As a result of the retail success of their first-decade series of collector plates, the Boehm of Malvern studio went into the genre in a much bigger way during the 1980s. The decision to do this, of course, originated with Helen Boehm who never let a marketing opportunity pass her by. The so-called “collectibles market” was booming and she was determined to make the most of it.
Several things distinguished the 1980s Boehm plates from the early and mid-1970s ones: the number of designs per series, the number of plates (issue size) per design, and – most of all – how they were sold. The last factor is the most significant.
With only one exception, the first ten (possibly eleven) plate series produced by the Malvern studio during the 1970s were marketed and sold by the same retailers that sold Boehm porcelain: jewelry stores, high-end gift shops, and department stores. The typical limited-edition size (plates per design) was 5000. However, in 1978 Helen Boehm decided to partner with one of the several large direct-to-consumer mass marketing companies that had emerged during the past few years: The Hamilton Collection. The arrangement was that the plates would be manufactured by the Boehm studio but all of the marketing and sales would be done by Hamilton. The plates were shipped directly to Hamilton’s warehouse rather than having to first go to Trenton and from there to various retailers throughout the U.S.A. – a more efficient and cost-effective process. But of course the wider market that Hamilton’s huge customer base provided was the most important thing. Naturally there were brochures about Boehm’s (more expensive) porcelain figurines included with every Hamilton plate shipped!
There was nothing on the plate or its box that referenced The Hamilton Collection, however.
Once a Hamilton customer signed on for (subscribed to) one of their “series” they had to continue purchasing them in sequence in order to obtain any subsequent plates – as shown in the fourth paragraph of this typical insert/payment reminder/ad push letter for the second plate in a series.
Each letter reprised the pieces that the customer had already purchased while offering a blurb about the next one. Of course these were loaded with purple prose, touting the “exclusiveness” of having something that “only 15,000” other people would own, and describing the items in terms more appropriate to something worthy of a place in the Louvre than a manufactured piece of home décor. The use of “first edition” was meant to imply a value similar to that of first-edition books while ignoring the fact that (unlike book editions) there would not be any other, later iterations of the same plate or series… which is what gives first-edition books their cachet. (“First” is meaningless if there is no “second”, “third”, etc.) But, to be fair, he marketing of the collectibles genre was the same throughout the industry at the time: Hamilton was merely engaging in the same over the top hyperbole that emanated from all such companies.
The default edition size for the Hamilton series was 15,000 per design and eight designs per series. The first two of these appeared in 1978 and were probably a market test because those issues were only 5000 … the same issue size that Malvern had previously done. Because of the issue year these (Butterflies of the World and Flowers of the World) appear in my Boehm of Malvern Plates 1971-1979 post. They must have done well because Boehm jumped into the mass marketing pool with both feet after that!
The Hamilton Collection name does not appear on any of the actual plates they marketed for Boehm. That branding was done solely via the mailings, advertisements, and product literature that they produced and disseminated.
Also worth noting is that not all of the Hamilton-marketed plates may have been actually produced at the Malvern studio. To be honest, I’d always thought they were all made there until I began collecting backstamp photos and noticed a slight difference in the wording of some series stamps.
Another important backstamp-semantics thing to be aware of is that “hand crafted” does not mean hand painted. The central and rim designs and backstamps on the 1980s Boehm plates were applied via decals; otherwise the plates would have retailed for much more than they did. Some of the narrow gold rims may have been applied by hand but if so, that was not noted in their backstamp; and if they were, the correct phrase would have been “hand decorated.”
Boehm / Hamilton Collection Plates
A typical design release schedule for the Hamilton plates was two per year; for example, the six-design Butterflies of the World and Flowers of The World series began in 1978 with two designs, continued in 1979 with another two, and finished in 1980 with the fifth and sixth. A retail schedule of Spring/Fall was typical in the industry. The years shown below refer to the one in which the series was initially released by Hamilton. A sample plate design and backstamp is shown for each.
