Clarice Cliff: The Pottery Princess

Clarice Cliff was born in Stoke-on-Trent and quickly earned herself the title of Sunshine Girl with her bold and cheerful ceramics designs. Her designs were new and daring for their day and initially consisted of bright colours which were applied to whiteware in geometric patterns.

Clarice's first range - Bizarre Ware - was launched in the Spring of 1928. Clarice's Bizarre Girls gave practical demonstrations, in the foyers of major London department stores, showing how whiteware could be drastically changed and given a new lease of life. As the range became more popular, more craftsmen and women were employed and designs were standardised to speed up production. As Clarice's designs broadened flowers became another theme and the crocus pattern (made up of extremely simple strokes) was successful immediately after its release and continued to be so throughout the 1930s.

The main outlets where people could purchase Clarice Cliff's pottery included Harrods, Liberty, Lawleys and Barkers. Among her clients there were many celebrities of the time from the world of theatre, screen, radio and even a magazine which commissioned sets of dinner and tea ware especially for their readers.

The most sought after Cliff pottery design now is the Applique range, but in the 1930s, the most wanted pieces came from the Inspiration range. The pieces are extremely distinctive because - having been designed for a more affluent market - they looked quite different from Clarice's usual pieces; these pieces looked so distinctive because they were fired at unusally high temperatures.

In total, Clarice Cliff introduced over three hundred and fifty patterns which were said to brighten up the lives of many bored housewives. The designs were seen as being novelties and so sold effortlessly. These designs have maintained their popularity and appeal over several decades - from the late twenties until the present day.

At auction pieces can fetch amounts between the reasonable and the seemingly obscene - in 1994, Christie's sold a rare Cliff charger for for ?12,100. This charger showed Mount Etna against a red sky full of yellow clouds. Of course, there are many pieces of Clarice Cliff which are affordable for everyone: conical sugar sifters have estimates starting at around ?60, whilst coasters fetch between ?60 and ?90 at auction. Many collectors concentrate on collecting a particular shape of piece, others may just collect one pattern, and some collectors just collect any Clarice Cliff they happen to come across! During the late 1980s, Clarice Cliff prices skyrocketed and large pieces were at a premium. Over the years, however, more and more people are becoming interested in the smaller wares.

Some of Clarice Cliff's most unpopular pieces are her ashtrays; they were widely available and skillfully decorated, but remain unpopular presumably due to the current society's aversion to smoking.

Damage to a Clarice Cliff item is not as bad as one might think; in many twentieth century ceramics, a small hairline crack or minute chip can result in an item losing up to two thirds of its mint condition value. Minor damage to Cliff ware, however, does not tend to devaluate an item to a substantial degree.

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