By David Chown.
William Harper only worked for Wade for a period of nine years, from 1953 until 1962 but during that relatively short time produced some of the most sort after pieces to come out of the Wade
Joining Wade in 1953 was perfect timing for Iris Carryer’s project, the first Whimsies, for it was Bill Harper who modelled all of the first ten sets, forty nine figures in all which were to lift Wade out of their post war recession and put them on the road to success for the next thirty years.
Born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, just a few minutes from the Wade Group of factories in Burslem in 1923, Bill attended local schools and although somewhat quiet and introspective by all accounts was a good scholar especially in English, French, Science and Mathematics.
His first job was in a local ironmongers which did not last for long, and he was sent by the local employment bureau to learn typewriting at The Elms Technical College in Shelton and at the same time began evening classes in shorthand, typewriting and bookkeeping. Obtaining a number of certificates in these subjects he found employment as a clerk with Ind Coope at their brewery in Higherland. But then the war intervened and Bill was called up into the Royal Air Force where he saw service in North Africa, the Middle East, Italy and later, when the Allies started winning, in Austria.
In 1946 he left the Air Force, age 23 and returned home to Newcastle where he was accepted as a full time student at the Burslem School of Art on a three year course where he took as his main subject oil painting with pottery as a secondary subject. On completion of this course he was awarded The National Diploma for Painting. It was at this time that he married Jean Williamson of Bebbington in the Wirral, whom he had first met during the war.
From the Burslem Art School Bill became an art teacher at Thisley Hough Girls School in Penhull where he stayed for one year but then decided that he would like to try his hand at designing and modelling pottery figures and it was at George Wade and Son in Burslem that he was taken on in 1953.
Over the next nine years Bill’s output can only be described as prolific. Many of the most sort after Wade collectables today came from his inspired modelling during this period. A full list of his models appear at the end of this feature.After nine years with Wade he felt the need for a change and decided to set up his own little business in 1962 in a small studio he rented from Peggy Davies, the Doulton modeller. This was not a success and before long he was free-lancing designing and modelling for whoever would commission him. It was at this time that he became involved with W.H. Bossons of Congleton who manufactured wall ornaments of a very fine quality in plaster and plastic. The modelling detail and painting were of a very high standard and he remained with the company on a free-lance basis, working from home for nine years, until 1971 when he applied and was successful in obtaining commissions to do character figures for Royal Doulton of Burslem. This association with Royal Doulton, at a time when the company was the leading manufactures of ceramics in the UK lasted twenty nine years, during which time he designed around 450 pieces, until he decided to retire in 2000 at the age of 77. During his time with Royal Doulton, William Harper produced many interesting and beautiful figures and jugs which today are highly sort after, as well as contributing many designs and ideas to the company. In retrospect he thinks that probably his favourite piece is St George, in full armour, which was introduced by Royal Doulton in 1978.
The great contribution of William Harper to ceramics and the collectors market is incalculable and as you run your eyes down the lists of the pieces he has modelled over the past fifty years, it reads like a wish list for Wade and Doulton collectors, many of the pieces however, are works of art and unfortunately, out of the reach of all but the most serious collectors.
Now approaching his eightieth year this gentle giant of ceramics, a true son of the Potteries, still lives in the same house he bought with his wife in 1950 in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent. Long may he enjoy his well earned retirement.
George Wade & Son 1954 – 1962 Modelled by William Harper
10 sets of whimsies (49 models in total)
Hat Box Series – Disney animals 26 in total)
Blow Up Disney figures (10 produced)
Drum Box Series (5 produced, animal band)
Noddy Series (4 in total)
Noddy in Car (never went into production)
T.V. Pets (10 in series)
Chaucer Figures from Canterbury Tales (4 figures not produced)
Minikins (12 different)
Elephant Train, Tortoise Box & Figures, Treasure Chest Box, Crab Box
Hedgehog Box, Rose Box & Round Log Box, Noddy Money Box with Big Ears (never produced)
Lizard ash tray Flying Birds (wall ornaments), Exotic Fish (wall ornaments)
Alphabet Train, Pet Face Dishes and Spirit Containers (penguin, cockatoo, Dormouse)
Mermaid vases (large and miniature), Yacht models (standing)
Jumbo Jimand Pink Elephants.
Novelty figures Dustbin Cat, Kitten on the Keys (Piano Cat,) Bernie and Poo and Jonah and the Whale
Pair of Cockatoos (on tree), Animal Families (rabbits)
Girl on a scooter (never produced)
Motor Cycle on Tray, Pogo Figure, Airline Pilot (British Airways), Flook and Boy (never produced)
Hep Figure, Owls on Log, Sea Horses, Large Fawn Money Box, Doleful Lion, Fawn Butter Dish and Posie Bowls.
Barge and bridge, Rowing Boat posies with seagull, Fairy Candle holder and Lifebelt tray.
Log vase with bluetit, Stacking Ashtrays (engraved), Pineapple Tray, Irish Song Figures (11 in series) and Irish Leprechauns.
Artwork © 2002William Harper © 2002 C&S Collectables Direct.
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