The Edward Marshall Boehm Rose Plate Collection, 1979, an issue of 15,000 per design. Plate diameter is 10.75” (27.3 cm.) Eight designs: White Masterpiece Rose, Tropicana Rose, Peace Rose, Royal Highness Rose, Mister Lincoln Rose, Queen Elizabeth Rose, Angel Face Rose (shown) and Excellence Rose. Retail price ranged from $65 to $80 per plate. These were definitely made at the Malvern studio.
Hummingbird Collection, 1980, an issue of 15,000 per design. Plate diameter is 10.75” (27.3 cm.) Eight designs: Calliope Hummingbird, Broad Tailed Hummingbird, Rufous Flame Bearer Hummingbird (shown), Streamer Tailed Hummingbird, Blue-Throated Hummingbird, Crimson Topaz Hummingbird, Brazilian Ruby Hummingbird, and Broad Billed Hummingbird. These sold for between $65 and $80. These were also made at Malvern.
Owl Plate Collection, 1980, an issue of 15,000 per design. Plate diameter is 10.75” (27.3 cm.) Eight designs: Boreal Owl (shown), Snowy Owl, Barn Owl, Saw-Whet Owl, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Short Eared Owl, and Northern Barred Owl. Plates were priced at about $80.
This stamp is the first indication that perhaps these were made elsewhere. Notice that these say “Designed by the Boehm Studios, Hand-crafted in Fine English Bone China” but does not also add (as do the Rose and Hummingbird plates) “by” or “at” Boehm of Malvern. Hamilton was known for having artists or studios provide the design of an item but then offshoring the production elsewhere. Simply saying that the material used for these plates is “fine English bone china” does not tell us exactly who made them.
Water Bird Collection, 1981, issue of 15,000 per design and eight designs in the series: Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Ross’ Geese, Mallards (shown), Canvasbacks, American Pintails, and Green Winged Teal. This series was a bit different because there were two different plate sizes having different rim treatments. The larger plate, with the ornate rim, is 10.75” (27.3 cm) diameter; the smaller plate, with the plain gold rim, is only 8”. Both of these were sold by Hamilton but I haven’t been able to find a set of original advertising to see how each was marketed. Both are listed as being 1981 introductions and so I don’t really understand the purpose of having one larger and one smaller in the same ‘bird pattern.’ This is another issue that may or may not have been actually made at the Boehm of Malvern studio.
Roses of Excellence was an issue of only four designs, one per year from 1981 to 1984. They were production-year-limited rather than quantity-limited, so there’s no way to know how few or many were made of each rose design: Brandy, White Lightnin’ (shown), Sun Flare, and Love. They are 10.75” (27.3 cm) diameter and sold for $50 each. Another ambiguous where-made stamp.
Life’s Best Wishes was another four-design run that began in 1982. The typical 15,000 per design includes Happiness (shown), Longevity, Fertility, and Prosperity. Some sources cite the diameter as 10.5” while other claim 11”. Yet another made-out-of rather than made-in stamp.
Another production-time-based release was the Award of Excellence Miniature Rose Plate Collection which claimed a limited issue of “only 28 firing days” which is just vague enough to suggest that each design was only produced during a single month. However, somewhere in the very fine print there was probably the disclaimer that “firing days may or may not be consecutive” and so in reality that production run could stretch out to half a year or more. During the 1980s this was probably not disclosed but nowadays you can usually find that nugget of information somewhere in the FAQ section of such companies’ web sites. The eight designs were Toy Clown, Rise and Shine, Beauty Secret, Cuddles, Puppy Love, Pacesetter, Magic Carrousel, and Gloriglo; five of those are shown above. Again the murky where-made stamp.
Bouquets of Blossoms and Berries was the largest design series to date, having 12 designs issued one per month starting in January 1983. They are titled as Mid-Winter Magic Bouquet, Spring Images Bouquet, Warm Days Bouquet, Summer Majesty Bouquet, Mid-Summer Bouquet, Late Summer Bouquet, School Days Bouquet, Indian Summer Bouquet, Autumn Bouquet, Harvest Time Bouquet, Thanksgiving Bouquet, and Winter Holiday Bouquet (shown). These plates are a little smaller (10.5” / 26.7 cm), were produced in quantities of 15,000 per design, and sold for $50.
