“No potter formed in the last century is more likely to be of future
interest to collectors... than the House of Beswick.” Pottery Gazette 1961
Time has proven this to be more than idle praise! The exquisitely precise moulding, meticulous handpainting and pure quality of Beswicks’ animal and character figures continue to grow in collector popularity.
J. Beswick (pronounced BESS-wik) started his Staffordshire pottery around 1894 making dinnerware and such ornamental ceramics as the then ubiquitous Staffordshire cats and dogs. Most were unmarked and are hard to tell from their competitors’.
Most collectors now seek pieces made by descendents John Ewart and Gilbert Beswick. Their 1934 introduction of high fired bone china figurines broke new ground with their unmatched quality and detail, much as Royal Doulton had done with their elegant lady figures.
Initially, animals were shown in humorous, semi-human guises. Soccer playing cats, violin playing monkeys and giddy piglets offered levity to buyers weary of war and depression.
Recognizing the exactness of detail breeders require in show animals, Arthur Gredington became Beswick’s first ceramicist to use named breed champions as models. His 190 Rearing Horseman started the equestrian line, Beswick’s largest (and one of today’s collector favorites). Even the Queen and Prince Phillip’s horses were eventually recreated.
This strategy was a big hit with horse fanciers, and decorating manager Jim Hayward quickly shifted the firm towards lifelike animal art lines. Cats and dogs, birds and fish, barnyard pets and wild animals were amongst the 3000 lines he oversaw during the next 35 years, along with the firm’s Royal commemoratives, toby jugs and children’s characters.
Beswick designers faithful, natural animal representations resulted from hours of study at science museums and aviaries. In one case, they counted every scale on a fish to ensure exact replication! Shading and coloring, eyes and mouths were meticulously handpainted, and colorings could be customized to suit customer tastes. A matte glaze Hayward created in1967 for the firm’s Connoiseur Series allowed more detail than competitor’s glossy coats, making this a premium line both then and now.
In 1947, Lucy Beswick suggested using the same principles to bring to live the illustrations in the popular Beatrix Potter books. The line quickly swept the US and Canada in a buying frenzy which remains unabated today. Alice in Wonderland and certain Disney characters were also cast in Beswick ceramic, and are avidly collected. A fortunate thing for North American collectors is that while certain characters are scarce, it’s surmised that many of the rarer pieces were exported here.
By 1969, no new Beswick generation arose to run the firm and the family sold out to Royal Doulton. Many pieces were immediately discontinued, as were the old variations of up to 6 color schemes per item. New moulds were introduced but generally wre less detailed; and by 1989, the Beswick mark was replaced by “Royal Albert” or “Royal Doulton on the remaining Beatrix Potter, large dog, cat, character and Connoiseur series.
A true help for Beswick collectors is that most lines were carefully recorded and catalogued after 1936. Model numbers and Beswick name stamps are common on items which have a large enough base to contain them. Still, many smaller pieces are not clearly marked, and collectors can sometimes discover sleepers.
Reproductions are few, due to the inability of most modern firms to recreate the hand detailing of yore; but study the guides or insist on an authenticity guarantee! Some non-Beswick cts and dogs are being mounted on separate bases marked “Beswick England”.
Condition is also very important, since Beswick was a select marque. Fish and earlier birds were prone to damage on fins and wing tips.
Because very few pieces are now made under the Beswick marque, collector awareness has grown dramatically during the 1990s. An international collectors’ group and two excellent references, Bewick Price Guide by May and Beswick Animals by Callow and Sweet, attest that for Beswick collectors, the “future” spoken of in that 1961 news item is now. -George Higby
Shop for Beswick and 15,500 other antiques on our website: