What you see: A Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre Ghostly Woods Malfrey pot with cover, standing 13 inches tall and produced sometime in the 1920s. Skinner estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.
The expert: Stuart Slavid, director of fine ceramics and senior vice president at Skinner.
Let’s start by talking about what Fairyland Lustre is, and how it came to be. I have to say–if I didn’t know it was Wedgwood, I’d never guess it was by them… Wedgwood, for a long time, was traditionalist. They made things that were classical designs, and they never stopped. Fairyland Lustre was beyond anything designed by Wedgwood, and it came from Daisy Makeig-Jones.
Who was Daisy Makeig-Jones? She was enthralled with nursery rhymes and fairy tales from a young age. She read them to her siblings, and they stuch with her. When she went to Wedgwood, she was pretty old for an apprentice. She started at 28, when most started at 14 or 15. She worked her way up through the ranks to become a designer, a position not held by a woman.
How did Daisy Makeig-Jones convince Wedgwood, which built its reputation on classical-looking ceramics, to produce the Fairyland Lustre line? She didn’t have to sell them on it. She only had to sell it to the art director, John Goodwin, who gave her her own studio. Fairyland Lustre was a new line that brought Wedgwood into the 20th century. It was a good cash cow as long as it lasted.
Are there technical advances that happened around 1915 that allowed Wedgwood to make the Fairyland Lustre line, or was Wedgwood able to realize it with the tools and techniques they already had? Fairyland Lustre was totally Daisy Makeig-Jones’s vision, and she realized it. Wedgwood hadn’t done anything like it before. It was quite revolutionary at the time. I toured the Wedgwood factory in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and I asked the head potter, “Why can’t you make Fairyland Lustre today with the technology you used to make it in the 1920s?” Wedgwood had tried [to revive the line] in the 1970s and it came out flat. He said, “Because we can’t use lead.” The lead in the glaze gave it its iridescence.
What was the reaction to the Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre line when it debuted in 1915? Was it a hit right away? It was, but it was the ordinary lustrewares that were a hit, not the Fairyland Lustre. It wasn’t because of the beauty of it, but the price point. It would cost the average English person a month’s wages for a piece of Fairyland Lustre. Fast-forward to today, and the Fairyland Lustre price point is much higher than the ordinary lustrewares.
I take it, then, that fewer pieces of Fairyland Lustre sold when it was new? I might love a Ferrari, but I’m happy with a Toyota.
How many different types of Fairyland Lustre did Wedgwood make? There are three types. The first is the ordinary lustreware, with butterflies, birds, and dragons on it. The second is the Fairyland Lustre, which has fairies on it. The third is unknown, or other–designs within the line that have animals or something else on it, but are not ordinary.
I came across a description of a type of Fairyland Lustre as being “true” Fairyland Lustre. Which of the three types is the “true” Fairyland Lustre? It’s the second. There were a number of books Daisy used as influences. Some that she read to her siblings gave her inspiration.
…books illustrated by Arthur Rackham? Absolutely. And there was a whole series of fairy books by Andrew Lang that were published between 1890 and 1910, when Daisy was old enough to be the eldest sister [and read to her younger siblings].
And through the 15-odd years of the Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre line’s existence, it was entirely the vision of Daisy Makeig-Jones? All are her designs. Some are signed and some are not. She could not possibly have done them all, but she is credited with them all.
Do we have any numbers on how many pieces of Fairyland Lustre Wedgwood made? I imagine they made more of the ordinary lustrewares… You’re probably correct, but there are no numbers on that. It’s hard to date Fairyland Lustre because so many of the designs were re-used for as many as 15 years. When Fairyland Lustre [the true Fairyland Lustre] arrived in 1916, there were as many as 62 variations.
Wedgwood discontinued the Fairyland Lustre line around 1929 or so. Why? The art director changed, and tastes changed. And it was right after the stock market crash. When [the new art director] called Daisy Makeig-Jones into his office to fire her, she continued to work. A short time later, Wedgwood discontinued most of the Fairyland Lustre patterns. She went back to her studio and smashed all the molds and instructed the staff to destroy the remaining stock. She left the factory and was never heard from again.
She didn’t try to launch her own studio after Wedgwood fired her? Daisy Makeig-Jones was an odd lady, and a heavy smoker. My favorite story about her is she had a kiln in her office, not for ceramics, but for making grilled cheese sandwiches. She died in 1945. She was only 63.
The piece I’m focusing on is a Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre Ghostly Woods Malfrey pot with cover. What scene do we see depicted on the piece? Is there a narrative? It depicts a land of illusion adapted from the legend of croquemitaine–a bogeyman. But if you read the story, you don’t know how [the scene on the Wedgwood piece] got from point A to point B. The translation of the story to the design makes no sense. [Makeig-Jones] may have gotten inspiration from the croquemitaine story, but there’s a rabbit at the bottom of the piece [look at the lower right] that’s running to Alice in Wonderland.
