Among the several ‘porcelain mysteries’ on my personal Sherlock Holmes list is a series of stunning fine porcelain eggs made in the 1990s by a studio I’d never heard of: Worcestershire Fine Arts and Ceramics. These were brought to my attention earlier this year by a gentleman who purchased them at a local auction house and contacted me in hopes of finding out more about them. Since that time we have been working together to try to solve the mystery of the origin of these lovely eggs. This post will introduce the eggs and will be updated with additional information if/when discovered.
All of the eggs are completely hand painted and some incorporate marvelous porcelain dimensional details as well. Each egg opens to reveal a delicate porcelain “surprise” inside. There are 17 eggs, 16 of which are marked as made by Worcestershire Fine Arts; the seventeenth, having a different backstamp, poses an even greater mystery and will be shown last. They are all 10.6” (28 cm) high except for the ‘odd’ egg which is 11” although utilizing the same molds as the others. The top of each egg lifts off to reveal a coordinating miniature sculpture inside. Thirteen of the eggs are dated in the backstamp; the other four have no date.
Most importantly, nine of the Worcestershire eggs were painted by Freda Griffiths who for many years was with the Connoisseur of Malvern studio and continued to be associated with Diane Lewis (its founder) after that studio was sold in 1994. The connection between Mrs. Griffiths and the Worcestershire Fine Arts studio is part of our ongoing research into these beautiful eggs.
These are the undated and dated versions of the Worcestershire Fine Arts backstamp appearing on the underside of the eggs. The line drawing is a representation of Worcester Cathedral.
The eggs fall into two general categories: flat-painted, and those with applied dimensional decoration. Some of them have a painted cartouche on the base’s front panel but some do not; only one of the dimensional eggs has this.
Because only one of these eggs is “named” (somewhat) in the backstamp, I’ve taken the liberty of naming the others according to each one’s subject.
My most sincere thanks to the owners of these beautiful eggs for offering to supply all of the wonderful photographs appearing in this post!
Mock Orange and Adonis Blue Butterfly is dated 1994. The fragrant mock orange (Philadelphus spp.) is a garden favorite and the Adonis Blue butterfly is found across the UK and Europe. The male butterfly is shown here.
Blackberry and Tortoiseshell Butterfly is dated 1994. Although the wild blackberry can become a serious garden pest, cultivated varieties are prized for their flavor. The tortoiseshell butterfly shown here is the Eurasian species, Aglais urticae; the related species found in North and South America is slightly different in appearance.
Hawthorn and Peacock Butterfly is also dated 1994. Another fragrant shrub, the hawthorn (Crateagus spp.) flowers in the spring and is also well known. The stunning Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) is a UK species that North America sadly lacks. The eyespot pattern on its wings serves to confuse potential predators.
The White Viburnum and Tortoiseshell Butterfly egg is painted and signed by Freda Griffiths. It is undated. Interestingly, the butterfly depicted in the cartouche is not a Tortoiseshell but appears instead to be a Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus.)
Flowering Almond and Comma Butterfly was also painted by Freda Griffiths and is dated 1994. The cartouche shows the flower in various stages of bud. The familiar (in the UK) Comma with the unusual species name Polygonia c-album is fond of feeding on nettles.
I’ve dubbed this charming design Mouse and Harvest although I have no idea what the studio may have called it. Freda Griffith’s adorable field mouse looks almost ‘furry’ enough to touch. A ripe fig decorates the cartouche. This egg is undated.
Another self-named egg is Spring Bunnies, also by Mrs. Griffiths, dated 1994 and also starring primroses and violets. Notice the unusual technique employed on the pair of lambs forming the ‘surprise’, to give the appearance of their textural wool.
Strawberries and Orange Tip Butterfly, dated 1994 by Freda Griffiths. This Eurasian butterfly is unmistakable in its dapper coloration. The cluster of porcelain blooms and berries inside this egg look almost good enough to eat.
Double Cherry and Common Blue pairs the familiar spring blooming ‘Kwanzan’ tree with the contrasting male Common Blue. Although a Eurasian species, it has recently been introduced into Quebec, Canada and so it’s hoped that in time it will become a familiar sight in North America as well. Painted by Freda Griffiths and dated 1994.
The Laburnum and Speckled Wood Butterfly egg portrays the sunny yellow cascades of the “golden chain tree” perfectly. The brown-patterned butterfly is only partly visible in these photos. Each delicate bloom of the ‘surprise’ is hand formed and hand painted; Freda Griffiths, 1994.
The Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a familiar tree on both sides of the Atlantic, although the childhood sport of ‘conkers’ never caught on tremendously in America. Those unfamiliar with the game can find a good overview on this Wikipedia page. This is another Freda Griffiths egg from 1994.
The exterior scene of the Nativity Egg is very similar to, but not precisely the same as, the Connoisseur of Malvern Nativity Egg that was issued in 1990. The painting of those eggs was shared between Freda Griffiths and her daughter Sandie who also worked for the original Connoisseur studio. The Worcestershire egg was painted by Freda and issued in 1994.
The remaining five eggs are all “dimensional”, i.e., having hand-formed decorations applied to the egg’s surface. Only one of these is by Freda Griffiths.
