Gum Nuts, Gum Leaves, Koalas and all things Australiana

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When we were on holidays when I was young, I would be the first one to walk straight past the kitsch souvenir shops full of all things Australiana, as of course I am an Aussie girl, so why would I be interested in these sorts of cheap and often ‘made in Japan’ items. But these days I am mesmerised by gum nuts, gum leaves, koalas and all things Australiana, especially in the form of old Aussie pottery!

Among collectors of vintage Australian pottery, these are the most sought after pieces. From the 1920’s onward, there was an explosion of pottery featuring these iconic Australian characters. From ashtrays and figurines, to lovely little hand-made pin dishes and beautiful vases, Australiana was born! And it wasn’t just Australia that was having a love affair with the Aussie bush, in fact all over the world they were producing pottery under this theme, but particularly the English and the Japanese, who just couldn’t get enough of the unusual and unique Australian animals and birds, such as koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras, cockatoos and of course our gum nuts and gum leaves.


From the 1930’s many of the companies producing domestic homewares and bricks and tiles and other very domestic wares such as clay pipes for plumbing, started to also produce decorative wares, vases in particular. Even though Australia was in the midst of a depression, housewives went crazy for lovely vases to put their home-grown flowers in to decorate their homes among the gloom of this great depression. Australia was also taking in a lot of migrants from the European countries, who were bringing with them a wealth of expertise in making these sorts of items, as of course Europe had been producing them for hundreds of years. A great number of these European migrants found work at brick and pottery works all around Australia, but nowhere more so than in Melbourne, where company after company sprung up where ever natural clay deposits were found. Melbourne had been in a building boom since the 1880’s and for many of the brick and domestic pottery works, it was a win win to employ these wonderfully skilled migrants.

No one really knows when the first images of gum nuts and gum leaves started to become a feature in Australian pottery, but it spread like an Aussie bush wildfire! Stories abound that it was actually some of these European migrant potters that introduced these themes into domestic pottery wares, being very taken by the beauty of their new homeland, but of course it’s hard to confirm this, but it does seem like a reasonable explanation as to why it became so popular. Some of the most beautiful examples of these iconic Aussie images are found on Melrose Australian Ware vases. But from bored housewives to backyard studio potters, to these by now huge brick and pottery companies, Australiana was being produced everywhere!


Australiana is still a big theme today, among studio potters in particular, who love to adorn their hand-made works with gum leaves and gum nuts and cute little Aussie critters. I’m not a purist when it comes to my accidental collecting, so bits and pieces of both old and new have found their way into my little collection… I just pick up things that I love.



The photos on this page are all examples of Australian pottery… just a few pieces from my accidental collection.

Nicqui… the Accidental Collector


A name to remember – Una Deerbon

As an accidental collector, with a bit of an eye but no real academic knowledge about much of what I collect, every now and then I come across something that just smacks me and tells me to find out more about the artist behind it. I recently came across a photo of a vase that did just this to me… a vase by a potter by the name of Una Deerbon.

This was the vase that created such a stir inside me that it led to me franticly googling this long-gone Australian potter, and searching for more examples of her work and the history of her creations. It is currently for sale on ebay for $895 and is such a beautiful piece, but nothing compared to what I found when I started to look around. Her work is nothing less than extraordinary!

A week ago this amazing Una Deerbon platter appeared for sale on ebay. I immediately put it on my ‘watch’ list and every day I waited to see what would happen with it. The owner put the starting bid at just 99 cents. I had a feeling that it would eventually sell for around the $300 mark, but was interested to see what others would value this piece at. On the final morning the auction bids were sitting on just $25, with 14 hours left to go. I got incredibly excited, thinking to myself, that maybe I might have a chance at this one! I set my alarm, giving me a bit over an hour before the auction finished, so that I could watch where it was going and maybe put my bid in at the last minute. Then it all started to happen! It jumped from $25.98 to $110, then to $158.90, then to $188.90, and up and up to $244, then with literally one second to go, the bidding reached $246.50 and was done! Personally, when it first went up on ebay, I had decided that I would go to $150 if I had the chance, but once it was over, I almost felt like kicking myself for not just giving myself over to what I thought it was worth and putting my highest bid forward at $300. If I had, maybe this lovely example of Una Deerbon’s work would be coming to my place… oh well… I’ll just have to put this one down as the one that got away. But one thing this has given me, is a new keen interest in the work of Una Deerbon.

I did a bit of research on the woman behind this amazing platter and found so many examples of her incredibly imaginative pottery and her life. So who was Una Deerbon? I found the following article from the Sydney Morning Herald, on an exhibition of her work back in 2011 –

Forgotten potters in vogue

The resurgence of Australia’s studio potters and ceramic artists of the 1930s and 1940s continues to amaze. The work of Grace Seccombe, Marguerite Mahood and Klytie Pate, among others, has already boomed on the secondary market and now a major collection by Una Deerbon is expected to follow in the same direction.

Marvin Hurnall from Hurnall’s Decorative Arts Gallery in Melbourne has assembled about 60 pieces by Deerbon and her cousin (and pupil) John Castle Harris for a selling exhibition starting next Monday.

Hurnall says this is the first time the work of these two artists has been featured in large quantities since the 1940s.

Hurnall has also researched the colourful life of Una Deerbon, born in Woollahra in 1882. She studied at the Sydney Art School under Julian Ashton then married businessman Richard Darlow. While married, she designed clothes for the David Jones department store, opened a design school and illustrated humorous postcards under the name Una Darlow.

When the marriage collapsed she moved to Brisbane, where she first began working as a potter. Here she met Czech economist Karel Jelinek and they married in 1922.

They had two children but this marriage also failed and she found herself a single mother. She made money by teaching pottery and one of her students was Castle Harris.

It’s thought that Una Deerbon first exhibited her own work in 1931 at the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales’s annual exhibition.

In 1933 she displayed more than 200 of her own pieces, predominantly earthenware jugs and plates, at Anthony Hordern’s department store in Sydney. She identified her work using her maiden name Deerbon, inscribed in capital letters.

The Sydney Morning Herald art critic debated her “manual skill” but said it was “impossible not to admire the fecundity and liveliness of her imagination”. Others have since described her style as spontaneous and whimsical.

Surviving pieces from this period are now held by major galleries and museums, including the Powerhouse. Her style directly influenced the work of Castle Harris, who would also become a professional potter in the 1930s.

He freelanced for Premier Pottery (manufacturers of Remued ware) at Preston in Melbourne.

His work was usually included anonymously as part of the Remued catalogue but on at least one piece he signed his name alongside Alan James, the founder of the pottery, and his work now sells for up to $20,000 for exhibition-quality pieces.

Hurnall is in the fortunate position of having virtually cornered the market in these rediscovered ceramic artists. These once-forgotten potters, if not exactly dismissed at the time, tended to be regarded as lesser beings by the critics. Not any more. – From the Sydney Morning Herald

Some of the pieces from the exhibition of Una Deerbon’s work mentioned in the above article have since gone to auction with Leonard Joel auction house, fetching as much as $1000. But even 10 years ago, in other auctions, her work was already reaching price estimates of upwards of $1500.

Una passed away in 1972 and probably would have had no idea that her rather whimsical and decorative works would be eventually clamoured over by collectors around the world! I haven’t so far managed to find out a lot about Una Deerbon, but I am sure that as I keep searching, more information on this extraordinary artist will come to light. She must have sold her pottery through Myers, as one of her pieces sold at auction a few years ago, carried a Myer sticker… many of the 1930’s and 1940’s Australian potters did sell through the major department stores such as Myer and David Jones.

Una Deerbon is most definitely a name to remember…

Nicqui – The Accidental Collector

You can have a look at some more examples of Una Deerbon’s work below…

These two rather different vases of Una Deerbon’s from ‘The Murray Walker Collection’ sold at auction in 2013 for $600 each.

This Una Deerbon ‘double satyr plate with grape and vine leaf boarder’ even with hairline cracks, sold at auction for $500 and the lamp base, with its original ‘Myer’ sticker on it, reached $950.

Egyptian ‘Hathor’ Oil Lamp. Is it real? Or is it a fake?


About 23 years ago I happened across a little ancient-looking item for sale at a ‘car-boot’ market in the Police Citizens Youth Club carpark in Toowoomba. The woman selling it told me matter-of-factly that it was a “very old and real Egyptian oil lamp”. It was by far, the most expensive item on her table and not feeling particularly gullible, but purely because I liked it, I bought it.

Examples of ‘Hathor’ lamps have appeared in collections since the early Victorian times. But is mine real, or is it fake? According to the Qld Museum, where I took it over 20 years ago for their Egyptian antiquities advisor to have a look at, it is Egyptian and it is real and it is apparently around 2000 years old. But, how can I be sure?  

These two Egyptian ‘Hathor’ oil lamps above, alleging to be genuine, look just like mine! The one on the left is currently for sale for $355 and the one on the right is the from the collection of Harry Lanz, a 1950’s collector of antiquities. 

There are a lot of rather crude and obviously ‘new’ versions of this lamp, and in all honesty, I’m still not really sure whether mine is real or not, but it certainly does look far more genuine than most of them that I have come across in the last 20 odd years of looking at images of them. The closest to mine that I have seen originally came from a private collection in the 1950’s and is referenced by the Mercer University, who say this about it – “An Egyptian oil lamp from the Hellenistic Ptolemaic period (300-100 BC), probably from the Sinai. It has the face of Hathor, the Egyptian cow goddess of beauty, music, and dance. The face of Hathor always wears the false beard, a symbol of royalty, as a connection to the royal lineage of Egypt. The Hellenistic period saw much blending of cultures and religions among the Greeks, Near Easterners, and the Egyptians. (300 – 30 BC)”. The original collector was Larry Lanz, who was purported to have collected only authentic artefacts during the 1950’s and he was a well known collector of American Indian Artefacts in particular. I have no doubt that whatever hand constructed his lamp, also constructed mine.

Almost every major museum in the world has examples of Egyptian oil lamps, maybe some of those are fake too! As it was explained to me at the Qld Museum, there were literally thousands of these lamps found during archeological digs over the last two centuries and even way, way beyond, at burial sites and even just picked up out of the Egyptian sand. They have been sold in Egyptian marketplaces for the last 2000 years and many of the genuine ones have found their way across the world in private collections. But of course, the Egyptian marketplaces are also infamous for their ‘fakes’ too. 

Mine may indeed be a common fake, but then again, even the fakes out there were almost always copied from an original design… so who knows! Even the ‘genuine fakes’ of the Hathor lamps were actually made in Egypt, mostly in around 1870, so it still makes them 150 years old, and Egyptian! I might have to find myself another Egyptian antiquities expert and have it reassessed!

Personally, I’ve used mine as an incense holder for over 20 years! But I have at times thought I should put some oil in it and give it a go as an actual lamp!

Over the years, I have had collectors of Egyptian artefacts offer me reasonably substantial sums for my little maybe-fake/maybe-real lamp, well, as much as $350 anyway. But I’m rather attached to this little lamp… of course, I’m always open to offers too… they say that everything has a price!

Happy collecting 🙂

Nicqui – The Accidental Collector

Please feel free to leave me a comment…


The legacy of John Campbell Tasmanian Pottery


My first John Campbell vase came to me, literally as a gift. I walked past the retro shop belonging to a friend, on the way to the bathrooms of the arcade we both worked in and glanced this lovely very large vase sitting on her sale table with a $35 price tag on it. I didn’t even need to pick it up to check the base, to know exactly who the pottery company was and being in a rush, I just said to her “Put that green vase under the counter, I’ll be back in later to grab it”.  About half an hour later, she walked into my shop, with the vase all wrapped up and gave it to me as an early wedding present, as I was getting married a week or so later. I was so stoked! When I did unwrap it and yes, turned it over and looked at the base, it carried the familiar signature of ‘John Campbell’… What a score!!! I’ve never had this piece valued, but it is a big, glorious piece and in perfectly pristine condition, not one blemish on it! Some purist collectors might whip me for this, but it is absolutely wonderful to put a bunch of flowers in and I do it regularly! After all, wasn’t that what it was made for in the first place! Even John Campbell garden frogs, mass-produced in the 1950s, are worth around $500 today, so it is possible that this one vase of mine, is probably worth more than anything else in my accidental collection. John Campbell pieces can go for up to $10,000!

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So, from my big glorious John Campbell vase, to my second piece, which was this simple ‘flower frog’ above, that would not have even been originally seen, sitting inside a vase of its own, I find John Campbell pottery to be simply mesmerising! I could gaze into the luscious streaky depths of John Campbell glazes til the cows come home!

Tasmania was very lucky to have had John Campbell and it might not have even happened, as he was actually born in New Zealand in 1857. However, he was taken from New Zealand as a child and moved to Victoria where he was apprenticed to Bendigo potter George Guthrie. John Campbell immediately excelled at his new craft, an absolute prodigy of the potter’s wheel, even still in his teens, he started winning juvenile exhibition medals for what were considered to be extremely challenging objects, such as hand-thrown whiskey stills. He moved to Tasmania sometime around 1880 and purchased Alfred Cornwell’s Launceston Pottery Works in 1881, kicking off an empire that would see this tiny family business producing the most extraordinary array of beautiful pottery works for the next 100 years. By the time John Campbell was 23 he was a highly accomplished potter and in 1891, he was one of the key instigators of the International Exhibition in Launceston.

Many of the best pottery companies of the first half of the last century started out making bricks and domestic wares and John Campbell was no different, in fact he even fought to bring in industry standards for brickworks, such as the introduction of the now common-sized house brick. But decorative pottery was his true love and even though Campbell’s produced a massive amount of domestic wares, garden ornaments, fountains and all manner of pottery brickworks, pipes and other building items, by the early 1890s, Campbell’s was exhibiting a range of decorative pots and urns, vases, teapots, cheese dishes with covers, jars, bottles and Toby jugs, that would eventually become the true signature of this wonderful Tasmanian potter!

John Campbell continued to produce all the regular items that any brickworks of the day produced, which were the real mainstay of the business, but even in his really old age, he would be up in his studio, late at night, experimenting with colours and glazes, new shapes and designs for his pottery and by the time he died in 1929, Campbell’s pottery was already being exported to the mainland and was a seriously much sought-after product. After his death, the company continued under the reigns of his son Colin and then various other members of the family, with the factory finally closing its doors in 1976.

