Shelley Pottery Guide

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The story of Shelley is an interesting one, and perhaps a little different to some other potteries. For our purposes, the story started around 1872, in Fenton, Stoke on Trent. Wileman & Co, as they were then, were a fairly pedestrian and unremarkable firm. On the death of Henry Wileman, his son James Wileman took control of the pottery. Shortly afterwards he recruited Joseph Ball Shelley to work with him in developing the Foley China Works side of the Wileman business, with a particular view to developing export markets - the industrial revolution meant that transport and international trade was much easier than it had been, and Wileman and Shelley were not slow to understand the opportunities thus presented.

Soon after Joseph Shelley became involved with the business, his son Percy Shelley also came to work at Wileman & Co. In 1893, he was despatched to Chicago to the Chicago Exhibition of that year. He came back with a much improved understanding of the North American and Canadian markets, and a number of useful contacts in those countries. Several ranges designed specifically for the North American market soon followed and their success marked the beginning of one of Shelley's biggest success stories - exports - that was also perhaps to contribute to their eventual downfall.

The late 19th Century was a creative time for Wileman & Co, and under the guiding hand of Percy Shelley, Frederick Rhead was recruited as Art Director and proceeded to produce some of the most innovative and creative work that was ever to come out of the Foley Works. Frederick Rhead was most famously responsible for the Intarsio and Urbato ranges, but he also contributed much to many of the patterns used for Shelley's table wares of the same period. No less worthy of mention during this period is Rowland Morris, the designer responsible for the eternally popular Dainty White shape - Shelley's longest running design, popular from its introduction in 1896 right up until the close of the works in 1966.

Shelley Lustre Vinta Vase, Decorated Fruiting Vine & Bird 8318, c1919

Unfortunately the first decade of the 20th century was a tough time, economically, and the pressures of two recessions and the growth of cheap imports meant that Shelley needed to concentrate on commercially safe products. In 1905 Frederick Rhead left Shelley, and Walter Slater was recruited to replace him.

Shelley Walter Slater Bowl Number 8306 Backstamp, c1912-1925

Walter Slater came from a strong and fairly traditional potteries background and proved an ideal replacement to guide Shelley through more difficult times and to leave his own lasting legacy of creative work. Today, Walter Slater designs, especially signed pieces, command strong values and remain popular with collectors.

Shelley Walter Slater Bowl Number 8306, c1912-1925Shelley Art Deco Cup & Saucer with Silver Holder, c1930s

In 1910, the Shelley China mark was officially adopted by Shelley, and steady progress continued through that decade, despite the disruption caused by the war.

After the end of WWI, Shelley family involvement in the company expanded to include three of Percy Shelley's sons, and throughout the 1920s and 30s Shelley achieved steady growth and success, both at home and in export markets. Much of this success was down to methodical hard work and clever marketing - Shelley, more than some manufacturers of the day, advertised and marketed its product extensively both to trade and to the public, and this had the effect of encouraging retailers to stock Shelley, as they could be confident the public would recognise and buy it, attracted to the stylish but affordable image of Shelley.

Notable new ranges in the 1920s & 30s were the nursery wares in the mid-1920s - with designs by Mabel Lucie Attwell and the stylish Harmony ware ranges, all of which were to prove very successful and indeed collectable.

Shelley Harmony Ware Toast Rack, c1925-45Shelley Mabel Lucie Attwell Baby Bowl, c1925-45

Even the intervention of the second world war did not cause as many problems for Shelley as for some manufacturers - due to their very strong export profile, they were allowed to continue producing decorative wares for export to bring in much needed foreign exchange. It was not until after the war ended that problems started to become apparent for Shelley. As the 1950s progressed, Shelley's new designs became less inspired and started to seem dated compared to contemporaries of the time such as Poole and Midwinter. New designs also seemed fewer and farther between. Part of the explanation for this might have been Shelley's continued focus on their export markets - some of their older designs were still selling well to the North American market despite appearing outdated in the UK. Almost inevitably, in 1966 the end came with the buyout of Shelley by Allied British Potteries, who re-equipped Shelley's works to produce Royal Albert pottery, marking the end of an era at the Foley China Works.

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