Largest collection of south Wales porcelain in the world up for auction.

Auctions are usually fairly discreet affairs attended by a few dozen people. This was not the case in the sale of the late Sir Leslie Joseph's collection of Welsh pottery and porcelain held by Sotheby's in 1992. Over 2,000 objects were sold in some 900 lots and made in excess of £1.1 million. The success of the sale was no surprise, for this was the largest and richest collection of Swansea and Nantgarw porcelain in the world.

Sir Leslie Joseph

Porcelain collection.
A Swansea porcelain plate from the Garden Scenery service, a large Nantgarw porcelain dish from the Vernon service, a Nantgarw porcelain inkwell, painted for Caloline Goodrich of Caerphilly, and a Swansea porcelain set pattern plate, all of c. 1816-25, and presented by the Friends of Amgueddfa Cymru.

Sir Leslie Joseph was born in Swansea and had a long business career, which saw him eventually becoming vice-chairman of the Trusthouse Forte group. He had bought his first piece of Welsh porcelain before the Second World War. In the 1950s he began to assemble a collection that would eventually fill the display cabinets that lined five attic rooms in his house near Porthcawl.

Nantgarw and Swansea ceramics

His aim was to secure examples of every shape and pattern made at the Swansea and Nantgarw potteries. Unlike many collectors he was prepared to buy damaged pieces if they helped him learn more about the variety of porcelain produced at the two factories. Over the years he built up a vast knowledge of Welsh ceramics and, in particular, of the script marks used on Swansea porcelain. In 1988 he published the book Swansea Porcelain: Shapes and Decoration with A.E. Jones, which is an invaluable record of that factory's achievements.

Sir Leslie, who served on Amgueddfa Cymru's Art Committee for several years, was very generous and allowed many collectors and scholars access to the collection and his vast knowledge.

The sale of the Joseph collection represented both a challenge and an opportunity for Amgueddfa Cymru. The Museum has the largest public collection of Welsh pottery and porcelain in the world, with over 3,000 pieces. In recent years the Museum has tried to make the ceramics collection as comprehensive as possible. There were many objects in the Joseph collection of interest to the Museum, but the budget meant that choices had to be made about which were more important to the collection.

Prices at the sale were very high. Amgueddfa Cymru acquired 33 lots, at a total cost of £98,000. Nearly a third of the costs were paid for by external grants, and the three most expensive individual pieces were paid by other buyers on behalf of the Museum.

A small number of other rare and beautiful objects were bought at a high cost. One was an ice-cream pail from the Gosford Castle service. This was a well-known Swansea dessert service decorated in London with botanical specimens. The Museum also purchased a Nantgarw plate, exquisitely painted with doves perched on the edge of a basin of water, also decorated in London.

The Welsh Ceramics Gallery, at National Museum Cardiff, is named the Joseph Gallery in memory of Sir Leslie, one of Amgueddfa Cymru's great benefactors.

Article Date: 16 May 2007

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