Inside the Archives: Derby Porcelain Prices

Three Cobalt Blue Vases, Bloor Derby Porcelain, circa 1825. Sold for $5,250 via Christie's (October 2014).

With a history that stretches more than two centuries, Derby porcelain is a defining example of English design. Named after the quaint city nestled next to Nottingham in north-central England where their first factory originated, Derby porcelain is probably best known for its “Royal Crown” days, when it became one of the most popular producers of the late 19th century. With a client list that once included Queen Victoria, Derby porcelain continues to be a favorite among today’s collectors. Exceptional lots, like the Royal Crown Derby tea set that appeared at auction in 2015, can sell for more than $10,000; more modestly-priced pieces are still readily available for the mid-market collector.

Lot 199: A Bloor Derby and Royal Crown Derby tea set with cobalt blue, gold, and bittersweet floral decoration. Sold for AUD16,800 via Northgate Gallery (August 2015).

The roots of the Derby company took hold in the mid 1750s, when a trio of friends  – John Heath, William Duesbury, and Andrew Planche – set out to define a new standard of excellence in English pottery. Their capacity for  creating compelling ceramic wares was evident at the outset, and their acclaim grew so rapidly that by 1775 King George III honored the producers by giving permission for their use of a crown in their marking stamp. At the turn of the century, control of the company was transitioned to Robert Bloor. Then, in 1848, Derby was purchased by Sampson Hancock, who moved the company to its new location.Despite these transitions, the Derby porcelain brand nevertheless succeeded as each owner upheld high standards for design and craftsmanship, principles on which the company was originally established.  

Derby’s importance in the world of porcelain production grew exponentially in the final decades of the 19th century. Having established a new factory in the late 1870s, Derby’s intricate designs grew in popularity with English audiences in part because they echoed the dominant Victorian aesthetic of rich ornament and delicate detail. Indeed, it was in this era that Derby’s wares once again caught the eye of English royalty: Queen Victoria was so taken with their work that in 1890 she bestowed upon them the royal warrant for Derby to become “Manufacturers of porcelain to her Majesty.” The company thus assumed the name of “Royal Crown Derby Porcelain,” and the pieces from this regal past are some of the most elegant ever produced by the company.

Royal Crown Derby Porcelain maintained an independent production until the mid-1960s, when the brand was acquired by an outside company and subsequently was merged with Royal Doulton. Nearly 40 years later, Royal Crown Derby reappeared in 2000 as its own factory and, in celebration, returned to producing some of the brand’s most popular patterns. This renewed Royal Crown Derby company is still in operation and is taking traditional patterns to new heights; for the collector, however, it is the exceptional examples of 18th- and 19th-century Derby wares that prove to be the real treasure. Some of the most exquisite pieces are now part of museum collections – London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, fittingly, has one of the most extensive showcases of the maker – but rare and impressive Derby patterns and services still come to market to be captured by the most savvy collectors.

Old Imari Pattern

One of the most iconic patterns ever produced by Derby, the Old Imari line was introduced in the early 19th century while the company was under the control of Robert Bloor. An homage to Japanese Imari porcelain of the late 17th and early 18th century, Derby’s pattern channeled intricate floral and stylized geometric motifs to emulate these original Japanese designs.

Image 1: Pair of Derby Porcelain Imari Potpourri Urns and Covers, circa 1810
Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, NH (10 March 2013)
Estimated Price: $3,000-$5,000
Realized Price: $4,956

Image 2: A Royal Crown Derby Imari pattern dinner set
Maynards Fine Art & Antiques, Vancouver, BC (11 December 2013)
Estimated Price: CAD1,500 – CAD2,500
Realized Price: CAD2,760

Image 3: Royal Crown Derby Tureen
Kaminski Auctions, Beverly, MA (27 February 2016)
Estimated Price: $300-$500
Realized Price: $1,400

Image 4: A Royal Crown Derby Old Imari garniture of three twin handled vessels
Bonhams, Edinburgh (22 June 2016)
Estimated Price: £400-£600
Realized Price: £1,187

Blue Mikado Pattern

The Blue Mikado pattern was designed by Thomas Amos Reed in the mid-1890s and was inspired by the artist’s fascination with the Far East. After observing blue and white Japanese ceramic wares and studying a series of rice paper drawings, Reed manifested fantastic landscapes and ethereal elements that played across each piece in a rich shade of blue. The motifs of some Blue Mikado pieces reference the visual legacy of Japanese folktales, a lasting testament to Reed’s study and desire for authenticity in his Far Eastern quotation.

