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- The Souvenir Age
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- Ireland's Waterford Crystal
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There is a lovely little coastal town in Wales, called Portmeirion. Clough Williams-Ellis built Portmeirion from 1925 to 1975 on his own private peninsula on the coast of Snowdonia in Wales because he wanted to show that "the development of a naturally beautiful site need not lead to its defilement". Portmeirion is owned by a Registered Charity called The Second Portmeirion Foundation. All the cottages in the village are rented out as part of the Portmeirion Hotel. The village also has several shops and restaurants and is surrounded by the Gwyllt sub-tropical gardens and woodlands and miles of sandy beaches. Portmeirion is open all year round for both staying guests and day visitors alike. It is more famous today, however, for being the location where the television program "The Prisoner" was filmed, starring Patrick McGoohan. One can visit all the cottages and sites which figure prominently in the program.
Of course, you may be more familiar with Portmeirion china, with its stunning botanical themes; it is among the world's most popular china patterns available today. While by no means an old company (founded in 1960), the Portmeirion story is an interesting one, and early Portmeirion patterns are highly collectible and of increasing value among aficionados.
At the company's web site, The Portmeirion Company, you can find out more about how the pottery began: "In 1960, Susan Williams-Ellis and her husband, Euan Cooper-Willis purchased a small pottery decorating company in Stoke-on-Trent called A.E.Gray Ltd. Susan had worked with A.E.Gray's for some years, sending her designs there to be produced exclusively for the gift shop at the Portmeirion Village in North Wales, which had been created by her father, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in 1925. This was their first experience of the pottery industry." So now you know why the pottery company is named for the Welsh village!
The company has its headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Stoke-on-Trent, however. Many of you will recognize Stoke-on-Trent as one of the meccas of English Pottery. It is actually a region comprised of several small towns well known for potteries, including Tunstall and Burslem. A tourist's guide to the area, Stoke-on-Trent, will give you resources for a great pilgrimage!
Susan Williams-Ellis had an excellent background in fabric design, and began decorating her pottery with transfer techniques based on her fabrics. Always experimenting with glazes and colors, she created several lines which were very well-received by the public. Among these are "Malachite" and "Moss Agate". These were limited productions, however, because of the expense and difficulty of the new processes. Today, these and other patterns from the 1960s and early 1970s are among the most sought-after by collectors. Other patterns, inspired by her travels, include "Tivoli" and "Cypher" (named because the design resembles hieroglyphics). Their bright colors and abstract designs were extremely popular during the 1960s.
It was serendipity, however, that gave the early china designs their distinctive cylindrical shape. The first pottery the couple purchased in 1960, A.E.Gray Ltd., was set up only for decorating blanks manufactured elsewhere. A year later, they purchased Kirkham's, Ltd., which could actually produce the pottery. The factory's attic yielded cylindrical molds in various sizes, which Susan adapted into coffee pots, mugs, candleholders, and vases. Thus the distinctive shape of the early patterns was established, by chance, and went on to influence pottery and china design all over the world in the 1960s.
By the early 1970s, growing tired of the same shapes and abstract styles, Susan's interest turned to nature and the Victorian botanical illustrations she turned up in her explorations. Thus "Botanical Garden" was created. It soon became one of the world's biggest selling tableware patterns and still accounts for half of the company's turnover.
New patterns and designs are introduced on a continuing basis. Although Susan passed away in 2007, top designers such as Sophie Conran have developed their own distinctive lines. Portmeirion celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010. The company has branched out from tableware to glassware, flatware, accessories and gifts under license to top-quality manufacturing partners. Portmeirion china and gifts are now available at higher-end retail shops and department stores worldwide, with the United States representing 40% of total annual sales.
There is a collector's club which can be joined at Portmeirion's web site, which will afford the member some special deals and exclusive offerings, as well as a twice-yearly newsletter.
In addition to purchasing Portmeirion from the company's website, here are a few more retailers:
GiftCollector - sign up for their newsletter and get a $5 coupon off your purchase.
Sophie Conran for Portmeirion
For more information on the village of Portmeirion, its attraction as a tourist site, and its many appearances in film and TV, visit Wikipedia's entry on the village.
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