The Morton Nance Collection of Welsh Pottery and Porcelain
Ernest Morton Nance was born in Cardiff in 1868. He studied at Oxford University and in 1895 took a job teaching Classics at Swansea Grammar School. It was there that he became interested in Welsh pottery and porcelain. He began collecting the products of the indigenous ceramics industry of Wales, concentrating mainly on the wares produced by the Cambrian Pottery, situated in Swansea and in operation from the 1760s until its closure in 1870.
'At Swansea I was shown with pride specimens of local production and expressed the wish to possess some. I was told it would be impossible to find more than a few scattered pieces, because it was so scarce and so tightly held. Here was a challenge. A poor reason for forming a collection it is true - still, one which seemed adequate to me at the time.' *
Following his early years in Swansea, Morton Nance spent much of his career practising as a solicitor in London and on his retirement went to live in St Ives in Cornwall. However, his connections with Wales remained strong and his enthusiasm for Welsh ceramics continued undiminished.
Over the years Morton Nance was to build a very extensive collection of Welsh pottery and porcelain and in the course of doing so was to undertake exhaustive research on the history and the production methods of the Welsh factories.
In 1942, following his retirement, he finally collated his life's study of the Welsh ceramics industry into a monumental publication, The Pottery and Porcelain of Swansea and Nantgarw. This, on completion, was nearly six hundred pages long and had at least a thousand illustrations. In the foreword to the book R.L. Hobson, formerly Keeper of the Department of Ceramics at the British Museum, wrote that he doubted,
'...if any ceramic theme has ever been treated with such thoroughness'. *
The book remains, to this day, the definitive work on the Welsh ceramics industry, and the collection of ceramics around which it is based now forms an invaluable part of our collection of Welsh pottery and porcelain here at the National Museum Cardiff.
The collection arrived here as a bequest, following Morton Nance's death in 1952. The collection consists of some fifteen hundred pieces which, in 1952, doubled the Museum's collection of Welsh porcelain and trebled the items of Welsh pottery. The collection contains many fine items of porcelain manufactured in Swansea and many pieces from the short-lived period of porcelain manufacture at Nantgarw. It also includes some particularly noteworthy items of early nineteenth-century pottery wares from the Cambrian factory as well as numerous examples of the later transfer printed wares. Also represented in the collection are a number of wares from the Glamorgan factory which for a while operated alongside the larger Cambrian factory in Swansea and a selection of items produced by the South Wales Pottery which began production in Llanelli in 1840 and closed in 1922, marking the end of large scale ceramic manufacture in Wales.
This outstanding collection transformed our already substantial holdings of Welsh ceramics, and in the years that have followed we have continued to add to our collection with many important acquisitions.
The collection of Welsh ceramics now has a permanent home in the Joseph Gallery, which tells the full story of the Welsh pottery and porcelain factories from their beginnings in 1764 to the closure of the South Wales Pottery in 1922.
* The Pottery and Porcelain of Swansea and Nantgarw, Ernest Morton Nance, London, 1942.