'Prices are going to go mad'

Whitefriars was the Wedgwood of the glass world. Then it went bust. Two books later, it's set for a major revival.

You have probably never heard of Whitefriars glass. But you will. By the end of the year, prices will have doubled and the name will be as well known as Wedgwood is for ceramics.

Whitefriars closed down in 1980. Although its 146-year history made it Britain's longest working glass-blowing factory, there were few laments for the loss of a household name. In the past two months, however, two books about Whitefriars have appeared, an exhibition has opened at Manchester City Art Galleries, two London dealers have announced selling exhibitions and the Antiques Bulletin has begun a three-part series.

The sudden resurrection sounds improbable - until you discover that at the turn of the century Whitefriars was hailed as Britain's leading maker of domestic art glass. It was at the cutting edge of the Victorian Arts and Crafts and later Art Nouveau style movements, occupying the same pedestal as Galle and Daum in France, and Tiffany in America. No other British glassmaker could hold a candle to Whitefriars' Venetian-style wavy-edged goblets or vases adorned with coloured tears.

The company's descent into obscurity and sudden re-entry in a shower of sparks is sure to become a cause celebre among collectors. The explanation lies in lackadaisical promotion. For a start, the hundreds of Whitefriars designs have never borne company marks. Cartloads were sold anonymously by Liberty and Heal's in London, Bing's La Maison Moderne in Paris and Tiffany's in New York. And with no reference books either, Whitefriars was, until now, notoriously difficult to identify. That discouraged collectors and kept prices low. Another confusion: the firm was known by its family name of Powell & Sons until 1963. In the Fifties and Sixties, the firm's image plunged into further confusion as it lurched into colourful, chunky Scandinavian-style vases and fruit bowls. Once de rigueur in Ideal Home magazine, they became deeply unfashionable.

When Whitefriars finally lost its grip on fluctuating fashions in 1980, its massive archive was snapped up by the Museum of London. The 10,000 items - glass-blowing equipment, specimens, pattern books, photographs, and 40 boxes of company records - were entrusted to the museum's conservators. Years passed.

That did not please the owners of the country's most extensive collection of Whitefriars, Brian Cargin, a civil servant, and his partner Chris Morley, an antiques dealer. They wanted to check the identities of their 1,100 pieces but were refused access to the archive. And they were hardly mollified by the museum's Whitefriars exhibition in 1988: no captions, no catalogue, and still no reference book.

In 1992, however, a chance remark brought the collection to the attention of Lesley Jackson, keeper of art at Manchester City Art Galleries. Having clapped eyes on it, she proposed a major exhibition and a combined catalogue and reference book.

At the Museum of London there was consternation. But acrimony was avoided with the appointment of Catherine Ross as the museum's new head of the Department of Later London History. She made the archive fully accessible to the Manchester contingent and came to an agreement with them.

As a result, there are now two complementary books on Whitefriars glass. The museum's 13lb tome (pounds 50) was published in November - two months ahead of Ms Jackson's pounds 30 paperback. It contains design drawings, an identification guide and early company history. Ms Jackson's book has essays by scholars, photographs of 600 pieces from the Cargin-Morley collection and 200 other pieces, including 82 lent by the Museum of London, and a glossary of technical terms.

Mr Cargin jokes: "If the Museum of London's book had been published when it should have been, we would not have been able to build up our collection so easily - people would have learnt to recognise Whitefriars."

At the big Newark antiques fair in the autumn, he paid pounds 100 for a 1970 green and yellow Whitefriars Studio vase that he might have carried off for a mere pounds 10 before dealers got wind of the Whitefriars bonanza. "I'm finding it hard to adapt to the rise in prices," he says. "Vases like that used to be chucked on the grass under the stalls. The dealer had pounds 160 on it. She said: 'It's very important - there's two books coming out and an exhibition'."

Whitefriars glass is seldom seen at London auctions unless it is early and outstanding. An opalescent yellow vase commemorating the opening of Tower Bridge in 1886 sold for pounds 690 at Sotheby's in November. The dealers' dream is that there will be a Whitefriars craze to match the craze for modern Italian glass - a Sixties Venini vase fetched pounds 75,250 at Christie's Geneva in 1990.

Jeanette Hayhurst, one of two London dealers launching Whitefriars selling exhibitions on Thursday, says: "Prices are going to go mad. But I can't suddenly start charging regular customers double. As long as I can buy at the same price, I'll be happy."

Some of her prices: bark-textured vases designed in 1967 by Geoffrey Baxter can still be had for pounds 15-pounds 25. Wine glasses of 1931 with gold leaf in the stem: pounds 200-pounds 300 each. A fabulous straw opal wineglass of the 1870s with wavy "thrown" rim, up to pounds 400 - "all totally undervalued," she reckons.

The new books portray Whitefriars as a semi-amateur family firm that prospered by encouraging its blowers to take pride in their "glassmaker's glass" - but lost its way after the war, when professional designers, brought in from outside, strove to create something novel for every annual trade fair.

Ms Jackson says: "In my opinion, Whitefriars was the most important domestic glass factory in this country. They were of international stature. The aim of this project is that they should get international recognition."

Exhibitions: Whitefriars Glass, Manchester City Art Galleries to 30 June, Museum of London, 30 July to January 1997. Selling exhibitions, 29 February-9 March: Richard Dennis, 144 Kensington Church St, London W8 (0171-727 2061) and Jeanette Hayhurst, 32a Kensington Church St, W8 (0171-938 1539).

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

    £50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

    Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

    £50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

    Primary Teaching Supply

    £130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

    Year 1/2 Teacher

    £130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

    Day In a Page

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories