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Clarice Cliff: The Bizarre British Art Deco Designer

Updated on June 10, 2015
Clarice Cliff
Clarice Cliff | Source

Clarice Cliff - the designer of the Bizarre Collection

I am old enough to remember that long ago there was a time when - if you were very lucky - you could pick up genuine Clarice Cliff ceramic items for just a few shillings or pence.

British Art Deco

By that time, her work was appreciated by collectors and connoisseurs but just occasionally, there would be a jumble sale organizer who would just dismiss a Cliff piece as being 'old-fashioned' and let it slip away for a fraction of its true worth.

Art Deco design just wasn't appreciated by everyone in the 1960s and 70s. How things have changed.

A Bizarre Affair

Probably her most famous range was called Bizarre but I discovered that her own story could be called bizarre too. Clarice was from a working-class background but yet her designs were incredibly popular during her heyday - the 1920s and 1930s. But her personal life is also intriguing.

Colley Shorter

Her employer was seventeen years her senior but took an interest in Clarice, sending her to the Royal College of Art in London. But their relationship was more that. Shorter was a married man but when his wife died Clarice married him - she was forty one and he was in his late fifties.

I love her work

There is no way that I could afford to own genuine Cliff piece these days, although I was the fortunate recipient of the jumble sale ladies' oversights many years ago. (And I wish I still had them - they would be worth so much money).

But I still find pleasure in looking at her work in books.

This one is an excellent example and, if you are lucky enough to own a piece of her work, you'll note that it also shows the prices at which her work has been sold at auction.

Do you own any Clarice Cliff ceramics?

See the video below for example of this stunning work that typifies the British Art Deco movement. I love her work.

Kovels' Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide 2014: America's Bestselling Antiques Annual
Kovels' Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide 2014: America's Bestselling Antiques Annual

Can you still get bargains? Well, people are more educated these days when it comes to appreciating the value of items made in times gone by.

But there are still bargains to be had and it's a very exciting - and rewarding - pastime especially if you are armed with information like this.

Red Autumn. A typical Clarice Cliff design from 1930
Red Autumn. A typical Clarice Cliff design from 1930 | Source

Combining a love of design and antiques

It must have been in the nineteen sixties that I first discovered the fabulous design work created by Clarice Cliff.

In those days, many people - especially older ones - we still using them in their homes. Because her work was largely created prior to the Second World War,people of the older generation, who had loved her designs in their youth, now saw them as terribly old fashioned.

I dread to think how many of her ceramic items might have been simply thrown away in those days. I also remember seeing an old, cracked and discarded bowl - from the Bizarre period - being used as a plant pot in someone's garden. It was beyond restoration.

But there were still bargains and this was a wonderful way to combine my design career with my enjoyment of antiques. I developed a small collection and, as her work increased in price, bought items specifically to sell.

This led to a career of several years as an antique dealer. In those days, the antique business was highly regulated in the UK and it makes me chuckle to realise now that I couldn't sell Clarice Cliff work at the antique fairs I used to attend because they weren't one hundred years old.

To be classified as an antique, the hundred years old limit applied.

But Clarice Cliff's popularity sawa reemergence in the late 1970s and since that time, has been highly valued and in demand from collectors.

I wonder if those jumble sale ladies ever realised?

© 2014 Jackie Jackson


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