Image 5: A Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Blue and White Mikado Part Dinner Service
Christie’s, New York (21 June 2012)
Estimated Price: $500-$700
Realized Price: $2,750

Image 6:: Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Blue Mikado Service, 20th Century
Waddington’s, Toronto, ON (13 June 2006)
Estimated Price: CAD400-CAD600
Realized Price: CAD1,282.44

Image 7: 75 PC R.C. Derby Mikado Dinnerware
Ritchies, Inc., Toronto, ON (5 June 2007)
Estimated Price: CAD800-CAD1,000
Realized Price: CAD1,320

Red Aves and Gold Aves Pattern

The Red Aves pattern was developed by Thomas Amos Reed during his tenure as Royal Crown Derby’s art director from 1890 until 1926. Similar in some regards to the Blue Mikado design, Red Aves features elaborate and elegant floral motifs often interspersed with various bird species with long tendrils of tail feathers cascading across white bone china. Officially discontinued in 1997, the Red Aves pattern continues to be a favorite among modern collectors, as is the related Gold Aves design, which debuted in 1961 and remains in production today.

Image 8: A Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Dessert Service in the Gold Aves Pattern
Christie’s, New York (22 October 2013)
Estimated Price: $1,000-$1,500
Realized Price: $10,000

Image 9: Royal Crown Derby 120 Pieces Royal
Brunk Auctions, Asheville, NC (13 January 2013)
Estimated Price: $1,500-$2,500
Realized Price: $5,192

Image 10: A Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Dinner Service, 20th century, in the Red Aves pattern with gilt rims
Neal Auction Company, New Orleans (5 April 2003)
Estimated Price: $1,500-$2,500
Realized Price: $2,070

Image 11: Lot of Royal Crown Derby Red Aves
Kaminski Auctions, Beverly, MA (9 August 2015)
Estimated Price: $300-$500
Realized Price: $1,600


Still a collector’s favorite, Derby figurines first appeared in the mid- to late 18th century and were immediately renowned for their detail, craftsmanship, and engaging subject matter ranging from cuddly animals to exotic sultans. Dating these figurines can most often be achieved through the various marks used in Derby designs over the generations. The oldest examples from the 18th century can be identified with a simple “D”, the word “Derby,” or two crossed swords (a motif used by William Duesbury’s son near the century’s end). More modern figurines, such as those from the first half of the 20th century, often bear the more elaborate mark encompassing the full phrase ‘Royal Crown Derby’ with an image of a crown as well.

Image 12: A Derby Porcelain Figure
Mallams, Cheltenham, United Kingdom (7 June 2017)
Estimated Price: 
£100 – £200
Realized Price: £110

Image 13: Royal Crown Derby Four Seasons Figurines
Leland Little Auctions, Hillsborough, NC (13 September 2014)
Estimated Price: $3,000-$5,000
Realized Price: $2,400

Image 14: A pair of Derby figures, English, circa 1765
Mossgreen Auctions, Woolahra, Australia (30 October 2016)
Estimated Price: AUD2,500-AUD3,500
Realized Price: AUD2,480

Image 15: A Royal Crown Derby Bird Figure
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, Australia (27 July 2017)
Estimated Price:
AUD80 – AUD120
Realized Price: AUD60

Decorative Urns and Vases

In addition to dinner services in specific patterns and adorable figurines, also popular among today’s auctions are examples of Derby’s vessels in various shapes and sizes. These vases and urns serve as striking showcase pieces while also reflecting the sheer variety and intricacy of Derby designs.

Image 16: A Royal Crown Derby miniature urn shaped vase, together with Derby bud vase miniatures
Theodore Bruce, Adelaide, Australia (12 November 2014)
Estimated Price: AUD150-AUD200
Realized Price: AUD5,400

Image 17: A Monumental Pair of Early 19th Century Derby Topographical Urns
Harlowe-Powell Auction Gallery, Charlottesville, VA (28 January 2012)
Estimated Price: $3,000-$5,000
Realized Price: $4,500

Image 18: Pair of Derby Blue Ground Potpourri Mantel Urns and Covers, c. 1825
Waddington’s, Toronto, ON (9 December 2014)
Estimated Price: CAD1,200-CAD1,800
Realized Price: CAD4,080

Image 19: A Royal Crown Derby floral porcelain lidded urn, circa 1910 by George Darlington
Mossgreen Auctions, Armadale, Australia (13 February 2017)
Estimated Price: AUD1,200-AUD2,000
Realized Price: AUD1,488

Image 20: Royal Crown Derby Turquoise Urn
Cottone Auctions, Geneseo, NY (25 March 2017)
Estimated Price: $500-$800
Realized Price: $1,150

Given its legacy of elegance, it should come as no surprise to ceramic connoisseurs that Derby porcelain wares, particularly Royal Crown Derby pieces, continue to dazzle collectors today. Steeped in a rich history of expert craftsmanship and luxurious detail, Derby porcelain can accent any collection or stand alone as striking icons of the exceptional artistry of English design. As perfectly preserved pieces will undoubtedly become more rare as time progresses, now is the time to dive into the Derby market in order to capture a collector’s quality piece.  

View more Derby porcelain on Invaluable.