Review by John C. Austin
The Longridge Collection of English Slipware and Delftware

Leslie B. Grigsby, with contributions by Michael Archer, Margaret MacFarlane, and Jonathan Horne. The Longridge Collection of English Slipware and Delftware. London: Jonathan Horne, 2000. Vol. 1 (slipware), approx. 180 pp.; vol. 2 (delftware), approx. 500 pp.; approx. 1,000 color illus., charts of dish 

When I saw the Longridge collection several years ago, my reaction was, how could such an important group of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century objects have been assembled in the last decades of the twentieth century? I had this reaction again when I first thumbed through the newly published catalog, The Longridge Collection of English Slipware and Delftware. This American collection was formed during the period when everyone, myself included, was saying, “Nothing good comes on the market anymore. Everything has been bought up.” Ms. Grigsby’s catalog proves how wrong we were. Not only does the collection include some of the rarest and most important objects in these wares, it does so in quantity. This quantity is not for the sake of quantity alone, but to make the collection as complete as possible. I feel I can safely say there is not a more important collection of either delft (132 dated pieces) or slipware (55 dated pieces) in private hands today. And only one or two museum collections could possibly compete with this collection. 

If one word could describe the publications by Leslie Grigsby, the author of these spectacular two volumes as well as other important catalogs, it would be “thorough.” In addition to the basic catalog, in its simplest form a listing of objects along with their important facts, Ms. Grigsby also presents background material complete enough to consider this publication two monographs: one on slipware and the other on delft. She includes a discussion of the forms, materials, and technology—including the firing process—and who used them and how. Also included is a timeline incorporating relevant royal and other important personages who lived during the wares’ period of production (ca. 1628–1770). The timeline also features illustrations of the personages’ likenesses or monograms taken from the pieces in the collection. If a beginning student of delftware or slipware were to ask me, “What single book has answers to my many questions?” I would say, “If it is slipware you want, see volume one of the Longridge collection, and if it is delft that interests you, see volume two.”

The catalog layout of each object is clearly delineated. Using different but complementary typefaces and well-designed spacing, Ms. Grigsby has put together an easy-to-use format. Vital statistics are on the left, with each entry clearly separated. The listings include form, provenance, date, and dimensions, followed by the important categories of body clay, glaze, shape, and decoration. A discussion of the piece is found on the right. This arrangement permits the reader to skim the pages to find specific information quickly. Cleverly, in order to discuss so many objects and avoid repetition, Ms. Grigsby has also combined two or three very similar objects into a single grouping whenever possible. 

As further illustration of my statement about Ms. Grigsby’s thoroughness, one need only look at the end of the book, which begins with charts of dish and plate profiles. Following is an extremely important and complete “Bibliography and Short Title List,” with more than 350 titles listed. A glossary precedes the most comprehensive index I have ever seen.

The objects in this collection are rare and important, and they are visually pleasing to most people, both in and out of the ceramic field. It would therefore be a shame not to show each piece to its fullest grandeur. Wisely, Gavin Ashworth was chosen to photograph the collection. Ashworth is, rightly, considered the top photographer of ceramics today. He has the ability to present the shininess of the glaze without bothersome reflections and, at the same time, to show the object’s true three-dimensionality. And as someone who has looked at thousands of pieces of slipware and delftware, I can say that the colors—the blues, the manganese, and the ground colors in their various shades of white—are quite true.

It would be impossible to pick out the most important pieces in the catalog. So many are significant for so many different reasons. I mention only a few that strike my fancy and that say something to me. First, among the slipwares, I would choose two sgraffito dishes: (1) the dish with the royal arms, because this type of decoration is normally found only on globular jugs and not as decoration on a flat, dish surface, and (2) the dish with the depiction of the two cockerels, because it surprisingly reminds me of American folk art. The rarity of these two pieces is amplified in view of the fact that only a very small handful of English sgraffito dishes have survived above ground. 

From the hundreds of examples of delft, I would choose the four-part punch or wassail bowl, for three reasons. First, it is complete. Why wasn’t at least one part smashed and thrown away, back when it was just an old pot? Second, with its monumental form, it bears a crown like a king. Third, its decoration is extraordinary. Decorations so completely cover the piece that the only place the decorator could find to record the owner’s initials and date was inside the second section hidden beneath the top cover. The beautifully painted scene of a stag hunt covering the bowl’s entire exterior has great charm, while Bacchus astride a barrel on the bowl’s interior imparts a touch of humor. 

An encyclopedic collection like the Longridge collection gives one the opportunity to make detailed comparisons. For instance, the large number of blue dash, ornate-rimmed, and simple-rimmed chargers incorporating categories of central designs including Adam and Eve, tulip, oakleaf, and royal, facilitates comparisons, determination of dates, and places of production—an effect Ms. Grigsby wisely uses to best advantage. The abundance of animals and human figures in the Longridge collection (more than I realized have survived since the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries) provides an important source of comparisons as well as a chance to enjoy objects of naive charm.

Jonathan Horne’s preface, which puts the collection into perspective, talks about collecting, collectors, and collections, starting in the eighteenth century with the famous connoisseur Horace Walpole. He mentions many twentieth-century collectors, some of whom were gone before I came into the ceramics world. Others such as the Tilleys, Louis Lipski, and Tom Burnes I had the privilege to know and learn from. It is indeed exciting to me to see many of the pieces they owned or handled in the Longridge collection and presented with all their importance in these volumes. The Longridge collection is one of the very few really great collections of the twentieth century. It is fortunate for the world to be able to learn of it in such a brilliant and scholarly way as presented by Leslie Grigsby.

John C. Austin
Consulting Curator of Ceramics and Glass
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Ceramics in America 2001