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CONFESSIONS OF A SYLVAC-AHOLIC

COLOURFUL, TACTILE AND IMAGINATIVELY DESIGNED - BRITISH SYLVAC POTTERY IS MAKING A COMEBACK AND SOME OF US ARE DEVELOPING AN ADDICTION!

Green and yellow ceramic plant pots and green ceramic crane or stork jug

Hi, my name is Lucie and I’m a Sylvacaholic. When we started 'Queens of Green Design' I really only had a very vague idea of what SylvaC pottery was… and now, now I have a problem. The kind of problem involving a secret personal plant pot collection and membership of several SylvaC collectors and enthusiasts groups on Facebook. 

Now, the good thing about having a problem with SylvaC is that it’s still relatively affordable (I mean if you’re going to get addicted to vintage ceramics I could have done a lot worse) however although it is affordable it’s also quite prevalent …. And there are SylvaC pushers at every car boot, auction and vintage fair we go to… I can’t quite admit how much SylvaC I may now (or may not) own.

WHERE IT ALL STARTED - A BRIEF HISTORY OF SYLVAC POTTERY

I'll try not to bore you… but being the SylvaC geek that I now am, I can tell you that SylvaC (yes with a deliberate capital 'C' at the end) began in 1894 when William Shaw and his uncle William Copestake founded the 'Sylvan Works' Pottery in Stoke on Trent. Copestake left in 1895 and Shaw joined with Richard Hull and took over Falcon Potteries. ‘Falconware’ was often used to describe pieces produced at both the Sylvan and Falcon works. The trade name 'SylvaC' (combining the word 'Sylvan' with the 'C' from Copestake) was only registered in 1937 and was used until the company went into liquidation in 1982.

ICONIC SYLVAC CERAMICS

Green ceramic figurines of a rabbit and a squirrel

SylvaC Squirrel and Rabbit in traditional light green glaze. Smcairnx, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>,  via Wikimedia Commons

SylvaC took pottery beyond creating products for utilitarian use - making a deliberate effort to create ornamental items to decorate ordinary homes.

 

Most notably, SylvaC is renowned for its 'earthernware fancies' - ornate moulded clay items such as the cartoonish SylvaC bunnies, squirrels and dogs. It also did a popular line of pots in the shape of vegetables with faces on them - which filled seventies kitchens everywhere. These items were produced in a range of distinctive glazes, the most well known being the fawn and green colours.

 

Kitsch and cute - these animals are increasingly popular amongst collectors and some of the rare coloured glazes fetch high prices.

Another iconic SylvaC piece are the Stork Jugs – these come in a range of colours including green and fawn and look fabulous filled with fresh flowers or with a trailing plant such as a string of hearts.

CANDLE HOLDERS, COFFEE SETS, ASHTRAYS & HAIRBALLERS (!)

One of the reasons I love SylvaC is the sheer range of items and designs – vases, pots, lamps, ornaments, candle holders, posy rings, wall pockets, jugs, tea sets, coffee sets, hat pin holders, bookends, ashtrays, trinket boxes, soap dishes… and my personal favourite – hair ballers (!)

 

In the early 1900s women tended to have long hair but washing and drying long hair wasn’t done often so instead women compensated by brushing their hair often with 100 strokes, during this process hair would tend to fall out which was removed regularly and rolled into a ball and placed into a container called a hair baller.

 

This would continue until the container was full and then the contents used to stuff small pillows and pin cushions. It's a shame this tradition has died out as I reckon that I could make several delightful Christmas presents out of the annual contents of my hairbrush.

PLANT POTS, WALL POCKETS, POSY VASES & JARDINIERES

My particular passion (which will come as no surprise) is the range of plant pots, vases jugs, wall pockets and jardinieres. Here are a few of my favourites...

The ‘Hyacinth’ range is probably my favourite for planters – the design is simple and sculptural. It’s a great example of what is so good about SylvaC – the simplicity means that it looks as great now as it did when it was first made. 

The range can be found in a number of colours such as matt green, fawn, yellow, cream and gloss green. My personal pick would be the yellow – the green of a plant really sets the buttercup yellow colour off. 

Yellow Ceramic Indoor Plant Pot on red shelf against red and pink wall mural with green house plant

SylvaC Yellow Hyacinth Planter

White Ceramic Vase or Plant Pot with small colourful plants against a black background

SylvaC White Hyacinth Mantle Vase - Hyacinth mantle vases not only look great but are incredibly practical – the undulating rim holds the flowers where you want them and they are growing in popularity, as brides who want a vintage touch to their wedding are starting to use them as table centrepieces. 

The natural world of plants and flowers inspired many of the great SylvaC ceramic ranges.  Organic leaf and plant shapes - from cacti, to palm fronds, to privet leaves feature heavily in many of the most popular designs. 

