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Bretby Pottery brilliance shines bright in 'remarkable' 350-strong collection up for auction

Posted on 18/05/2020 in Press Coverage

Hundreds of colourful pieces of Bretby pottery, gathered over more than 30 years by a passionate collector, are coming up for auction in May.

Some 350 examples covering the South Derbyshire firm’s early history through to the inter-war years - chosen and cherished by the late Carolyne Stanforth - are set to be sold by Hansons Auctioneers.

They include objects from the 1880s to Edwardian periods; tromp l’oeil wares which cleverly imitate domestic items such as biscuits on a tray, scissors, nuts and even cigarettes; brightly coloured majolica glaze wares from the 1890s such as comports, vases and jardinieres and stylish Arts & Crafts/Art Nouveau objects from the early 20th century.

Adrian Rathbone, head of Fine and Decorative Arts at Hansons, said: “It’s a stunning collection and an affordable way for people to begin collecting Bretby. Estimates will range from under £100 up to £1,000.”



Tromp l’oeil wares cleverly imitate domestic items such as nuts or tomatoes on a tray.

Seller Stephen Milner, from London, said: “My late wife Carolyne was the reason why we had such a substantial collection. She was brought up on the North Yorkshire Moors, her parents were interested in antiques and regularly visited antiques fairs. It was here Carolyne developed her love for antiques.

“Her father was interested in local pottery and when Carolyne went to Newcastle University in the mid-70s she started to buy Bretby. At the time, Linthorpe pottery was considered more collectable and commanded much higher prices. Bretby offered similar pottery at more affordable prices and, given that she was a student with limited finances, it meant she could pick up the odd piece of Bretby. And so, through just a few pieces, it all began.

Fascinated by Bretby's history

“The collection really started to develop when we came back from East Africa and set up home together in 1986. We started to go to major antique fairs at the NEC and Harrogate, got to know specialist dealers and sourced better and larger pieces. We also continued to visit local fairs with her parents on the moors.

“What motivated us was the fact that, as no single book documented the Bretby pottery company, knowledge was limited and each time we went to a fair we uncovered a little nugget of information or a completely new line of pottery we’d never seen before.



“Bretby was remarkably diverse in the style of pottery it produced and, as our collection grew, we realised it reflected the changing fashions of the periods. While many of the items may not be unique, we rarely saw duplicates of the larger pieces at the numerous fairs we attended.This gave Bretby interest and appeal and made it a fascinating pottery company to follow.

“In terms of whether there are any unique items, I do believe one 3ft tall square vase, decorated as if it has had lace imprinted into the clay to create the design relief, was a one-off for an exhibition. But they are all interesting, even some of the kitsch and grotesque ones.

“The development of the internet and eBay helped to accelerate the growth of the collection. But I think what we enjoyed the most was talking to dealers, learning about the history of Bretby and sharing our knowledge with them. We became friends with David Ash who’s written a couple of short books on Bretby.

“The main collection was built up over a 24-year period through to 2010 when my wife was killed in an accident abroad. As you appreciate, her death brought an end to my desire to collect although the pottery remained on display at home for several years.”


Bretby Art Pottery was a studio founded in 1882 by Henry Tooth and William Ault in Woodville, Derbyshire. Production began in 1883. Tooth went into partnership with Ault following his successful leadership of the celebrated Linthorpe Pottery in Middlesbrough where he had been recommended as general manager by renowned designer Dr Christopher Dresser in 1879.

Tooth continued his creative relationship with Dr Dresser and within a year his partnership with Ault led to a gold medal at the 1884 London International and Universal Exhibition at Crystal Palace. They also registered their ‘Sunburst’ logo as a trademark.

The partnership between Ault and Tooth was dissolved in 1887 when Ault set up his own pottery, Ault & Co in Midland Road, Swadlincote. Bretby continued to be produced by Tooth and then his family under Tooth and Co until 1993, when the works were sold. Tooth and Company closed in 1996.

The Bretby Pottery Collection will be sold on May 26 in Hansons' Fine & Decorative Arts Auction.

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