Most of the Campbell’s pottery that exists these days, came from the boom years for pottery, during the 1930’s, where Australia, although experiencing a depression, just couldn’t get enough of these sorts of lovely domestic ornamental artwares to liven up and brighten their homes. Like many others, Campbell’s also introduced ‘Australiana’ pieces, adorned with appliqué decorations such as gumuts and gumleaves, which these days are among the most highly sought-after pieces.

Campbell’s pottery was always way ahead of its time, and was using highly experimental colours and glazing techniques long before many of the other pottery companies of the day, including introducing the iconic ‘Campbell green’, a beautifully thick, luxurious glaze, that was the true reason that I immediately knew what that vase in my friend’s shop was! I love this description of the ‘Campbell Green’ glaze from the ‘Australian Decorative Pottery of the 1930’s’ website – “Of all the decorative wares of the time, the Campbell green-glazed pieces most unaffectedly evoke the look and texture of Australian bushland. One can gaze into this silver-green flow and be reminded of a stand of snowgums in the high country, or a flowing creek edged with wattles and eucalypts.”… Indeed it does!


Ahhhh John Campbell, thanks for the legacy you left us with… 

Nicqui – The Accidental Collector





The one that got away… and then came back! Melrose Australian Ware ‘Dog’ Bookends


Every collector, even the accidental ones like me, have a story to tell about the one that got away… Nearly 25 years ago I stumbled across a pair of ‘Melrose Australian Ware’ Dog Bookends, almost very accidentally, which were tucked away in the dark, very back corner of an old china cabinet in the big old Paddington Antiques centre in Brisbane and I bought them on the spot, for what was a pretty big price at the time. I on-sold them for what I paid for them, to my then-boyfriend, who was an avid collector of Melrose pottery, but he never seemed as excited by them as I was. I have since bought them back from him, for nearly double what I originally paid for them. But, as I have never seen another set anything like them, in over 20 years of looking, I was more than happy to have them back at almost any price. In fact, over the years I had almost kicked myself for not just keeping them in the first place, as, for some reason, I had always just had a feeling about these dogs! Maybe with what I now know, for good reason… 

$2,880.80 -Melrose Bookends (Lot 126) at Raffan Kellaher & Thomas Auction

Melrose ‘Shy Girl’ bookends that recently sold for the extraordinary price of $2,880.80 

Other than the seemingly reasonably common iconic Melrose ‘gumnuts & gumleaf’ bookends, which these days are selling for anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000, I have only happened across just a few other designs. But recently, there was a very beautiful set of Melrose bookends, with a female figure on them originally named ‘Shy Girl’, that went to auction in Sydney, which sold for the extraordinary price of $2,880.80!!!!  I’m currently having my pair of Melrose bookends appraised by the very same auction house to see what they may fetch!

Other examples of Melrose Australian Ware bookends, including various glaze versions of the gumnut and gumleaf bookends.

While dogs may not be to everyone’s taste, dog figurines and sculptures are also highly collectible by those who are into them, so, who knows! Even the recently auctioned female figurative set were only apparently originally estimated at between $80-$130… but that was a massive under-estimation if ever there was one! Not only that, but there is still a big market for bookends and particularly for collectible ones.

I’m really excited to have had these really amazing dog bookends come home to me, they really are far more beautiful than I even remember them being.


Please, if you have a pair of Melrose bookends, or know about more styles, let me know… I am so curious!

Please, feel free to leave me a comment, or drop me an email. 

Nicqui – the Accidental Collector

post-blog note – Since I first started to write this blog, I have had a few updates on Melrose bookends, with someone giving me the advice to check out Kay Craddock’s Antiquarian bookshop website. Well, she just happens to have another pair of Melrose German Shepherd ‘Dog’ bookends listed for sale, at a price of $1,750 and her set is what I would call very plain, in a matt cream glaze, no other colouring. Looks like my hunch on these bookends may just pay off after all…  

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In fact, the Melrose Bookends onKay Craddock’s website are all quite interesting, here are some more of them below, all listed for sale for between  $1,750 and $3,000.  


And then there is this set below of an indigenous Australian woman for sale for $3,000. According to the catalogue (photo below), this piece was named ‘Abo’, obviously Australia was not very politically correct back in the 1930’s! However, the entry name in the catalogue is apparently wrong and the name if this bookend is actually Lubra, which means ‘woman’. 


The companion bookends to Lubra, is this one below, however the one in this image is possibly not actually Melrose, but a copy. This particular bookend was amongst the collection of Myrtle James, widow of Remued/Kerryl potter Allan James. An aboriginal boy companion to the girl shown above. It is possibly from Kerryl Pottery, but it appears to be a copy of the Melrose design. It’s also interesting to note that the back side of the bookend in this image is also concave, which the Melrose ones weren’t. 


And then there were these ones, the ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’, that I found in an old auction catalogue… very different to the rest… a bit ugly if you ask me!