Another favourite of mine is the 'Nuleef' range - with its veined overlapping leaves - which again although produced in the 1950s, has a modern quality that is appreciated by vintage collectors today. This design comes in some fantastic colourways, the turquoise is particularly striking and adds a fabulous a pop of colour to a space.  

Blue turquoise leaf style Indoor plant pot with house plant against a pink background

SylvaC Blue Nuleef Planter

Tan palm leaf style indoor plant pot with Boston Fern Plant against blue wallpaper

SylvaC Tan Palm Leaf Planter

The Nuleef design in a vivid turquoise blue shows how colourful SylvaC can be. Both Nuleef and the Palm Leaf designs use simple moulding to convey the effect of the veins and patterns on leaf shapes.

Many of the SylvaC designs are not only colourful but sculptural - with textured surfaces that not only add to the realistic quality but make you want to reach out and touch them.

This is undoubtedly part of their appeal. Once perhaps considered a bit kitsch or over dramatic, they now fit right into our increasingly maximalist decors. They make perfect planters - the natural shapes and patterns echoing the plants and flowers they contain.

Tan ceramic vintage vase with geometric floral decoration with pink flowers

SylvaC Tan Fleur Planter

Dark green leafy style planter with red poinsettia against a black background

SylvaC Green Privet Planter

The textural quality of SylvaC can be seen in the ‘Privet’ and ‘Fleur’ ranges – both of which have a quality that makes me want to touch them. The 'Fleur' range features graphic seventies style floral motifs and the ‘Privet’ range is designed to look like hundreds of small overlapping privet leaves. 

In striking contrast to the organic natural ranges, SylvaC also produced clean-lined graphic style pieces to suit more minimalist interiors. Although a different style, these pieces are just as timeless and still have a textural feel and sense of fun.  

 

Most notable is the ‘Raphique’ design which dates from the 1950s. The Raphique range features primary coloured striped pieces – ribbed walls, white stripes and scalloped rims which some people have likened to a popcorn bucket. The range includes vases, bowls, wall pockets, cruet, jugs and a lamp. 

 

Clean lines and graphic style can also be found in the 'Manhattan' collection. Some collectors may find it surprising that I am going to feature the ‘Manhattan’ range, an often overlooked design - but it is innately stylish and surprisingly modern and can be found in green, blue and burnt orange matt glazes.

Green and white striped wall pocket vase with dried flowers against a pink background

SylvaC Green Raphique Wall Pocket

Dark green rectangular ceramic plant pot or vase with three cacti against black and white wallpaper

SylvaC Green Manhattan Planter

PLANT POTS AND VASES WITH COLOURFUL GLAZES

Although many of the SylvaC designs came in matt or gloss single colour glazes - most commonly tan or green - they did push the boat out on occasion and use drip glazes and mixed colours for dramatic effect. Most notably the 'Aurora' design, produced in 1968, which has a fabulous retro look - covered in a psychedelic crackle glaze in blue/red and orange/green combinations. 

Orange and green seventies style ceramic plant pot with two small aloe succulent plants against yellow geometric wallpaper

SylvaC Aurora Posy Vase

Hand holding a green and pink vintage posy vase with pink cherry blossom flowers against a pink background

SylvaC Pink & Green Glazed Art Deco Posy Vase

SYLVAC VINTAGE POTTERY MARKINGS

Bottom of a ceramic plant pot with close up of silver and blue SylvaC pottery label

The trademark SylvaC wasn’t registered 1937 and pieces prior to this were unmarked or some were marked ‘Silvo’.  During the 1920s and 30s SylvaC used a daisy wheel logo but after 1937 SylvaC used a more distinctive mark that included the model number for each design. SylvaC also used foil and paper stickers but on most pieces these have since fallen off. 

THE JOY OF SYLVAC CERAMICS

The joy of SylvaC for me is the incredible breadth of designs and ranges – the colours range from bright to muted and the designs range from simple and stylish to absolutely bonkers. The sculptural and tactile nature of the pieces mean they’re really distinctive and unmistakably SylvaC. 

Tan swirly ceramic plant pot with pink and green striped plant against black background

SylvaC 'Cinnamon Roll' bowl

Cream, orange and black pebble plant pot with green stripy leaf house plant against green background

SylvaC Pebble Pot

White ceramic swan planter with green plant against black background

SylvaC Swan Planter

And although growing in popularity, SylvaC is still unusual enough to be a talking point and affordable enough to be easy to collect. When SylvaC ceased trading in the eighties, all records relating to the different dates and models and productions were destroyed. Avid collectors have pieced together most of the ranges but there are still undiscovered designs and colourways that make collecting SylvaC exciting. 

Pink floral Magnolia ceramic planter with purple oxalis houseplant

SylvaC Magnolia Planter

Vintage White Ceramic Planter

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VINTAGE POTS TO MATCH YOUR DECOR

Find out how to choose the best pots for your decor - whether it's maximalist or minimalist, cottage core or dark and dramatic.

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