The piece is described as being a Malfrey pot with cover. What is that, exactly? A Malfrey pot, in our terms, is like a covered ginger jar. Sometimes it’s round, sometimes it’s oval, sometimes it’s vertical, but there’s always a domed cover on it.
And the four robed figures are the ghosts? Yes.
I only have one photograph of the piece. Does the design repeat on the other side? All Fairyland Lustre decorations cover all sides. I’m pretty sure the same scene is on the other side.
What’s your favorite detail of the Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre Ghostly Woods piece? Probably the figures. They don’t show up on any other Wedgwood designs. They’re not scary ghosts–they’re just kind of fun.
What are the four ghosts carrying? Torches? Maybe, but our guess as to what they’re carrying–we interpret it the way we want to interpret it. At the top [above the ghosts] there’s a thing that looks like a big bat, but it’s actually a Roc bird.
I think I see a face in the tree on the right… You see all sorts of funny things like that [in Fairyland Lustre scenes]. At the bottom, there’s a huge toad in gold, right at the front.
What do we know about how the Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre Ghostly Woods piece might have been made? It was printed [a print transfer was applied to the blank shape], then it was hand-painted over the print. Fairyland Lustre pieces [could go to] the kiln as many as five times. It was quite a process. It certainly wasn’t done in a day. The gilding was the last step.
Did Fairyland Lustre go through a period when it was unfashionable with collectors, or has it always been sought-after? When it was first produced, it was quite successful. You don’t produce it for 15 years unless it does well at the time. In terms of collecting, Fairyland Lustre didn’t become popular until the 1960s and 1970s. Wedgwood collectors had to be students of the 18th century. Not until the next generation came along and opened their eyes to the wider world of Wedgwood did they collect Fairyland Lustre as well.
Which group is bigger nowadays–the group of collectors who are only interested in Fairyland Lustre, or the group of collectors who are broadly interested in Wedgwood? The ones who are interested in Wedgwood A to Z, because there’s 260 years of production. People who only collect Fairyland Lustre have only 15 years of production. But at some point, someone is going to tell their story.
I count 14 pieces of Fairyland Lustre in the upcoming Skinner sale. Is it unusual to have so many? Are they all from the same consigner? No, they are two collections. We might have two, three, four, five pieces in a sale. This is a nice showing of Fairyland Lustre and should be a nice barometer of the market today. These pieces, and the magnitude of these pieces, will bring some [additional examples of Fairyland Lustre] out of the woodwork.
How often does a Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre Malfrey pot with cover and a Ghostly Woods theme come to auction? This is at least the second one, and it might be the same one [the two recorded auction appearances might belong to this example]. It doesn’t show up very often.
What’s the world auction record for a piece of Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre? I don’t know what the record is, but no one sells more or has sold more Wedgwood than I have. In the time I’ve been at Skinner, the most expensive piece of Fairyland Lustre we’ve sold was a Temple on a Rock vase and cover that got $61,500 on an estimate of $15,000 to $25,000 last July. [A second Temple on the Rock vase and cover appears in the upcoming sale, estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.]
Does that healthy July 2019 result indicate an acceleration in the market for Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre, or is it a coincidence? There’s an acceleration at the high end with the true Fairyland Lustre. It was the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston that got the Temple on a Rock vase and cover, but someone had to underbid it. [As of January 2020, the MFA Boston hasn’t included the acquisition in their online database.]
What is the piece like in person? It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but if you like it, it’s amazing. If you look at Fairyland Lustre, you think it can’t possibly be Wedgwood. It’s wonderful. It’s the thing dreams are made of.
Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? The photographer did a really good job showing the colors and the iridescence of the thing. It’s a photographer’s nightmare to shoot this stuff. Because it’s so shiny and lustrous, it reflects off everything in the room. It really is a very difficult thing to shoot.
What condition is it in? It’s in tremendous condition. It has its original cover, and that makes a huge difference. The covers tend to slide off. It [the design of the ceramic piece] doesn’t have an inside rim. There’s nothing to secure it. If you’re carrying it across a room, you’d better be careful. The first thing to look for is if the cover has been repaired. This one has not.
Why will this piece of Wedgwood Fairyland Lustre stick in your memory? It’s one of my favorite subjects. There are so many Fairyland Lustre subjects, but they’re kind of redundant–fairies in the woods. Ghostly Woods, you don’t see it. The patterns you don’t see are much more interesting than the patterns you see often.
Image is courtesy of Skinner.
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