Finally, I was sent a catalogue page, listing Mel-Rose Art Pottery in 1931-32 – 


It seems that there are just two bookends that I haven’t been able to find photos of as yet, the Frilled Lizard and the Horse, the rest of them are listed in the photos on this blog. 

A Beginner’s Guide for the Accidental Collector

Sharing is caring so they say and as far as identifying pottery, glass and other collectibles, sharing is the best and easiest way to find out the history of your mysterious items.

Sure, you can google til your eyes goggle, and endlessly flip through photo-sharing sites such as pinterest and if you’re lucky, you’ll find your way to what you are looking for. But beware, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and as the internet would have it, lots of this misinformation gets shared and shared and all of a sudden, through nothing other than the power of chinese whispers, you will have wrongly identified the pottery sculpture you bought at a local garage sale, as a previously unknown Picasso masterpiece, when in reality, it was a high school art project!

The best way to share your items for identification purposes, is to find groups of people who collect items similar to what you do, or what you are looking to ID. Facebook has become a great tool for this and of course, a great way to upload photos of your mystery items, in order to have others, who might know about it, help you to ID it. Just use the facebook ‘search’ box and put in a few words that might be applicable to the kind of groups you are looking for. Most of these groups are closed and you will have to request to join, but once you’re in, read through their guidelines and just make sure you abide by the rules of the group, have a read through some of the posts to make sure that this is the sort of group that you’re looking for, then post away. One of the lovely things that happens in these groups, is when you have a number of people in the group, who actually not only collect the same things, but who themselves have come across knowledge that they are more than just willing, but even excited to share with others. I find this happens all the time and sometimes, quite by accident, I find I am able to even identify not just the potters, or pottery companies, but even the ‘design or style numbers’ of items I own.

A classic example of this happened just the other day, when someone posted up a little vase, looking to identify the potter, through the shape and glaze. A few comments later someone posted a photo up of another much larger two-handled pot with similar glazes that was Melrose, the same style as a pot I own, so I posted a photo up of mine, then someone else posted a photo of one he had, along with the actual factory number of this lovely two-handled design. I’ve had my pot for quite a while, always knowing of course that it was Melrose, through it’s distinctive glazes and also the ‘Melrose Australian Ware’ factory stamp on the base, but never knowing the actual official number. A little mystery solved that I wasn’t even looking for. Mine is the blue and green one, which I now know is Melrose shape B.123.

This actually happened twice in the last week, also with these little vases too, which I now know is Melrose shape V.22. Once again, my little vase in these photos, is the blue and green one and the others were posted in a group I belong to, ‘Australian Potters’, with the owner of the green and pink one, looking to identify her vase.

Of course there is eBay too, a very easy way to search for items similar to yours, but once again, be careful of taking the word of eBay sellers, on the history, identification and provenance of any items, but there are sellers on eBay with extensive knowledge of the items they are selling and there are many vintage and antique dealers now also using eBay ‘virtual shops’ to sell their wares to a much larger audience than their real shops. You can also email the sellers through eBay if you’re looking for more information on an item.

Of course, if you can afford them, there are some extraordinary books around too, often expensive though, even up around the $150-$200 mark, but if your collecting is on a specific subject, then look to see if there are books about this subject. As far as Australian Pottery goes, there are many books, both old and new, that can help to give you more knowledge on your collections, or things you might like to be able to identify if you should come across them. The Geoff Ford books are very popular with collectors of Australian Pottery.

There are also internet sites for collectors, such as ‘Carter’s Price Guide to Antiques’, who have been the authority for nearly three decades, on not only identifying objects, but also of course to assist to value and price items too. In 2010 Carter’s published their last printed guide and went fully digital, now having 10 times the content of any of their books, in excess of 90,000 items! There is a subscription fee for this, but for anyone who collects art antiquities, antiques, collectables, retro, vintage and 20th century design, there is no better guide than Carter’s. The subscription fee ranges from $25 for one week, $45 for a month, up to $145 for a year’s access to their entire archive of previously sold items. Their newest entries are as early as one month ago, to several years ago, so the prices, although a good guide, for rarer items, could be prices from years ago. Even if you don’t subscribe to Carter’s, all of the images from their site, are visible on their site, as well as in google images, you just can’t see the price or the selling information, but you can usually get a good description of the items.

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Recently, when I was looking for examples of Cottesloe Pottery, a company who made a vase that has been handed down to me through my Grandmother, from my Great Great Grandmother, Carter’s website was really helpful in showing me that there were very different designs also came out of this pottery company. My Grandmother’s vase is of the same series as the floral one in this photo, but the other vase is strikingly different and something that I will now be looking out for.

Another way I have found of helping to identify and price, not only items I own, but also items I am looking to buy, is to look at the sites of the auction houses, as they often have not only photos, but also information on items either from previous auction sales, or upcoming ones. Many not only have catalogues of even past auctions, but also ‘search’ boxes on their websites, that can help you locate any items they may have had listed too. In Australia, for Australiana pottery and good examples of all manner of Australian pottery, auction houses like Shapiros have been helpful for me and they are also one that Carter’s seem to follow too, so many of the Shaprios sold items can be found in the Carter’s guide too. Shaprios website has a massive collection of these back catalogues, which make for great trolling through.

