Identifying Original-Studio Connoisseur of Malvern Porcelain

The original Connoisseur of Malvern studio existed for 15 years, starting in 1979 and operating under the ownership and direction of Diane Lewis and her husband Terry. Because the studio changed ownership and staff after it was sold, collectors of Connoisseur of Malvern may (and should) want to differentiate between the original-studio and post-studio-sale products.

This is not always easy, because the sale of the company included not only the brand name ‘Connoisseur’ and butterfly logo but also its copyrighted designs from past decades. Unfortunately, one of the subsequent owners of the studio took a number of the 1980s design molds and made “new” limited editions that were painted in a different colorway and/or given a different name. Several of the closed limited-edition molds were even used for the manufacture of mass-market resin figurines by offshore manufacturers.

Collectors of art porcelain are always aware that studios sometimes produce alternate colorways of a sculpture now and then, and Connoisseur of Malvern did indeed do that occasionally. For example, the Azalea Blossom was available in three colorways (red, yellow or white); the limited and open edition Poinsettia studies could be had in either red, pink or white; and there was a pink colorway version of Hydrangea ‘Blue Wave.’
There was also a gender-alternate version of the American Robin with Oak, with the male and female . However, the Connoisseur alternate colorways were always offered concurrently (at the same time.)

The problem for today’s buyer is that the various new-ownership ‘re-issues’ appeared decades after the completion of the original edition…. but these replicas were never dated on the sculpture itself. There is nothing on them to indicate that they are actually copies of previously-completed limited editions. The potential confusion is compounded by the fact that these non-original-studio pieces do bear a version of the familiar Connoisseur butterfly-logo backstamp.

For example, this is the original Connoisseur of Malvern 1985 study Windborn of an Arab mare and foal. It was an edition of 100 which was completed before 1990.

This is a 1990s/2000s reproduction/re-issue, and how it is marked. The colors are the same as Windborn but what tells us that it is NOT part of the original 1980s edition of 100 is how it is marked. Not just what is there (a different sculpture name) but also what is not there (any artist icons).
This is the same reproduction yet again and in a different colorway, sold in June 2007 at auction. No photograph of the backstamp was provided by the auctioneer but it was described as being a “Connoisseur Bisque Figure Flight and Fancy” and “#2 of 50 limited edition”. This description alone shows that this is another later replica/re-issue/re-working of the completed Windborn.

A similar situation exists with the Arab foal Freedom which was issued by the original studio at the same time as Windborn which it was originally taken from. This (shown above) was an edition of 100 on a cherry base as shown.

Unfortunately, the post-sale studio created at least three different colorways of this piece during the 1990s (shown above), gave it the same name (“Freedom”) and sold it in an edition of 250 each during the late 1990s or early 2000s. None of the re-issue pieces came with a base (as far as I know) but that alone is not indicative because I’ve seen a few 1980s Freedom for sale with the base missing.  The re-use of the original sculpture’s name makes things even murkier. Obviously there needs to be a way to distinguish original-studio Connoisseur of Malvern studies from 1995-2006 pieces …. for chronology alone, if nothing else. My posts on this site describe and show original-studio pieces only, other than the pieces shown in this post for comparison purposes.

Original-Studio Markings

The only foolproof way to identify an original-studio piece is to see whether the backstamp contains certain specific items; one cannot rely on the Connoisseur name/logo alone. Obviously if the backstamp says “Connoisseur of Malvern” it was definitely made by the original studio but what if it is the shortened version of the name: just ‘Connoisseur’?

The studio was incorporated on January 11, 1979 as Connoisseur of Malvern, Ltd., and assigned UK company code #01458486. It was located on Grundy’s Lane in Malvern; Diane M. Lewis and her husband Terry King Lewis were listed as two of the principals.  In 1986 the studio relocated to nearby Ledbury, on Lower Road. The final retail production (trading) year of the original studio was 1994. Let’s begin with the earliest version of the original Connoisseur backstamp logo.

The first Connoisseur of Malvern backstamp incorporates their proprietary ‘As seen through the eyes of a butterfly’ trademarked phrase, arching over a butterfly logo centered over the full name (not including the Ltd.). This logo appeared on pieces introduced in the very early 1980s. A couple of years later, the “as seen through…” was eliminated in the interest of saving space.