This stamp is worded differently. It says “Designed and Hand-crafted of Fine English Bone China by the Boehm Studios” which indicates that these were designed and produced there. One has to wonder why the others were not worded the same way – unless perhaps there was a good reason, i.e., that those were not physically made at Boehm.
The two 1982 Giant Panda plates, like the earlier Water Birds, came in two different rim designs. However, these also were two different edition sizes as well! The format of the backstamp suggests that at least one of these issues (perhaps both) were Hamilton items. The design names were the same in both issues.
These are the plates with the “bamboo rim”. The upper design is Harmony and the lower is Peace. They are 10.75” diameter.
The backstamp on the bamboo-rim plates is typical ‘Hamilton’ and shows an edition size of 15,000 per design.
Here is the gold-rim version of each. The plate is the same size; only the decoration of the rim area is different.
But the gold-rim backstamp shows an edition size of only 5000. In all other respects the stamps are the same. Is it possible that Hamilton had the larger-quantity edition produced elsewhere and the Malvern studio made the gold-rim ones? Or were all (or none) of both editions made at Malvern?
Not a plate but a related oddity is this pair of small (3.5″ high) mugs that match the plates shown above. There was no backstamp photo but it’s assumed that whoever made the plates also made these.
A bit of a design departure was the Tribute to the Ballet which appears to have been a six-design series featuring Don Quixote, La Bayader, The Nutcracker, Firebird (shown), Sleeping Beauty, and Coppelia. The backstamp on these shows only that the material is English bone china and does not say “made by.” Notice the tiny ballet figures added to the horse and feather logo for this series. This was the typical Hamilton issue of 15,000 per design in 1982; they are 10.5” (26.7 cm) in diameter.
Another “tribute” series followed in 1983 with Tribute to Award Winning Roses with 15,000 per eight designs. In the top row from left to right: Handel, Mountbatten, Irish Gold, and Peace. Bottom row, left to right: Queen Elizabeth, Silver Jubiilee, Iceberg, and Elizabeth of Glamis. These measure 10.5” (26.7 cm) in diameter and sold for $45 each. (A question: Why do these backstamps not say these are made of “fine English bone china”?)
The title of the 1984 Gamebirds of North America invites confusion with the circa-1970s series although the designs are completely different. This is a full-color set of eight, 10.5” (26.7 cm) in diameter, the usual issue of 15,000 per design and selling for $65 each. Birds depicted are the Ring Necked Pheasant, Bobwhite Quail (shown), Ruffed Grouse, American Woodcock, Willow Partridge, California Quail, and Prairie Grouse.
These are clearly marked as to where they were actually made (the Malvern studio)… a welcome relief from the more ambiguous wording of some of the previous plate series. These say “limited edition” without specifying a number; I have a hunch that this was a one per calendar year format.
Boehm played the “alternate rims” game once again with the Woodland Birds of North America series in 1984 but with a twist. Like the Pandas, the plates are all the same size (10.5”/26.7 cm) but had two different rim options. The eight designs included the Downy Woodpecker, Blue Grosbeak, Carolina Wren, Prothonotary Warbler, Parula Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, and Scarlet Tanager. Shown above is the Blue Grosbeak with the ornate and the plain rims.
The backstamps on the two rim versions are really interesting. This is the stamp on the ornate-rim plates. Although it does not specifically say “made by” Malvern it does say Made in England and the stamp design is very different from any of the Hamilton offerings.
This is the stamp on one of the plain-rim plates (Ross’s Geese) – totally different! It makes me wonder which plates were made where, and if I had to guess I’d plump for these definitely being made at Malvern… but why the minimalist stamp? One source says that the Woodland Birds series was issued one plate per year and sold for $45 but doesn’t correlate that information to a specific rim style. I wish I could see some literature for either or both of these issues to clear things up a bit.