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When I was recently looking to try and identify a little pottery dish I bought, that simply has ‘Roslyn’ inscribed on the base, an internet search led me to Shapiros website, and into the catalogue for the ‘Richard Mackay Collection of Australian Pottery’, giving my lovely little gumnut dish an interesting provenance, in that Prof Richard Mackay had thought it was special enough to have had this very piece in his own collection! I still don’t know who ‘Roslyn’ was, but it was very interesting to find out who else had previously owned this gorgeous little Australiana pottery dish.

If you’re an accidental collector like myself, I hope this little beginner’s guide is of help to you. Please feel free to leave me a comment, or send me an email, especially if you might know who ‘Roslyn’ was, or if you know of any other examples of Cottesloe pottery, as I’d love to add more to that little collection.

Nicqui – The Accidental Collector


Same same… but different – Murano Glass


About 15 years ago I bought my first piece of ‘Murano’ glass, a gorgeous vintage mid-1950’s ‘Venetian Art Glass Cranberry/Purple & Gold-fleck Bowl’ in the ‘Bullicante’ controlled bubble style. Who was the artist, well that is always the hard part, unless there is a sticker, an etching, a signature, finding out what your Murano pieces are and who made them, can be a bit of hit and miss. As for my bowl, I believe it is by Alfredo Barbini, as there are literally thousands of references to him being the artist responsible for these magnificently stylised pieces of art glass. But hey, I could be wrong! Until I find myself a Murano expert one day, I really won’t know.


For many years when I was younger,  I thought that ‘Murano’ must be a specific company in Italy, who made beautiful glass pieces, of all sorts and shapes. I could always pick out the Murano pieces in the antique and vintage shops, as their quality tends to stand out. But of course, Murano is actually a series of islands, just north of Venice in Italy, where, although only about 5000 people live there, it is world famous for the art glass it produces. From the eleventh century onwards, Murano has consistently produced the finest glass wares literally on the planet. A thousand years after the first glassmakers started working on Murano, the distinct styles of the Venetian ‘Murano’ glass is sought after the world over, with literally thousands of glass artists having made names for themselves, from this tiny part of Italy.


While these two glass pears may be quite different to look at, one thing they have in common, is they are both ‘Murano’. The pear on the left is a 1960’s Creazioni Silvestri iconic piece, initially part of a set, paired with an apple, which were marketed as ‘desk-top’ bookends or paperweights. As with most Murano pieces, for something that is reasonably small, it is quite heavy and other than the bubble inclusions, it is solid glass, with a brass stem and leaf. Whereas the pear on the right, is hand-blown and although it too is reasonably heavy and the glass is thick, it is actually hollow. But both pears, like I said, are Murano, being that they were both produced in this little group of islands. I am yet to determine who the artist/designer of the mottled pink pear is, if you know, leave me a comment or drop me an email, I’m always curious to know the history of my collection.

This little smokey glass duckling sculpture is another lovely example of Murano, this time from V. Nason & Co. Vincenzo Nason had been a glass designer at famous the Murano glassworks of Venini, prior to starting his own company and glassworks on the island of Murano in 1967.

Animal and bird Murano glass sculptures are incredibly popular, not just with collectors, but also with those who would like a piece of Murano glass as a souvenir, as, depending on the size and the glassmakers these are often among the less expensive options for first-time Murano buyers. But of course, glass animals and birds are produced all over the world, by all manner of glassmakers, even Wedgewood have done a version of this duckling.

I thought I would show you just a few examples of Murano in this blog, just to show that even though all glass that comes from this little group of  islands can be called ‘Murano’, they are what I would call same same, but different.

Although I have been to Italy, I never actually made it to Murano or Venice… next time though…

Nicqui – the accidental collector






From Collector to Collector – a little gem of Australiana

$_57 copy

My ‘Roslyn’ gumnut dish. This lovely little piece of pottery came from the Richard Mackay Collection of Australian Pottery and is a hand-made original piece of Australiana pottery.

For more than 30 years Professor Richard Mackay has made major contributions to the identification, conservation, preservation and the effective management of cultural heritage in Australia. In 2003 Richard Mackay was made a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia for services to archaeology and cultural heritage and in 2013 he was the recipient of the first Sharon Sullivan National Heritage Award by the Australian Heritage Council.

Richard Mackay’s own personal collection of Australian pottery have been collected over a more than 30 year period, with his very first piece, a beautiful John Campbell vase, having been given to him by his mother, Australian art historian, Dr Mary Mackay. In 2015 Richard Mackay decided it was time to let go of his collection, handing it over to Shaprios in Sydney to auction, saying “Importantly for me, the works I have collected for more than thirty years are overtly and proudly Australian. My approach to collecting is focused and quirky. The quest for at least one example from every potter and studio that produced distinctively Australian designs could be never ending; it has been a passion and a pleasure, but the time has come to provide an opportunity for others to be inspired by these wonderful physical manifestations of Australian culture.”