The difference in this backstamp is that the “of Malvern” has now been dropped, and so we now have just the butterfly centered over Connoisseur. This “Ledbury stamp” is the logo that appears on pieces produced from 1986 onward.  However, this stamp alone does not indicate that the piece was made by the Diane Lewis-owned studio; other elements are required for a true original-studio backstamp.

This is an example of a limited-edition original-studio backstamp. It contains the sculpture name, the butterfly logo, the sculpture number, the designer’s name, and the icons of the artists who actually created that individual piece. It also shows the year of issue. This stamp also contains a circled letter which indicates the year in which that particular piece was physically made; this production-year letter-code does not appear on all pieces and is subject to the available space on the sculpture’s underside. (The letter-code H indicates that it was made in 1987.)
Here’s an open (non-limited) edition backstamp. Sometimes the sculpture name was stamped and sometimes it was handwritten, as this one was. The stamp still has the issue year and the artist icons, as well as a production year code (a lower-case i, indicating 1988; all of the other letter-codes are upper-case.)
Here’s an open-edition backstamp that doesn’t include the issue year or any artist icons but in this case that’s fine because it has a production year code (J = 1989), which none of the non-Lewis-studio pieces do. This piece has a very small footprint with an extremely limited backstamp-decal area.

This variation of the logo, with the butterfly in the upper left corner rather than centered, was only used by the original studio for printed items: advertising and Certificates of Authenticity. When this corner-butterfly logo is seen on an actual porcelain sculpture it is a sure indicator of an item that was NOT produced by the original Lewis-owned studio, as is discussed below.

Connoisseur produced a number of special collections, not only on behalf of charitable organizations but also for two of their major USA retailers.
The Fledglings of North America series was created exclusively for sale at Neiman-Marcus and this is clearly indicated on the backstamp shown above.

The Rainforest Foundation series in 1990 was a combination of open editions (such as the Poison Dart Frog) and limited editions such as the floral study Forest Chorus.

The name of a sculpture might be either stamped or handwritten. However, sometimes the name is (probably accidentally) omitted entirely, as can be seen on this example of the poison dart frog sculpture!

This stamp is on a ‘Thisledown Collection’ whimsical mice piece. This series was exclusive to Brielle Galleries in the USA but there was also a 1990 series in the UK that was for general sale and not dubbed Thisledown (the reason for the spelling is explained here.)

Some sellers today mistakenly say that a piece is “signed by the artist” when they are referring to the script artist-name decal that is part of some backstamps. However, this piece was indeed actually signed (autographed) by Diane Lewis, below the backstamp which includes her name/signature decal in the center.

Non-Original-Studio Markings

None of the post-1994 backstamps will ever have artist icons or a circled production-year letter-code. That is one reason why seeing the backstamp is important when considering a piece being offered for sale online. One cannot rely on only a written description, because the seller may be assuming that “Connoisseur” on the backstamp means that it was made in the same place and by the same people as the original and highly regarded “Connoisseur of Malvern.”

The Connoisseur name and assets were sold twice. The first sale took place in 1995, which means that the final production/sales year for original Connoisseur of Malvern retail pieces was 1994. The 1995 purchaser, whose name was Parker, moved the kilns and literally tons of molds from Ledbury to a business park location in Staunton. A few of the original studio’s artists, including Wendy Green and Tracy Arrowsmith, stayed on at the new location for a while. They operated a studio there until sometime in the first half of 1997 but were gone by August. The other veteran Connoisseur artists went their separate ways.

The Parker studio did produce some original designs (such as Staunton Church Rose and Green Cathedral) but it is not known whether the Reasoner operation did likewise. My gut feeling is probably not, and they instead used whatever molds already existed. The problem is that some of them were used to produce copies of limited editions that had previously been issued and completed by the Lewis studio. It is these that are problematic, not only from an artistic integrity standpoint but because the marks can so easily mislead the unwary.

After the Staunton location closed, the timeline gets temporarily murky. Parker sold the business to an American named Kenneth Reasoner, sometime between late 1996 and 1998.

The post-1994 backstamps are not consistent from one example to the next. The uppermost example merely shows the sculpture name and a number, with no indication of an edition size or of an issue year. The middle example at least indicates the size of the edition, although nothing else (it does not even say Made in England!) The third does have a ‘normal’ edition size/sculpture number stamp and also had an accompanying certificate of authenticity stating the same thing, but it has no artist icons, issue year or production year code. In the three above backstamp examples, both “Roy Rogers” and “Black Magic” were pieces that (to my knowledge at the moment) were not produced for retail by the original Lewis studio. However, “White Lion” is merely a white-colorway replica of the original 1980s completed limited-edition Simba. And, speaking of Simba…..

