Dorothy Doughty is best known for her amazing porcelain bird sculptures of American and British birds, but Royal Worcester also issued limited edition plates and plaques based upon the two sculpture ranges. The first series of plates (called “dessert plates”in the UK but would have been marketed as “decorative plates” in the USA) began in the early 1970s, as did the plaques. The second set of plates appeared in the early 1990s. I have shown each plate and plaque along with its corresponding porcelain sculpture whenever possible. Many thanks to Stuart Valentine for providing so many photos of both versions literally side-by-side! 🙂
The American Birds Dessert Plates, 1972 – 1983
Although Dorothy Doughty designed her American Birds series beginning in the 1930s (see Dorothy Doughty Birds for the particulars of which ones were issued when), she did not create these corresponding bas-relief plates until 1959. Royal Worcester exhibited the full set in their Mayfair showroom in 1961 but the retail editions did not begin until 1972. Twelve plates were issued, once per year from 1972 through 1983.
The plates were sold in a silk-lined box. The exterior color of the box (or at least the lid) changed from gold to dark blue, or vice versa, at some point during the series run.
The backstamp color is gold, although it can often appear dark in online photos.
There can be some variation between issue stamps; for example, “hand painted” appears in some backstamps but not others, despite the fact that all of the American Birds plates were indeed painted by hand.
This was a numbered series but the number and edition size appeared only on the accompanying certificate of authenticity. The first plate (1972) was an edition of 2750 priced at $125. The subsequent plates were editions of 3000. Retail pricing increased gradually with the new issues: the second plate (1973) sold for $175. The third through eighth plates were $195 each. In 1980 there was big price jump to $315! The final three plates were $330 each.
The complete set of twelve American Birds plates are shown individually below. Each plate is approximately 9.25” (23.5 cm) in diameter. The small raised dot at the bottom center of each plate marks the “6 o’clock” position so that the plate can be displayed in the proper orientation for the design. Doughty sculptures have a similar indication for the location of the center front.
This rare example of the Blue Tits plate in its greenware state shows the amount of workmanship still to be done.
The British Birds Dessert Plates Series, 1991 – 1993
This was a smaller series of only eight plates and was marketed exclusively by the firm of Compton & Woodhouse. Unlike the American Birds plates, these were not issued on a per-year basis; there were two in 1991, four in 1992, and two in 1993. The title of each plate matches that of the Doughty sculpture upon which it was based.
Some online sources claim that only four plate designs were actually produced; obviously that is incorrect.
The boxes were also different; the British Birds box is functional but simple, with no silk lining.
These plates are numbered individually within the backstamp, whereas the COA is generic…a turnabout from the American Birds’ method. Notice that the Compton series backstamp says “hand decorated” instead of “hand painted.” The phrase reflects the fact that the colors on these plates were applied by a transfer method rather than with a brush.
Compton & Woodhouse marketed the plates on a subscription basis for the issue of 7500 plates per design, at a price of £43.50 plus a nominal shipping fee. A buyer could purchase as many or as few issues as he wished.
Compton’s also supplied an informative booklet about the series, explaining not only how the plates were derived from the original sculptures but also illustrating the process that went into the plates’ manufacture. The final page contains a short biography of Dorothy Doughty.
The set of eight, displayed together.
Chaffinches on May Blossom, September 1991
Goldcrests on Larch, December 1991; shown here with its pair of inspirational sculptures from 1972.
Cock Robin in the Autumn Woods, March 1992, shown with the 1964 sculpture.
Kingfisher and Autumn Beech, June 1992, with the 1965 sculpture.
Wrens and Burnet Rose, September 1992; the sculptures date from 1964.
Long-tailed Tits on Larch, December 1992
Nightingale and Honeysuckle, March 1993, with the 1971 sculpture.
Lesser Whitethroats on Wild Rose, June 1993; the sculptures are from 1964.
A Prototype Plate
This plate is extremely rare. It is a trial or prototype created by Dorothy Doughty in 1957 as a proposal for the series of bas-relief plates, in a simple but elegant design of a bee and wisteria. It has the date and Miss Doughty’s initials on the back.
The 1970s Painted Porcelain Plaques
In the early 1970s Royal Worcester issued 25 sets of 15 paintings on porcelain by artist Edward Townsend, based on Doughty’s British Birds sculptures. Many thanks to Stuart Valentine for bringing these plaques to my attention and theorizing that the Compton & Woodhouse plate series may have been based as much on these Townsend paintings as on the Doughty pieces. It certainly seems likely.
Three iterations of Cock Robin in the Autumn Woods, from left to right: the 1964 sculpture, the 1970s plaque, and the 1992 plate.
Kingfisher and Autumn Beech as the 1965 sculpture, 1973 plaque, and the 1992 plate.
The plaques are 11” x 15” (28 cm x 38 cm) unframed, and about 15” x 20” (38 cm x 51 cm) in their gilt wood frames. Even the certificate of authenticity for these sets was produced as a plaque rather than on paper! Shown below are the eight paintings that match the later Compton & Woodhouse plates.
In 1975 Royal Worcester issued a series of numbered limited edition prints taken directly from the Townsend paintings. Each print was an issue of 250. This example is the Lesser Whitethroats.
The other seven plaques in the Townsend series will be profiled in a future post.
For futher reading: Dorothy Doughty Bird Sculptures by Royal Worcester