I have been lucky enough to acquire one piece that came from this extraordinary Richard Mackay collection, my lovely little gumnut dish, marked ‘Roslyn’ on the base! When it arrived, I really couldn’t believe just how beautiful it was, the photos had simply not done justice to it. No wonder Richard Mackay bought this piece, it is a truly spectacular example of Australian pottery, ever so lovely to touch and with such beautiful glazes and colours.

I don’t know who ‘Roslyn’ was, nor do I imagine that Richard Mackay did either, but it doesn’t really matter, whoever she was, she created a classic piece of ‘Australiana’ pottery and I feel blessed to now have this little gem in my own collection. From collector to collector, Roslyn’s little dish now has a place on a shelf in my home, surrounded by other fine examples of Australian pottery by some of the true masters of this craft in our country, such as John Campbell, McHugh, Melrose Ware, Hoffman, Bendigo, Remued, Cottesloe, Eric Juckert, Diana and more…

I don’t imagine that my accidental collection will ever reach the proportions of the Richard Mackay Collection of Australian Pottery, but I do understand the passion that drove him to collect such an extraordinary and vast array of examples… who knows what the next 30 years will bring for me…

If you do happen to know who Roslyn was, do leave me a comment, or drop me an email, I’d love to know the history of this little dish.

Nicqui – The Accidental Collector

post-blog note – I emailed Richard Mackay about this dish, telling him how much I loved it and asking did he ever know who ‘Roslyn’ was. He didn’t of course, but told me “I am very pleased that you like the Roslyn dish. I bought it years ago as part of a group lot at a local auction; it is a skilful studio piece and the gumnuts are similar to those used by Lewis Harvey’s students, but not identical, but I never worked out who Roslyn was.”… so, Roslyn still remains a mystery to me… 

Whoever said blue & green should never be seen, except with something in between?


I have often wondered who coined the phrase ‘blue and green should never be seen, except with something in between’. In my home blue and green feature together with pride! When I look at the pottery pieces that I have accidentally collected over the last 25 years or so, these are the two colours that I am obviously most attracted to! And when I marvel over the amazing way that the early Australian potters also put these two colours together, none did it better than Melrose Australian Ware!

blue potMy very first piece of Melrose Ware was this little blue two-handled pot, that I found over 20 years ago in a second-hand shop in Bulimba in Brisbane. It cost me the princely sum of $25 and has given me priceless joy ever since! Stupidly, I’d had a boyfriend who collected Melrose Ware, and in the few years prior to buying this little pot, I had bought and either given or on-sold to him, a number of really amazing pieces, including a green and blue Melrose stemmed fruit bowl, the likes of which I have never seen again and a pair of Melrose green German Shepherd Book Ends, once again, like nothing I’ve ever seen since! But, for the last 22 years, every now and then I pick up another piece of Melrose Ware pottery and as each new piece finds its way onto the shelves, I fall in love with every single piece all over again. From the small to the tall, they are all so beautiful.

Just lately, I have been picking up little ‘ink’ pots, as they are small, reasonably inexpensive (unless you get into a bidding war on ebay!) and collecting these little pots is a wonderful way of collecting Melrose colours and glazes, without breaking the bank. But I am still looking for the elusive red/yellow one! Collectors of Melrose will know what I mean! And same goes for the gumnuts and gumleaves and the array of animals that adorn some pieces of Melrose, these pieces are usually quite expensive and also far more rare than the unadorned pieces. Australiana is incredibly collectible!


Melrose Australian Ware was an offshoot of the Hoffman Brick and Tile Company, which originally started producing bricks and tiles for the building industry in Brunswick in Melbourne in 1862 and was the largest business of its type in the southern hemisphere, even producing ‘sanitary wares’. From 1931 to 1942, Melrose Ware was produced by the now newly named Hoffman Brick, Tile and Pottery Company, as with the coming of the depression, the building industry fell into a slump and pottery was a way of keeping the company going through a really rough time in Australia’s history.


Many of the original Melrose potters were new immigrants to Australia, hailing from England, Ireland and Scotland, bringing their wealth of expertise and knowledge of pottery with them. These potters were also responsible for creating the Australiana themes in the Melrose pottery, from their own newly found Australian identities, in their new land. The wonderful creatures that inhabit Australia started to adorn these pottery pieces, now featuring Australian flora and fauna. This was all happening during the great depression and one might think that fancy pottery and homewares would have been something that most people would not have been buying in the 1930’s, but they sold like hotcakes!  It was an extremely commercial product, being moulded and mass-produced, not hand-formed, but it did have the appeal of many of the far more expensive hand-made pottery of the time. Unfortunately, Melrose Ware went the way of so many other companies of the 1940’s though, when production of goods in Australia went into massive decline, in order for more efforts to be put into the needs of the escalating World War II.

