Connoisseur of Malvern produced a series of whimsical mouse studies that were issued both in the UK and USA in 1989 and 1990. In the USA this range was sold exclusively by Brielle Galleries in New Jersey which was perhaps the largest American retailer of Connoisseur; for that market, the series was designated as the Thisledown Collection and had a special backstamp such as the one below.
Although the Thisledown pieces were introduced to the USA in 1990, certain designs were available in the UK a year earlier. This is why one sometimes finds the same sculpture but with differing backstamps, as in the “One Mouse Open Sleigh” example below. (The circled letter L indicates that this piece was physically created in 1991; see Production Year Codes for a key.)
The circumstances surrounding how Connoisseur came to produce this series were unusual, and explain why these are so different from any other line (excluding Disney, of course) they produced. The pieces are actually based on sculptures designed by sculptor Brian Ormerod in 1985 and made by his Bronn of America studio in New Jersey. The studio was actually owned by Brielle Galleries and the series, dubbed the Thistledown Collection (note the second T in the name), was sold there. However, by the end of the 1980s the Bronn studio was cutting back severely and an arrangement was made for Connoisseur of Malvern to take over production of the line.
In connection with the production shift, Richard Sefton used the existing Bronn pieces as the template for his new maquettes for the Connoisseur ones. Some of the sculpture names were altered but others remained the same. The name of the series was slightly altered (via the second T) from “Thistledown” to “Thisledown” for copyright purposes.
This production shift is why you may occasionally see what may appear to be a “copy” of one or the other, but in fact it all was done via an arrangement between the parties, all legal and aboveboard. The Bronn studio ceased all production in the early 1990s and Brielle Galleries closed their retail business about five years later.
The name of the corresponding Bronn piece is given in parenthesis where known.
One Mouse Open Sleigh is 4.25” (10.75 cm) high and all are marked as an edition of 100. However, here is a case of ‘dueling backstamps’ as to the introduction year.
This backstamp shows the introduction year as 1989 and the designer named as Richard Sefton.
This backstamp has an issue year of 1990, does not display Mr. Sefton’s name, but does include the Thisledown/Brielle designation. This lends support to a “UK first, USA after” issue-year theory. Keep in mind that for these pieces the edition size pertains only to that specific release; in other words, there were 100 of One Mouse Open Sleigh made for the American market with the Thisledown stamp, and also a separate edition of 100 available outside the USA. (Bronn precursor: ‘Christmas Deliveries’)
Slot Machine is 5.5” (14 cm) high and is another of the ‘dual issues’ in which some backstamps are Thisledown and others are not. However, on all of the examples I have found thus far, the issue year is shown as 1990 and the issue size as 100, regardless of backstamp type. (Bronn precursor: The lady mouse was previously shown as standing in front of a grape arbor.)
I Thee Wed is 6” (15.25 cm) high, an issue of 100 in 1990. (Bronn precursor: title unknown, but the bride mouse holds a small bouquet of tulips and wears a lace cap.)
At least one of these contains an amusing typo in the backstamp: Having only one “e” in “Thee”, it now reads “I The Wed”! It’s not known if all of them were stamped this way, but if so, it may explain one being offered for sale described as “The Wedding” instead.
Here is Lullaby which is 4.75” (12 cm) high and another example of the USA/non-USA editions. The sculpture above was sold at auction in 2007 as ‘Lullaby’, issued in 1990 and #7 of an edition of 100. No backstamp photo is available but the auctioneer’s description specifically stated “Thisledown Collection” as well as the edition size and sculpture number, and so this piece definitely has that particular backstamp.
However, an archived but no-longer-illustrated 2012 eBay listing offered the same sculpture with this description: “Marked on the bottom CONNOISSEUR OF MALVERN, FINE BONE CHINA, MADE IN ENGLAND. Year of Issue 1990 – No 7 in a limited issue of 100. It seems unlikely that the eBay seller would have omitted such a relevant part of the backstamp as “Thisledown Collection, a Brielle Galleries exclusive” if it was there. Thus it seems there was the improbable but not impossible coincidence of two studies with the same sculpture number but each part of two separate editions of 100. If so, that means Lullaby’s issue year was the same on both sides of The Pond.
This differing colorway of Lullaby was sold at auction in 2007 without a backstamp. Whether these and similarly marked pieces were actually painted by the Connoisseur studio is a topic that is explored in this post.
The four sculptures shown below all did have photos of the backstamp which did not include the Thisledown Collection designation on any of them. If any reader happens to have examples of these pieces that are marked ‘Thisledown’, please let me know and I’ll add that issue information to the descriptions.
This example of Comfy and Cosy Mice was marked as a Sefton piece although the seller did not cite its issue year. It was an edition of 100 measuring 9” high and 10” wide (approx. 23 cm x 25.5 cm) (Bronn precursor: ‘Comfy and Cosy’)
Labyrinth was marked as a 1989 edition of 100 by Richard Sefton. Dimensions are 2.25″ (5.7 cm) high and 5″ (12.7 cm) long, with the widest part of the cheese being 4″ (10 cm.) Its Bronn precursor is unknown.
Two other pieces were also sold at auction in 2007 with no backstamps but merely handwritten notations in black marker saying “Connoisseur” and the names “Hat Shop” and “Toy Shop” respectively. Those were not original-studio pieces and so I’m not including photos here, but you can see their Bronn precursors, named “Wishing” and “Holiday Mice”, in my other site’s post about Bronn.
The discovery that the Connoisseur pieces are adaptations of a previous design explains the difference in style of these versus the typical Connoisseur “look.” The production takeover was seemingly done at the express request of Brielle who, as the major USA retailer for both studios, needed to find a way for the line to continue for at least a couple more years than it otherwise would have done.
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