Uncovering Pratt Ware at Auction
In the early 19th century, brothers Felix and Richard Pratt formed F. & R. Pratt & Co. Ltd at the Fenton Potteries in England – and began creating exquisitely engraved & coloured earthenware & pot lids for food, toiletries and pharmaceutical products. Today Pratt Ware pot lids & other ceramics are regularly offered at auction – and they remain popular collector’s items.
Where Pratt Ware Began
In the early 19th century, brothers Felix and Richard Pratt formed F. & R. Pratt & Co. Ltd at the Fenton Potteries in England – and began to produce beautifully illustrated & coloured earthenware & pot lids for food, toiletries and pharmaceutical products.
They were joined by Jesse Austin in the early 1840s, a gifted engraver and watercolour artist who would design over 550 pot lid images portraying the life and times of Victorian England.
While a utilitarian item, the designs elevated the humble pot lid into something beautiful. Pratt Ware was on show at the Great Exhibition in 1851 – and lids were collected even from the 19th century, sometimes framed & displayed in homes.
Pictured: A Pratt Ware Timber Framed Pot Lid, The Cavalier, c.1860
Artistry & Technology
The popularity of Pratt Ware was the result of business nous, a touch of artistry & the latest in printing technology.
It was Felix who recognised the potential in selling beautifully designed lids for everyday items such as toothpaste or women’s cosmetics.
The production involved transfer printing on pottery. While a basic technique had been developed in the 1750s, the 1848 process of colour printing on paper (patented by George Baxter in 1835) was subsequently adapted for use in the ceramics industry – and this allowed for the creation of designs previously only attainable by hand.
Pictured: A Pratt Ware Pot Lid, Strasbourg Cathedral, c.1850
The Popularity of Pratt Ware
Pratt Ware has long been admired for its artistry, but its popularity today is also due to the subject matter, with each pot lid standing as a record of 19th century England – or beyond.
Jesse Austin created not just English scenes, but images of royalty, miniature watercolours of notable paintings or scenes from literature, and portraits of famous people.
Lids also illustrated well known landmarks across Europe, and exotic destinations such as this one featuring Hong Kong harbour.
Pictured: A Pratt Ware Pot Lid, Harbour of Hong Kong, c.1870
Collecting Pratt Ware
Casi Prischl, Theodore Bruce Specialist, explains that Pratt Ware continues to be sought after at auction, both by serious collectors & those drawn to the beautifully illustrated designs.
“Owning a piece of Pratt Ware is like having a piece of social history from over a century ago.”
Prices have ebbed & flowed at auction, with the most sought after examples in bright colours with crisp images. There are also a small number of ‘exhibition pieces’ – some were shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851 – that are often larger in size with very fine prints & gilt borders or other embellishments.
“A completed pot (with base) will also generally sell for more than just a lid,” adds Casi. “Bases were produced but given they were undecorated, they were more likely to be discarded & many of course were broken. Overall, we’re finding Pratt Ware is becoming more sought after, and prices will continue to rise.”
For the new collector, Pratt Ware is currently very affordable however, with many examples starting at less than $50.
Pictured: A Pratt Ware Timber Framed Pot Lid depicting Floral Motifs
Discover Pratt Ware at Auction
Theodore Bruce holds regular auctions in all collecting areas including fine arts, decorative arts, silver, jewellery & collectables.
We currently have a beautiful collection of Pratt Ware lids & other ceramics at auction.
Pictured: A Pratt Ware Pot Lid, The Master of the Hounds, c,1870