Although the Melrose Ware disappeared, The Hoffman company continued to produce all manner of garden ornaments, kitchen wares, both domestic and commercial, crocks, cannisters, bottles and jars. The Hoffman company was purchased in 1959 by Clifton Brick, with production of domestic wares finally finishing in 1960, and by about 1963 pottery pieces were also slowly phased out. The company was onsold again in 1986 and finally closed in 1990. Just as well, as most of the clay deposits around Melbourne, by then, were completely depleted!


Lastly, but absolutely not least, besides the lovely Melrose Ware pottery, there are also lovely examples of Hoffman Pottery…. this lovely tall vase above is my only actually stamped ‘HOFFMAN’ vase, but it’s a genuine beauty! And of course all of the photos of Melrose pottery on this blog are mine too! (there are more, but I will save them for another blog, another day…)

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading a little bit of history on my very favourite Australian Pottery company, Melrose Australian Ware and the Hoffman Brick, Tile and Pottery Company.

Please feel free to drop me a line, or share a comment.

Nicqui ~ The Accidental Collector





Welcome to the accidental collector blog

As an accidental collector of all sorts of bits and bobs, I have created this blog to not only share my collections, but to also help to uncover information for myself and others, on those pieces that are elusive when it comes to finding out the history of them. My great loves are early Australian pottery, pottery from anywhere that grabs my eye and tugs at me and vintage and art glass. My bits and bobs mainly date from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, but I’m not a specific collector, rather an accidental one, so there’s nothing ‘purist’ about my pieces.

My love of pottery probably started way back in the mid-1970’s, when I was just 8 years old, attending North State Primary School in Toowoomba, when my Grade 4 teacher, Paul Holland decided to build a kiln in the school grounds and start a pottery club. My first piece was a rustic hand-worked dish in the most amazing blue, green and brown glazes that I made for my Mum for Mother’s Day back in probably 1975. Long gone now, but it left a lasting impression and fascination for deep, striking glazes. My teacher has long since retired from teaching (pity because he was the best teacher I ever had) and now has a pottery company north of Brisbane, Windmill Potteries and does do workshops too. I am dedicating this first blog post to him, for leaving a life-long impression on me…

My first really wonderful piece of Australian pottery was a gift from my Grandmother, this lovely blue Cottesloe vase. It had been a gift to her from my Great Great Grandmother in the 1950’s. For many, many years, I had no idea what the signature on this vase even read, I just couldn’t decipher it. But recently I was in a wonderful shop in Melbourne, called The Northcote Bowerbird and stumbled across another similar vase, with ‘Cottesloe’ written on the sales label, and I could almost have slapped myself, as it then seemed really obvious that this was also the signature on my Grandmother’s vase! Of course, I had to have the vase from The Northcote Bowerbird and immediately bought it on the spot! From there, I was then able to do a little research and discover that there really isn’t much information out there on the makers of these two lovely ‘floral’ vases. In fact, all I have been able to learn, is that Cottelsoe Pottery only existed for just 12 years, in Chatswood, Sydney, from 1947 until 1959. That’s it! Of course, I would love to know more and I would love to find more Cottesloe pieces, so, if you know more about Cottesloe Pottery, or have a piece and would like to tell me about it, then please, email me, or leave a comment. I guess this is one of the main reasons I have decided to start a blog, so that I can share information and maybe learn from other collectors too.

My accidental find in The Northcote Bowerbird shop in Melbourne…

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I have recently found and bought another piece of Cottesloe Pottery, a little different to my other two vases, but still a lovely example of 1950’s Australian pottery, this ‘leaping deer’ planter vase.

There aren’t many references to be found for Cottesloe Pottery, other than a few pieces that have gone to auction. In fact, I have only found three other pieces, a mocha coloured floral vase similar to my Grandmother’s, a tall, cream and mocha, twin handled, ribbed vase, and  a pair of frogs, all sold at auction by Shapiros in Sydney. The frogs were sold as part of a ‘lot’ along with a Bosley Ware green frog, although there was no photo of the Cottesloe frogs and they were simply described as ‘one black and one blue’. I did however find a photo of another pair of Cottesloe frogs on pinterest, these ones being green, cream and blue and I’ve got to say, they are exquisite and something that I would very much like to own. They are simply gorgeous! If you happen across any other examples of Cottesloe Pottery, please contact me, as I would love to add to this little collection.

When I have time to, I will add to this blog and show you my collections. Welcome to theaccidentalcollectorblog, I hope you enjoy it.

Nicqui – The Accidental Collector

post-blog note – this week I acquired my fourth piece of Cottesloe Pottery and this one comes with an actual signature on the base too! I believe it reads ‘W.T. Bousfield’. This signature is very exciting for me, as it means that I now have a name to research, one of the actual potters from Cottesloe Pottery! This vase is a delicious green, with a lavender interior!