350 pieces of dazzling studio pottery

21 pots by Han Coper, part of the exceptionally important single-owner collection assembled by Alan and Pat Firth.

21 pots by Han Coper, part of the exceptionally important single-owner collection assembled by Alan and Pat Firth

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The Alan and Pat Firth collection, one of the best to come to market for years, will be sold on October 16. Jason Wood, Specialist Consultant in Studio Ceramics, reveals how he was first approached about the story

It all began with an enigmatic phone call. It was one of those frustrating conversations that began in the middle and without context but the gist was, if I was interested in a collection of studio ceramics, including Hans Coper and Lucie Rie, then could I please get myself to Leeds next Tuesday?

I asked tentatively: ‘are we talking about the Firth collection?’

Alan and Pat Firth were known in the world of studio pottery as avid collectors. Over a period of 40 years, they had gathered some 350 pieces, which they displayed in their bungalow in Temple Newsam, on the outskirts of Leeds.

On the phone, the voice was agitated, desperate even, and did indeed belong to a friend of Alan Firth who, along with a neighbour, had been camped out in Alan’s house to safeguard the contents following Alan’s death a week or so before.

I knew something about the collection from talking to Alex McErlain, another of Alan and his late wife, Pat’s, friends, but nothing quite prepared me for actually seeing it in the flesh. The sight was overwhelming. I now had some inkling as to what Howard Carter might have experienced when he peered into Tutankhamen’s tomb for the first time.

To greet me were Alan’s only surviving relatives. There was also the friend who had originally called me, who, within a minute of my arriving, gave me a test.

An unremarkable lidded pot was produced from the kitchen accompanied by the question: ‘who made this then?’ Held in front of me with the mark deliberately hidden from view, it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to handle the piece. The room froze. All eyes were upon me. It felt like the whole job depended on getting the identification correct. My mind went into overdrive, rapidly concluding that it was domestic ware (it came from the kitchen); we were in Yorkshire (so likely to be local); it was stoneware with an oatmeal, iron-speckled glaze. It was, I said, intrepidly: ‘made by David Lloyd Jones’.

My educated guess proved right and was met with nodding approval and some relief on my part. We could now get down to business…

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Jason Wood_1-2Jason Wood is Specialist Consultant in Studio Ceramics at Adam Partridge Auctioneers (www.adampartridge.co.uk), Macclesfield, where the Firth collection will be sold. 

Read more in our full feature in issue 276 of Ceramic Review, out 12 Oct. We’ll bring you the results of the auction in our Auction Eye feature in issue 278, out 8 Feb 2016.