The backstamp on the left is from an original Connoisseur Simba and includes all of the original studio’s marks: the edition size and sculpture number, the designer’s name, the introduction year of 1986, a production-year letter code, and the icons of all the artists who worked on that piece. The 1990s-2000s replica’s marking is on the right; they were still using some of the original stock of decals, which is why the details (or absence thereof) are important to notice. The reproductions never have a year on them; I hope the purchaser of that item didn’t think that the piece was actually an original 1980s Connoisseur Simba!

This is the backstamp on an original-studio Gyrfalcon designed by Chris Ashenden. The hawk’s hood was handmade leather, an example of the amazing attention to detail from the original studio.

Here is how one of the post-1995 reproduction pieces is marked. Clearly this is NOT the #1 piece from the original 1987 edition, but how in the world would someone purchasing that piece nowadays know that?? There is certainly an original-studio 1987 Connoisseur Gyrfalcon #1 out there somewhere. I do feel sorry for the person who bought the piece at an auction in 2013, no doubt under the impression that what they were getting was real thing rather than what it is, which is a 1990s or early 2000s replica of the original, and of course it did not include a leather hood.

I do not know whether both the Parker and Reasoner operations engaged in this deplorable practice of re-issuing previously closed limited editions, or only the Reasoner operation did, because I have never seen an “issue year” as part of any post-1994 Connoisseur retail markings.

In 2007 a large auction house in Michigan held several weekend sales that included a number of mixed original-studio and post-1994 studio pieces, all listed as being “Connoisseur”. These lots were part of the disposition of Kenneth Reasoner’s estate assets. Unfortunately, they did not provide a backstamp photo for any of them. Included were almost two dozen pieces listed as being “artist proof” or “one of a kind”; several showed up later for sale online with photos, having no backstamps but only hand marked like these. Some were the same colorway as the authentic Connoisseur originals but most were different. Not all had year notations but the ones that did, were usually marked 1996. These throw a monkey wrench into the timeline because although that year falls within the Parker ownership, the initials KR are those of Reasoner. Both of the two original studies shown above had been created and sold by the Lewis studio during the 1980s.

 

Here’s another example. This is the original Rose of York Bud by Connoisseur of Malvern, and its backstamp which includes two artist icons.

Here’s the same piece, painted in white instead of pink. However, the corner-butterfly logo immediately shows that this was not made by the Lewis studio. It was probably acquired as greenware stock, painted (not as well as the original), and has a new name (“Bridal Rose”) added by hand.

Here we see the corner-butterfly logo which was originally used by the Lewis studio ONLY for print advertising. On an actual sculpture this indicates a non-original-studio piece. The original studio also never used script decal fonts other than for the two artist-signature decals (Diane Lewis and Chris Ashenden.)

Any items marked “Bronte for Connoisseur” were made by Bronte Porcelain according to a design supplied by the Reasoner ownership of the Connoisseur name. Notice the difference in the Connoisseur logo as well: It has a convex bottom, and has both Inc. and USA added. This is because Ken Reasoner set up a new additional company, Connoisseur Inc., in Florida and this is the logo connected with that company.

A variation of the Florida-Connoisseur logo (with a mirror image underneath) was used for the licensed products that Ken Reasoner had produced offshore, either in China or at an unknown ceramics studio in England. Subjects included Betty Boop, Popeye, and other cartoon characters. The less said about these, the better!

Cheat-Sheet for Proper Identification

The presence of any of these backstamp elements indicates that the sculpture was made by the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio:

  • Any artist icon(s) in the backstamp.
  • An issue year before 1995, and/or with a circled creation-year letter-code. (Some pieces may have one or the other; some may have the year and the code.)
  • Any piece marked Connoisseur of Malvern rather than simply ‘Connoisseur.’

However, the presence of any of these four backstamp elements is a dead giveaway that the item was not made by or at the original Connoisseur studio:

  • The butterfly in the upper left corner of the C of Connoisseur rather than being centered.
  • The butterfly centered over the name Connoisseur, but with NO artist icons at all in the backstamp and NO circled letter-code either.
  • A piece that has Made in England in script rather than in block font.
  • A piece bearing a designer’s name decal, but NO artist icons, NO circled letter-code, and NO issue year. Such pieces are probably from the Parker era (1995-1998.) This is because a few original artists, including Wendy Green, stayed on at the Parker operation for a short time.

