Thursday 25 February 2010

Rural Nostalgia and collectors' plates, 1980s/90s

We've acquired a number of examples of this genre recently, all very much of their time. This one has the title The Farm-Yard and is the July plate in a twelve-month series called The Farm Year which was produced by Wedgwood for the Danbury Mint. The artist, Michael Herring, specialised in gentle rural scenes like this set in the earlier part of the twentieth century which were commissioned for a range of products from jigsaws to coasters.

This one is The Farm Cottage, dated 1988 and the sixth in Colin Newman's Country Panorama series for Wedgwood depicting a 360 degree panoramic view of the countryside.

The Sunday colour magazines of the 1980s and early 90s often featured full-page advertisements for decorative plates, usually issued in a series of eight or more, and often on a nostalgic rural theme. Indeed, I recall the Museum of English Rural Life entering into a commercial arrangement to endorse one such series. Readers were invited to sign up for a whole series in advance by mail order and would then receive each successive plate on a periodic basis, often accompanied by a elaborate certificate of authenticity. The sales pitch was that these plates were limited editions that would effortlessly become the antiques of tomorrow. Whilst looking good in the sitting room cabinet, so the argument went, they would also be appreciating in value.

The reality has proved to be rather different. Plenty of these plates, from so many series, are available today on Ebay and elsewhere at prices below what they originally sold for twenty or thirty years ago. If nothing else, it shows that the marketing at the time paid off and brought in the buyers in their droves.

Here is Haymaking, dated 1989 and the third in the Life on the Farm series, with artwork by Lancashire-based John L.Chapman (1946-).

So who were the buyers? I think it is safe to assume that this was not a market aimed at young people. The appeal was to an older generation, retirees with a comfortable pension and money to spend, who were beguiled by images that matched the fading recollections of their youth and prey to a sales patter offering instant heirlooms to be treasured by the family after they had gone.

So often, the subjects are syrupy rural scenes, based in some indeterminate pre-1950s era and covering all the standard nostalgia bases. They are for people who had taken to looking back wistfully from a changed world in which they were not entirely at home.

The plate above is Early Morning Milk in the 1991 series Country Days. The Worcestershire artist, Chris Howells (1947-), is not untypical of those who received these commissions. After art college and experience in the commercial world, he became a freelance artist specialising in rural scenes for the popular market.

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