The Wemyss Ware Buyer’s Guide: 5 Classic Pieces You Need in Your Collection

Wemyss Ware Selection of Wemyss Ware pieces.

Instantly alluring with its quirky, hand-painted style, Wemyss Ware put Scotland firmly on the map as masters of naturalistic pottery. The iconic line of ceramics – envisioned by a pottery owner and decorator in 1882 – counts Elton John as a fan, with the Queen Mother also said to have been a collecting devotee. King Charles has continued his grandmother’s tradition, becoming visibly emotional after he appeared on BBC programme, “The Repair Shop” when he learned a piece of Wemyss Ware pottery made for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee had been restored.

The Whimsical World of Wemyss Ware

Pronounced ‘weems’, and so called because of the pottery’s proximity to historic Wemyss Castle, this inspired approach to ceramics came to fruition at the Fife Pottery in Kirkcaldy, an east coast town and former royal burgh. After meeting Czech decorator Karel Nekola on a trip around Europe, potter Robert Heron invited the talented painter into business with him, and Weymss Ware’s distinctive brand of vibrant color, uplifting florals and free-flowing illustration began to be produced.

Garnering almost instant success, the pottery line was distributed locally and around Europe, making it highly sought after. The pottery thrived in Fife for four decades, until the Great Depression hit, forcing it to close in 1930. Trained in hand painting by his father, Joseph Karel continued the tradition of craftsmanship on a smaller scale at Bovey Pottery in Devon, who had bought the rights to the trade name.

In 1994, Weymss Ware officially returned to its Scottish homeland, with artist Griselda Hill acquiring the trademark for her pottery in Ceres, Fife. Talented artist Esther Weeks – once Joseph Karel’s pottery apprentice and the last head painter at the Bovey Pottery – regularly visited Griselda and her team to pass on the art of Weymss Ware crafting.

As well as brightening up a room with their cheery shades of paint and detailed decoration, Weymss Ware pieces can also add significant value to any pottery aficionado’s collection. In 2004, a world auction record was set for Weymss Ware, when a Scottish collector bid almost £70,000 (around $86,715) at a Sotheby’s auction for two sleeping piglets produced by the original Fife pottery. The big figure sales haven’t faltered, with rare Wemyss pieces selling in excess of $2,000 at auction.

Unveiling Rare Gems

Vases 

Wemyss Ware - Wemyss Ware jardinière.

Wemyss Ware jardinière. Sold for £2,500 GBP via Lyon & Turnbull (August 2018).

Decorated with everything from cabbage roses and poppies to dragonflies and swallows, a Weymss Ware vase is one of the most stunning ways to exhibit the Scottish pottery line’s hand-painted illustrations.

Collectors should keep an eye out for rare, one-off commissions, particularly on a larger scale, such as the two baluster vases featured in a recent Lyon & Turnbull auction. The work of Karel Nekola and James Sharp – the original and one of the earliest decorators at the Fife pottery – the intricately painted pieces are marked with both decorators’ unique script.

Cats

Wemyss Ware - Weymss Ware tabby cat. Sold for £18,000 GBP via Lyon & Turnbull (January 2024).

Weymss Ware tabby cat. Sold for £18,000 GBP via Lyon & Turnbull (January 2024).

With their almost comical grins and gazing, glass eyes, Weymss Ware’s feline curiosities can fetch a substantial sum at auction. A large Weymss Ware cat sold at auction in Edinburgh in 2022 for £2,000, owing to its bright yellow glaze, unusual pattern and the fact it was produced at the turn of the 20th century. Far topping that this year, however, was a Weymss Ware painted tabby cat – it reached a selling price in January of £18,000. Most of the Weymss Ware big hitters at auction were created circa 1900, and feature a recognisable maker’s mark.

Pigs

Selection of Wemyss Ware Pigs

Selection of Wemyss Ware Pigs.

A stalwart of the Wemyss Ware range, the playful pigs created by the Fife pottery are coveted the world over. Its penchant for pigs was influenced by original painter Karel Nekola, who convinced Robert Heron to start producing the ceramic animals in different sizes. They were seen as a symbol of good luck in his homeland, the Czech Republic.

Slumbering pigs produced by the original pottery – especially if painted by Karel Nekola – should be viewed as a rare find. Additionally, consider the shade and size of any Weymss porcine ceramics. Bigger pieces in black, dark blue or cream can point towards an antique (the larger pigs were originally designed to be doorstops), so could be a valuable collector’s item.

Commemorative Pieces

Wemyss Ware - Wemyss Ware commemorative cup.

Wemyss Ware commemorative cup. Sold for £1,100 GBP via Dreweatts 1759 Fine Sales (June 2023).

Whether it’s a limited-edition piece marking a royal occasion or a one-off celebratory commission, commemorative pieces hold their value in their marking of history. Decorated goblets, candlesticks, vases and serving dishes are just some of the items it’s worth looking out for, with Weymss Ware’s tradition of commemorative design beginning when the pottery created pieces for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Homeware and Haberdashery

Wemyss Ware - Wemyss Ware set of four buttons.

Wemyss Ware set of four buttons. Sold for £3,750 via Lyon & Turnbull (August 2014).

Any piece in good condition produced by Robert Heron’s original pottery is likely to be much sought after, with Heron’s early focus centering on pottery that could be put to practical use within the home. Think teapots, tableware, ink stands, and even buttons – a rare set of four, decorated with foxes, sold at auction in 2014 for a princely £3,750.

FAQ:

Where Can I Find Authentic Wemyss Ware Pieces?

Your first port of call for a traditional Wemyss Ware piece with guaranteed authenticity should be the official Griselda Hill pottery in Fife. The pottery team create collections that span traditional design – including the cabbage roses and fruit illustrations synonymous with Weymss Ware – in the form of cats, pigs, and an array of tableware. Online auction marketplaces working with a combination of major and specialist auction houses are also handy for sourcing and doing your research.

What Makes Wemyss Ware Pottery So Desirable Among Collectors?

The pottery line’s animated, almost lifelike figurines and intricately rendered illustrations have kept it timelessly unique and in demand amongst eagle-eyed pottery collectors. It is Scotland’s most distinctive-looking pottery and prized for its quality, as well as being produced by potters and artists at the highest level of their craft.

Much like any collector’s piece with an enchanting story, provenance plays a part in the desirability of Weymss Ware. The meeting of creative minds in the late 19th century culminating in a success story which would overcome financial hardship, wartime and the pottery’s closure, is a tale of resilience collectors are willing to buy into. Weymss Ware pieces are also a relative failsafe at auction, with antique examples holding their own when up against other styles of ceramic pottery.

How Can I Authenticate and Appraise Wemyss Ware Pieces?

To secure a Weymss pottery piece’s legitimacy and value, the wise choice is to seek out an authenticated appraiser. You can search online by speciality and location, and check whether an appraiser has been accredited by the International Society of Appraisers or the American Society of Appraisers. Always ask the seller for as much documentation as possible relating to a piece’s provenance.

Reputable auctioneers or antiques dealers specializing in pottery will routinely offer a free valuation of your Weymss Ware piece. Although the decorators at the original Fife Pottery often didn’t sign their work, an auction house can help you identify specific factory and maker’s markings. In the absence of a signature, the cartouche of London firm Thomas Goode & Co. will also indicate the authenticity of a piece, as they were the sole agents in England for Weymss Ware and had a room specially set aside for the range.

To learn more about getting an appraisal, why not check out our guide to appraisals flow chart?