How and why to start a collection

H&A blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood explains how she started collecting midcentury ceramics

H&A blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood runs the weekly Twitter vintage networking event #vintagefindhour. In her blog for H&A she writes about her most recent finds, fair experiences and tales of the interesting folk she meets along the way. This month she suggests ideas for collecting antique or vintage pieces...

There’s a lot to be said for collecting. There is a joy to coveting objects you somehow gravitate toward. But what sparks off a person’s lifelong passion for amassing things? An heirloom passed on can trigger a fascination or happy childhood memories. Your collecting choice needn’t be grandiose nor an investment piece. It is whatever warms your heart and has the power to ignite your memories that matters.

I have a catholic collecting taste when it comes to vintage but most of the time I’m attracted to pieces that jog my memory – a pretty Vogue mirror that once graced the hallway at my late Great Aunt’s house or the family bone china tea set. While busy about our daily lives we take these everyday possessions for granted until the years scurry along and suddenly, they become a meaningful part of our past.

My collection – an ever-growing array of Meakin and Midwinter ceramics – started by chance on an auction trip. Nestled at the bottom of a box I discovered some Midwinter tea plates. Captivated by the unusual monochrome design I decided to do some further research and discovered that they were designed by Terence Conran in 

1954 for the Stylecraft ‘Fashion Shape Nature Study’ range. I was bewitched by their surprisingly modern look.

Shortly after, I set off to view some private items for sale. As I walked into the room piles of Alfred Meakin plates (such as the one pictured above), bowls and tea sets in cheery patterns welcomed me and I feasted my greedy eyes on the mid-century designs. As a vintage dealer, these fortunate occasions don’t occur often but I’ve since come to realise that instant attraction to 1950s ceramics may be largely due to watching the popular TV show The Darling Buds of May as a child.

Midwinter (right) was founded in Stoke on Trent in 1910 and became one of England’s largest potteries by the 1930s. During the 1950s, under the leadership of Roy Midwinter, it became one of the leading innovators in British tableware largely due to their collaboration with talented designers and ceramicists such as Terence Conran, Jessie Tait, Peter Scott, John Russell and Hugh Casson.

Founded in 1851 J&G Meakin produced large quantities of ironstone china (similar to earthenware) for the British and import markets and the company had close ties with Johnson Brothers and Alfred Meakin, which explains why some of the patterns are similar. Alfred Meakin was the brother of James & George Meakin and set up his business in 1875, operating from Tunstall. In 1968 J&G Meakin took over Midwinter Pottery so it transpires that my collection has an intertwined history. The yellow checked china, below right, is an example of the product of their collaboration.

Ceramics are an ideal place to start if you want to collect. They are relatively small, inexpensive and easy to display in your home. There’s plenty of inspiration in the beautiful blue-and-white china adorning the mantelpieces of 18 Stafford Terrace, the home of Punch cartoonist and great-great-grandfather to Viscount Linley, Edward Linley Sambourne, in the Homes & Antiques November issue.

Whether you prefer Victorian pieces or midcentury designs, either sit well in modern homes with patterns often appearing far ahead of their time. Of course, antiques seem to be having something of a moment, with a lot of modern design taking influence from the past.

Any inkling of a passion for design, craftsmanship or history can get you dangerously hooked on tracking down your desired objects. It could be even the taste of a lifestyle you wish for that gets you hooked.

Whatever your reason, collecting is an extremely valuable cog that keeps the wheels of vintage trade turning. Don’t underestimate the collector’s role.

Join the discussion by tweeting Sarah-Jane at @vintagehomeshop or join in the #vintagefindhour live chat on Wednesdays at 8pm

The Decorative Living Fair, Chelsea Town Hall, London
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