Why fashion editors like me are buying old Wedgwood instead of new handbags in lockdown

Now-vintage British pottery is back in fashion - if you don't want to keep it, now's the time to sell

Caroline Leaper at home with vintage items by Royal Doulton, Poole and Wedgwood 
Caroline Leaper at home with vintage items by Royal Doulton, Poole and Wedgwood 

If you’re not entertained by celebrities “masked” as critters doing karaoke on the telly, it can feel like there is little to do on a lockdown Saturday night. My new obsession? Trawling the internet and buying old British pottery pieces.

I’m a 30-year-old fashion editor and, in lieu of the opportunity to get dressed and go out, I’ve found myself in fierce eBay bidding wars, upping the stakes on, say, a gold lustre Royal Worcester milk jug. My most satisfying win to date is a pair of blue and white Wedgwood Jasperware trinket pots, for £14 – just like the ones my grandmother has kept on her dressing table since the 1950s.

Vintage pottery is having a huge resurgence in stylish modern homes. Spode’s landscape plates, Bristol’s mantle vases, Hornsea’s coffee pots and Staffordshire tea cups are all wanted by the fashion crowd, who have turned to decorating their homes with beautiful, quality second-hand finds that are the opposite of identikit high street buys. The “made in Britain” stamps are essential, as markers of quality scarcely found in the modern homewares market. Age only makes the items seem more exclusive – there is appeal in knowing not everyone else has it.

Caroline Leaper at home with willow pattern plates by Meakin and an assortment of pots by Artone and Wedgwood.

If you can’t bear to do the sifting on eBay, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and the like, there are tastemakers out there who have already done the research. Several fashion ­editors and influencers have set up vintage homeware e-shops, including the Telegraph’s style director Sophie Warburton, founder of Host Home.

Cotswolds-based Sasha Wilkins, who also runs the style blog Liberty London Girl, launched her new shop LLG Found on Jan 10, after hoarding stock collected at markets for five years. She has already sold out of the lustreware several times over.

“My record is 27 seconds to purchase,” says Wilkins of her hot pots, which are snapped up when she uploads new merchandise to her Instagram shop at 7pm each Wednesday and Sunday. In a matter of weeks she has sold more than 100 vintage items by Grindley, Johnson Brothers, Wedgwood and Royal Cauldon, as well as ­Victorian and Edwardian English antiques. With an average sale price of around £35, affordability is essential to her I-must-buy-this-now success – from there, it’s then a case of game on; first come, first served.

“I thought I was going to be selling four or five things a week,” she laughs. “There is a captive audience at home. I think a lot of my customers are women like me, perhaps running a business or homeschooling and they don’t usually have a lot of time to search for these things, but they will scroll through Instagram. I’ve sold to MPs and celebrities, fashion designers and collectors – but I also like the idea that maybe I’m introducing people to something they haven’t thought about buying before.”

Styled in social-media-friendly settings, it becomes easy to picture how a heritage piece might look among your own modern belongings. With trends such as tablescaping and shelf curation taking off globally in lockdown, creating lovely corners in the home has turned into an art form. Now though, people want homewares that a future guest might compliment, and that allow for a more impressive and meaningful retort than “thanks, it’s Ikea”.

“It’s always about the story,” says Wilkins. “It’s the idea that you can be having dinner on a plate from 1861, which you bought for £22. You’re delighted by this lovely thing that was also a bit of a steal. I sell a lot of harlequin sets – I sold three little white plates from 1910 to someone the other day, an odd number but that’s what I had. I messaged the customer to say, you realise that they’re not all the same shade of blue. She said ‘No, that’s why I want them, I love that they were done by hand and not mass produced’.”

Wedgwood Jasperware trinket dish £20, hosthome.co.uk

Different sellers specialise in different aesthetics. While Wilkins’ eye is drawn to all things blue and white, for Tom Hinz and Rachel McKenna, of Zebra Homeware in Buckhurst Hill, it’s all about graphic tableware pieces from the 1970s that will look good with midcentury modern furniture.

Hornsea Pottery, founded in 1949 and folded in 2000, is a strong seller for Zebra Homeware – buyers want the lidded canisters and caddies in timeless graphic stripes, saturated colours and linear florals. The fact that the brand has long since ceased trading makes the “rare” pieces even more desirable.

“Over the past year, visits to our online store have increased by 445 per cent and our sales have increased by 200 per cent,” says McKenna of the renewed interest in buying second-hand. “Our most cherished brands are Hornsea, Denby and Tams, but we also enjoy sourcing pieces by J&G Meakin, Biltons, Midwinter and Sadler. We naturally steer towards bold, colourful pieces with a retro feel, rather than fine or delicate prints. We’ve seen a high demand for Hornsea pieces in particular, with people asking us to source certain designs and colourways. As time goes on these pieces become even more limited, adding to that demand. There is also a certain element of consumers making a ­conscious effort to be kinder to the environment, and buying vintage satisfies this desire.”

Perhaps by this point in reading, you’re sitting at home thinking; I’ve got tons of this stuff in my cupboards. If so, now is the time to sell up and cash in, or to fall back in love with what you already own.

I’ve stolen several of the pieces photographed here from my amused mother’s Royal Doulton dinner service. My mother-in-law, too, could run a Wedgwood and Carlton lending library from her attic – she has inherited so many pieces from her mother before her. My point is that it’s good to shuffle around what’s on your shelves from time to time so that, when the guests are finally allowed to come around again, you can surprise and delight them with a change of scenery that shows off your vintage treasures.

Wilkins warns, though, that the art is in the styling. Old just looks old, when it’s paired with more old, and this is all about the mix – in my case the willow plates sit next to an Anissa Kermiche vase, and my fashion reference books. “Maybe it’s a Georgian console, 1950s flower paintings, blue and white antique china, along with an Ikea bookshelf and a marble Habitat table,” muses Wilkins.

“I don’t think it should be vintage and antique to the exclusion of anything modern. The key is in having the eye that can mix everything together to create a harmonious and, above all, very personal home.”