This 1994 egg shows a male Chaffinch and Sloe Berries which I confess had me stumped for a bit because I thought the berries might be damson plums. However, they are shown with thorns which puts these into the sloe category, as does the white flower ‘surprise.’
Was this Wren and Holly egg intended as one of the “seasonals” shown earlier? I tend to think it just a coincidence, however, because it is not by Mrs. Griffiths nor does it sport a cartouche as the mouse and bunny eggs do. Also it is dimensional whereas the two others are not. However, it is dated 1994. The interior flower puzzles me, because in keeping with the season it should logically be the so-called ‘Christmas rose’, Helleborus niger … but the leaves are wrong here for that plant. Artistic license, perhaps?
Here we have a truly international bird on the Swallow and Lilacs egg. The barn swallow, Hirundo rustica, is found throughout the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. In Japan is it considered good luck to have a pair of swallows nest in your house or outbuilding. This egg is undated; however, the branch mold beneath the cluster of blooms in the ‘surprise’ appears to be the same as as used inside the Chaffinch and Sloe 1994 egg.
This is the only dimensional egg (in this group) that was painted by Freda Griffiths. The stamp under the base identifies it as a Golden Jubilee Commemorative issued in 2002, making it the most recent – as far as we know – Worcestershire Fine Arts egg. This Golden Jubilee Egg features forget-me-nots and a Painted Lady butterfly both on the exterior and as part of the interior ‘surprise.’ Note that this egg also has a cartouche, as do some of the 1994 eggs. This invites speculation as to whether this egg may have been originally intended as a 1990s issue but for some reason was held back and later put to use as the commemorative – especially since I could not discover any connection between this flower and Queen Elizabeth other than various 90th birthday souvenir items that were issued in 2016.
The Seventeenth Egg
This is the egg that introduces the additional mystery. Although it uses the same molds as the Worcestershire Fine Arts & Ceramics eggs, and follows the same general style conventions, this egg has an entirely different backstamp.
This dimensional egg shows a male Bullfinch and Apple Blossoms. Painted Lady butterflies and bumblebees are also shown on the reverse side. It has no cartouche and was not painted by Freda Griffiths.
This is the mysterious backstamp, which is the same as that used by the post-1994 Connoisseur studio. It shows that this egg was definitely not done by the original (Lewis-owned) studio for whom Freda Griffiths worked for many years. The story of the post-1994 Connoisseur studio is complicated, especially since none of the subsequent owners dated any of the items they produced, but it can definitely be said that any piece bearing this backstamp format and having no “artist icons” dates from between 1995 and 2006. And because we see that the 2002 Golden Jubilee Egg has a Worcestershire Fine Arts stamp, it seems as though this Bullfinch egg may have been produced after that year by the third owner of the Connoisseur studio.
What connection developed, and when, between the Worcestershire Fine Arts & Ceramics studio and that of the latter-day Connoisseur studio? If the Worcestershire studio ceased operation during the early 2000s, was their mold stock then purchased by the owner of Connoisseur? That would explain this egg and also date its’ production to roughly 2003-2006. Was this the only such egg produced by them?I have found no evidence so far of any other post-1994 Connoisseur eggs except for this one.
Indeed, finding any items made by Worcestershire Fine Arts & Ceramics is rather like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack! Google has been no help in this quest because search results inevitably pertain to THE porcelain powerhouse of that region: the Royal Worcester studio. My guess is that Worcestershire Fine Arts was a small independent studio, perhaps located in the towns of Malvern or Worcester itself. Clearly it now qualifies for inclusion in my “Lost Porcelain Studios” series – if only I could find out more about it, and additional examples of their work!
To that end I’m asking for help from any readers who may know anything about the Worcestershire Fine Arts & Ceramics studio, these lovely porcelain eggs, or anything else they may have produced. The eggs were definitely not their only items because I did manage to unearth a single photo of a set of four porcelain bowls depicting flowers of the seasons; it was an archived Worthpoint listing with no useful information, sadly. It’s likely that this studio sold only within the UK, and possibly even just in certain regions of England at that. All information about the studio and/or these eggs will be most welcome! There is a direct contact form at the bottom of the About the Chatsworth Lady page.
A final look at the eggs shows them as a group.
The five “dimensional” eggs displayed together, from left to right: chaffinch/sloe, bullfinch/apple blossom (Connoisseur), Golden Jubilee, barn swallow/lilacs, and wren/holly.
Ten of the twelve flat-painted eggs are shown here (the Mouse and Viburnum eggs are displayed elsewhere). Upper shelf, from left to right: laburnum/speckled wood, spring bunnies, nativity, blackberry/tortoiseshell, and mock orange/adonis blue. Lower shelf, from left to right: flowering almond/comma, horse chestnut, double cherry/common blue, strawberries/orange tip, and hawthorn/peacock.
Again, many thanks to the owners of these lovely eggs for the opportunity to showcase them here and hopefully discover more about them and the studio from whence they came. I hope to be able to compile a biography of Freda Griffiths, the painter of more than half of these designs, for publication on my Connoisseur of Malvern site.