If you are a collector who wishes to focus only on the studies produced by the original Lewis studio in Malvern and in Ledbury, the best method of distinguishing original-studio Connoisseur pieces from the ones produced in the post-Diane Lewis era is a familiarity with the backstamp formats outlined above.

Mass-Market Replicas of Original-Studio Pieces

If the replication in porcelain of previously-closed limited editions was not enough of an insult to collectors of original Connoisseur of Malvern sculptures, mass-market resin reproductions cast from some original Connoisseur of Malvern molds were also produced. Thankfully, none of those have the Connoisseur name on them! Two companies were responsible for this.

Kenneth Reasoner also used several of the original Connoisseur of Malvern molds to produce made-in-China resin copies. These items were sold under the name of RNR Gifts. The company was registered in Florida and existed as a corporation from mid-2005 to late 2008 in that state, although it also later operated in the same neighboring state as Mr. Reasoner’s residence. RNR offered several themed collections such as birds, historical characters, fairies and so on; for example, there was a series depicting the wives of Henry VIII. Most of the items were made of resin and all of them are marked Made in China.
Here are examples of the company logo. When reproducing the Connoisseur of Malvern pieces, RNR stayed close to the original sculpture’s name the same or very nearly so. For example, their copy of Connoisseur’s Fledgling Wrens with Bramble is titled Fledgling Wrens. Below are two RNR resin copy examples.

When such pieces show up on eBay or other venues they are sometimes described as being “cold cast porcelain” but that phrase is nothing more than a marketing euphemism for resin figurines.

The other mass-market copies of limited-edition Connoisseur pieces were produced offshore by Boehm at Home. Despite the well-known Boehm name, these pieces were not products of the famous Trenton studio. To condense a very long tale into a much shorter snippet: In 2003, Helen Boehm sold the faltering porcelain studio to Home Interiors & Gifts, a Texas-based manufacturer/seller of mass market decorative items. A subsidiary was formed and named “EM Boehm, Inc”; that company then launched a line of offshore-manufactured items under the subsidiary brand name of Boehm at Home. (In 2023, I will begin a series outlining the history of the Boehm studio.)

Kenneth Reasoner sold at least four of the original Connoisseur of Malvern molds to Helen Boehm, either before or shortly after the 2003 Boehm sale. It seems as though the Cardinals were produced by both his RNR branding and also by Boehm at Home – or, perhaps, the same factory made both and it was simply a case of re-branding the goods. Three of those designs are shown above; the Home Interiors company also copied the original sculpture’s name. The full story of the fourth reproduction, a cowboy on a bucking bronco, is told in its own post.

The stamp is legally correct in stating that these pieces were “made exclusively for” Home Interiors, the word “made” clearly intended to mean “manufactured” rather than “designed!” Other Boehm at Home designs were also made in Malaysia as this one was.

The other Boehm at Home bird and/or flower pieces from the same era do not seem to have been from Connoisseur of Malvern molds, at least not when compared to all the sculptures that I know of. The other similar Boehm at Home pieces were a nightingale, a purple finch, a hummingbird (but not a match for either of the Connoisseur hummer studies), a magnolia, an eagle and a stag. I would not be surprised if some or all of those pieces also turn out to be reproductions of designs that were created by former porcelain studios decades earlier.

This post concludes my series about Connoisseur of Malvern porcelain sculptures. Photos of any newly discovered (by me) original-studio pieces will be added to the existing relevant post(s). I hope you have enjoyed the series or found it useful; if you know of any pieces that aren’t shown in my posts, I’d love to see some photos and add them as well. As far as I know, this is the only website that chronicles Connoisseur of Malvern porcelains.

Name index of Connoisseur of Malvern sculptures

Browse all Connoisseur of Malvern posts

 Browse the entire Lost Porcelain Studios series

 

  2 comments for “Identifying Original-Studio Connoisseur of Malvern Porcelain

  1. greg madl
    December 19, 2022 at 12:55 pm

    Hello I visited the Bronte Studio ,I always thought it was the original Connoisseur studio?

    • December 19, 2022 at 4:20 pm

      No, Bronte didn’t exist until 1996, although the corporate name (Bronte Porcelain, Ltd.) wasn’t registered until 2013. Terry Lewis got together with several other people after he sold the Connoisseur studio, and that small group launched Bronte at that point. I will be looking at Bronte in more detail in a later instalment of my Lost Porcelain Studios series.

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