The eight-design Musical Maidens of the Imperial Dynasties was also launched in 1984 in the typical Hamilton-format 15,000 per design. The instruments featured are the Common Flute, Ceremonial Flute, Balloon Guitar, Gong, Reed Organ, Lute, Three String Guitar, and Harp. Some sources cite the plate size as 10” while others claim 11”. They sold for $65 each.
There are a few tiny differences about these stamps. Although they say “made in England” they do not say “fine English bone china” but instead “Art Porcelain Plate.” No doubt that was meant to tie in with the theme of being ‘inspired by …Chinese porcelain’. In the UK, porcelain is usually referred to as “fine bone china” so it’s a matter of geographical semantics.
The three 1984 plate series may have been the final ones by the Boehm/Hamilton joint venture. However, there were a few other post-1980 plate issues as well.
Other 1980s Boehm of Malvern Collector Plates
Museum Collections Inc. was a collectibles marketer/importer similar to the Hamilton and Bradford Collections but on a smaller scale. Their offerings included resin miniature cottages (like Lilliput Lane or David Winter but not as well done), mugs, and collector plates particularly featuring reproductions of Norman Rockwell paintings. In 1979 and 1980 the Malvern studio produced two plates for them that were adapted from (not direct copies of) original paintings.
The plate at left is titled A Christmas Story from 1979. The backstamp says it is “adapted from a painting by Walter Firle”. The original Firle painting, circa 1943, is titled The Fairy Tale. The other plate (1980) is called Adoration and is cited as being “adapted from a painting by Juan Ferrandiz Castells.” Castells produced numerous paintings in this style and subject and was a popular illustrator for Christmas card companies. He lived in Spain and was never – as a few online sellers have claimed – “a Boehm artist.” The design on this plate is a Boehm staff artist’s interpretation of what seems to be an amalgam of several of Castells’ designs. It would be more accurate to describe this plate as “in the style of Juan Castells.” The plates are 11” in diameter, were produced in an issue of 10,000 for each design, and sold for $47.50. These plates are another instance of the backstamp having the Trenton studio (horse/feather) logo while also saying Made in England.
I have only seen this single photo of this plate which may have been done as a commemorative or a special local issue. The design depicts the Malvern Priory Church and is 8.5” (21 cm) in diameter. Unfortunately no photo was provided of the backstamp but the workmanship similarity to the Game Bird Series (although those were larger) suggest a late 1970s or very early 1980s production time. If anyone has information about this plate, I’d love to be able to fill in the blanks! There is a direct contact form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.
We can date this Ronald Reagan Inaugural Commemorative Plate with certainty to 1981. Again we have dueling production-site stamps of the Trenton logo + Made in England. These are 10.75” (27.3 cm) and the edition size is unknown. They may have been marketed by Hamilton but I haven’t found any for sale with their original literature and so that remains a “maybe.” The plate was one of two items that Boehm introduced in 1981 as a tie-in with the Reagan inaugural; the other was a porcelain eagle that was made in Trenton.
Another ‘mystery series’ is suggested by this single plate dated 1988 and titled Evening Primrose. The edition size of 500 is unusually small (considering the high volumes that had been cranked out earlier in the decade for Hamilton) and hints at the possibility that the Malvern studio’s production was notably declining and/or that the connection with Hamilton had been terminated. If not for the “limited issue” stamp I’d think – based on the plate shape and lack of Boehm signature on the front – that this was part of a place setting (dinnerware pattern), especially since this logo is the same one they used on their Chickadees and Holly line. But with no other or similar plates like this one, it’s hard to be sure what this plate represents.
A quick note regarding the 1992 Christopher Columbus plate: Although they all came in boxes with the lid gold-stamped “Boehm Commemorative English Bone China Plate”, the backstamps show that they were made in the U.S.A. It may have been the original plan to have these made in England but after the decision was made to close the Malvern studio in 1992 the boxes were sent to Trenton for them to use instead.