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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Dessert service; Tennis pattern; 24 pieces total, 7 cups, 9 saucers, plus plates; sold for $7,050. Photo courtesy of Freeman's.
When I think about art deco china, the name Clarice Cliff always comes to mind. Cliff brought something brand new to a dinner table that had become way too solemn.

Her groundbreaking British-made pottery designs from the ‘30s were astonishingly colorful.

“Color seems to radiate happiness and the spirit of modern life,” Cliff said. She used color as a signature theme in her tableware. The pottery reeked of lightness and unlimited possibility.

Even Cliff liked the term “Bizarre Ware” for her colorful, strong-lined, hand-painted geometrical designs. Cliff’s team of female painters were even called “The Bizarre Girls.”

By the time the 20th century arrived, stiff dinner parties with servants waiting to tidy up were fast becoming a thing of the past. Silver demanding constant polishing and delicate china chipping at the turn of a hand didn’t make much sense either.

The modern world demanded modern tableware in step with the times. Cliff responded with over 350 new patterns. She designed over 20 teapots.

Bizarre and bold they were, tableware unlike anything on the market. It wasn’t long before Cliff’s vases; bowls, tea and dinner sets were sold in top department stores in America and Australia.

“Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist,” Cliff said. People who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by a little innocent tomfoolery.”

Cliff was heralded for brightening up the world of the bored housewife. During an era of economic hardship, her business thrived.

At age 14, Cliff went to work as a painter for a local pottery in England. In 1916, she joined the firm of A. J. Wilkinson and remained there for the rest of her life. Cliff married the firm’s owner, Colley Shorter, and after his death in 1963 sold the factory and retired to her home in New Castle. She died in 1972.

Cliff has been called a “cozy genius” and prices for her mass-market tableware continue to soar. When Christie’s in South Kensington offered Cliff pottery for the first time in 1989, hundreds of people showed up for the auction.

Nowadays, Clarice Cliff wares are highly collectible and fakes crop up regularly. They are often produced from molds with shapes similar to the originals, but are falsely marked and often badly painted.

It’s important to remember that Cliff only produced wares for A. J. Wilkinson’s and its subsidiary Newport Pottery. Later pieces are often marked Royal Staffordshire Pottery. Midwinter, and Wedgwood also produced some of the legitimate reproductions.

On May 19, 2002, Freeman’s in Philadelphia offered a selection of Clarice Cliff pottery in its 20th century design sale. Here are some current values.

Clarice Cliff

Dish; Royal Staffordshire; ovoid form; 3½ inches high; $223.

Bowl; Sunray pattern; 4½ inches diameter; $822.

Wall mask; Lady of the Orient with hand-painted details; 11 inches high; $1,762.

Jug; apples pattern Lotus jug; 11½ inches high; $3,818.

Dessert service; Tennis pattern; 24 pieces total, including 7 cups and 9 saucers, plus dessert plates; $7,050.

Vase; Etna pattern; hand-painted with stylized mountainous landscape; 9½ inches high; $8,225.

Jug; sliced-circle pattern Lotus jug; single strap handle; 11½ inches high; $9,400.

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