

A spokesperson for Royal Doulton commented: “We have never had the opportunity to display the archive in its entirety and therefore we are delighted that it can now be offered a home in a new single location, so all of its fascinating historic and artistic content can be fully appreciated by everyone.”