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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Vase; "Latona," stained Isis; 10 inches high; $3,466. Photo courtesy of Freeman's.
The art world was waking up from the uptight, stay inside the lines atmosphere of the Victorian era. Nowhere was it more obvious than in the pottery designs of Clarice Cliff.

Cliff’s pottery was, bold, bright and completely avant-garde. No surprise people loved it. She would ultimately become one of the most important ceramic artists of the 20th century.

No one was more surprised than Cliff herself. She started out as a laborer in a British pottery factory prior to World War I. Not much was expected of her. Her future seemed ordained.

By the late-1920s, Cliff’s design work started to attract attention and she was given room to experiment in the factory. The bright, geometric pottery patterns and shapes she came up with were distinctive.

Her over-the-top biscuit barrels, candlesticks, jam pots; jugs and bowls of the era embodied the spirit of art deco. With their strong lines, each piece was striking and also stamped with her signature. Some called it gaudy.

It was timely. It was different at a time when women wanted their lives and everything in it to be different.

Her Bizarre ware was an instant success with the buying public. A welcome addition to the drab dining tables of British housewives.

Given her own studio and a team of women to work with, Cliff’s Bizarre ware was on its way. Newspapers and women’s magazines featured photographs of her Bizarre girls sitting in shop windows painting pottery. The girls were dressed in artists’ smocks with big black bows at the neck and berets on their heads. A great marketing scheme.

Cliff ultimately married her boss Colley Shorter and together they made huge profits for the Wilkinson and Newport Pottery Co. It wasn’t long before the whole company dedicated itself to making Cliff’s Bizarre ware.

New patterns were constantly introduced. Cliff’s Crocus pattern was one of the most popular and one of the biggest moneymakers.

"She was successful when everyone else was just trying to make some money, she was making a load of money," said Leonard Griffin, a Clarice Cliff expert and founder of the Clarice Cliff Collectors Club. "The colors sold themselves. They were in the windows of the stores in London and major cities throughout the world."

Colley Shorter died in 1963 and Cliff sold the company and retired. She lived quietly in Stoke-on-Trent until her death in 1972.

Since her death overall prices for Cliff’s wares have soared. As a result, fakes started to appear. Without a solid return policy, buying online can be especially tricky.

The shape on a fake piece might be good but the paint is usually poor. You might see gaps between the colors which were not there in the originals.

If it looks too new, beware. There should be some sign of wear like scratches. It’s not hard to get stuck with a mismatched cup and saucer either. After World War II, non-hand painted work also appeared which doesn’t hold much collector interest.

Check the spouts of coffee and tea pots closely. More and more pieces are being restored which isn’t a big deal if they’re priced that way.

With over 160 patterns and more than 400 shapes out there, this is a huge collecting genre. Almost all pieces were signed. Notice I said almost.

On May 21, 2005, Freeman’s in Philadelphia featured a selection of Clarice Cliff wares in its 20th Century Design auction. Here are some current values.

Clarice Cliff

Stepped bowl; Inspiration Lily; 4 1/2 inches high; $837.

Square bowl; Alpine; 3 1/2 inches high; $1,135.

Vase; landscape decoration; 12 inches high; $1,135.

Flower holder; Flying Bird; 6 1/4 inches high; $1,315.

Basket; Inspiration; 15 inches high; $2,151.

Vase; Latona, stained Isis; 10 inches high; $3,466.

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