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Arts & Crafts Glass

Kempton, Powell, Richardsons, Stuart & Sons, John Walsh Walsh and Thomas Webb


A lot has been written about the glass of James Powell and Sons (Whitefriars) and rightly so, since it was this company that had connections with William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, notably through the designs of architects Philip Webb and T.G. Jackson. The fine quality work by Powell was exhibited both in Britain, through trade and Arts and Crafts Society Exhibitions, and abroad at International Exhibitions such as that held in St.Louis, America in 1904. The reputation of  their work and the excellence of its workmanship means that, nowadays, it is well represented in museums and private collections worldwide.

Of course this reputation, combined with a commercial advantage, led to other manufacturers not wishing to be left out, and who, in their own way, either imitated Powell or put their own interpretation upon the genre. Most used an equivalent of Powell’s ‘Straw Opal’ an opalescent type of glass with a yellow hue, but all used green, a colour that seems to be synonymous with the movement and particularly suited to oak furniture for instance.

It is probably the success of Powell in its heyday, and during its recent resurgence, that has eclipsed much of the work of these other glasshouses of the period.
There are references in various books and articles, both contemporary and in later years, referring to the work of these other manufacturers. Yet, considering the current thirst for all things relating to Arts and Crafts, it is surprising that so little interest is taken in the glass of that movement, other than that made by Powell. Maybe this is through lack of current knowledge, or possibly through a false sense of plagerism, whatever the cause the work by other firms should be given its place. The fact that there is so much confusion as to the origin of an item must surely contribute significantly to this situation.

It maybe that much of Powell's work was considered expensive at the time and therefore only appealled to, or was bought by, a certain group of people. However, the heralding of Powell and their new wares must surely have appealed to a larger audience at the time, even though those people may not have been able to afford Powell, or necessarily have access to it. Therefore it is worth speculating as to whether these other firms fulfilled a role by filling the niche left by Powell. Indeed, one might argue that history might be repeating itself within the antique and collecting world of today.

Perhaps it is worth pausing to consider what is meant by the term Arts and Crafts, since whilst much has been written about furniture, textiles and ceramics of this movement little has been written with direct reference to glass. The main raison d’etre behind Arts and Crafts is that the finished product should be true to the materials used, encompassing a simplicity that, for instance, in furniture, the joints, although being part of the structure, are also part of the decoration.
 In the same way glass of the oeuvre was simple and used simple forms of decoration to embellish an item, such as vertical ribbing or writhen moulding often in conjunction with wavy rims (sometimes thrown, sometimes achieved with the use of a mould). This simplicity was quite unlike anything else being produced in Victorian Britain. Much of the glass being produced at this time was ‘fancy’, or frilly, and reflected the taste for decoration on all things, whether architecture or the applied arts.  

A company that is probably least understood and unsung amongst these other manufacturers is the London firm of Charles Kempton and Sons who were based in Vauxhall, but it is known through an advert of 1886 that they produced Straw Opal, Blue Opal and Old Amber – all Powell colours, which have very often in the past been mistaken as such. The ‘Trumpet Vases’ shown in this advert begin to allow us to understand Kempton’s production.

However, far more is known about this period of Stuart’s production, which is fortunate, since so much is still mistaken as the work of James Powell & Sons. In particular their green and straw opal pieces with applied spiral trailing are often attributed to the London company.
The patterned, or embossed, straw opal pieces produced by John Walsh Walsh and Richardsons, such as the ‘Chestnut’ patterned series, are distinctive and can really only be attributed to these Midlands based companies, since Powell mainly only produced pattern work on oil lamp shades. A number of these items were attributed to Powell back in the 1980’s and 90’s in major auction house catalogues, understandably, since there was so little information available. Unfortunate too, as it has led to an urban myth that is being perpetuated by unsuspecting dealers, collectors and indeed writers who have used the auction catalogues as a source of information. Perhaps we can now begin to dispel the inaccuracy and give credit to the companies where due. 

Much of the work by companies other than Powell is heavier and as a result less fine in its handling, but all have characteristics that are common to each other, sometimes making it difficult to determine the origin of a piece. Things that are common are colour, dented, or pushed in sides and the styles of ribbed decoration used by most, if not all the companies producing Arts & Crafts glass. These frequently used qualities begin to give a style that can be readily recognised, but not so easily distinguished one from another, but nevertheless make it a challenging and interesting area to collect.

Examples of Arts & Crafts glass from various manufacturers

A rare straw opal candlerabra by James Powell & Sons, c1890

Powell 'Blue Opal' finger bowl and ice plate c1880

Tear drop vase with spiral trailed rim by Harry Powell for James Powell & Sons, c1910

Powell, a version of the 'King Minos' vase, designed by Harry Powell 1903

James Powell & Sons drinking glasses , a group of TG Jackson designs from c1870

Thomas Webb clear, wave ribbed vase c1920

Stuart wavy rimmed bowl with broken trail decoration, c1890

Stuart & Sons wrythen, green vase with wavy rim c1920's

John Walsh Walsh clear wrythen and dented drinking glasses, as shown in the 1927 catalogue

'Trumpet' vase in old amber by Charles Kempton, shown in an advert from 1886

This is a burgeoning subject that is of particular interest to us, and as such we have interesting items from Stuart, Richardsons, Walsh, Webb and Kempton; in addition we have a reputation of carrying extensive stock by Powell from 1865 to the First World War. If you are interested in purchasing any glass from the Arts and Crafts era, please

© Pictures and text - Nigel Benson - 20th Century Glass, 2008-2012

e-mail: 20th Century Glass

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