The original Connoisseur of Malvern studio existed for 15 years, starting in 1979 and operating under the ownership and direction of Diane Lewis and her husband Terry. The design and craftsmanship of the studies produced under the Lewis family aegis propelled the studio to the top of the art porcelain world during those decades. Because the studio changed ownership and staff after it was sold in 1995, collectors of Connoisseur of Malvern may (and should) want to differentiate between the original-studio and post-studio-sale studies.
Unfortunately this is not always easy, because the sale of the company included not only the brand name “Connoisseur” and its butterfly logo but also its copyrighted designs from past decades. The subsequent owners of the studio utilized a number of the 1980s design molds for “new” retail limited editions done in different colorways and with different sculpture names. A few of the molds were even used later for the production of resin figurines by offshore manufacturers; some of these are shown in Resin Copies of Connoisseur Porcelain.
Collectors of art porcelain are always aware that studios sometimes produced alternate (additional) colorways of a sculpture, and Connoisseur of Malvern did indeed do that occasionally. For example, the Azalea Blossom was available in three colorways (red, yellow or white); the limited and open edition Poinsettia studies could be had in either red, pink or white; and there was a pink version of Hydrangea ‘Blue Wave.’
There was even an alternate version of the American Robin with Oak: male and female, as shown above. However, the alternate colorways were always offered concurrently (at the same time) instead of in succession.
The problem for today’s collectors is that the various post-1994 new-ownership “re-issues” appeared decades after the completion of the original …..but these replicas were never dated, either on the sculpture itself or in any accompanying literature. This confusion is compounded by the fact that these non-original-studio pieces do bear the familiar Connoisseur butterfly logo backstamp.
This is the original Connoisseur of Malvern 1985 study Windborn of an Arab mare and foal. It was an edition of 100 which was completed before 1990.
This is a post-1994 reissue piece entitled “Flight and Fancy”. It was sold in June 2007 by a USA auction house as part of a large collection of mixed original-studio and post-sale pieces. No photograph of the backstamp was provided by the auctioneer but it was described as being a “Connoisseur Bisque Figure” and “#2 of 50 limited edition”. The original studio never produced this study in this colorway, but unless a buyer was aware of that fact they would not know that this was a later re-issue of the original 1980s design.
A similar situation exists with the Arab foal Freedom which was issued by the original studio at the same time as Windborn which it is taken from. This was an edition of 100 on a cherry base as shown. Unfortunately the “new” studio subsequently created three different colorways of this piece (a pinto, a dark chestnut with blaze, and a bay with black points), gave their piece the same name (“Freedom”) and sold it in an edition of 250 each during the late 1990s. None of the post-sale-studio pieces came with a base (as far as I know) but that alone is not indicative because I’ve seen a few actual 1980s Freedom foals for sale with their base missing. Such a re-use of the original sculpture’s name makes things even murkier.
Obviously there needs to be a way to distinguish original-studio Connoisseur of Malvern studies from the 1995-2006 pieces …..for chronology alone, if nothing else. This Archive site concerns itself with original-studio pieces only; other than the “Flight and Fancy” piece shown here for comparison purposes, all images are of confirmed original-studio pieces designed and produced under the auspices of Diane Lewis.
The only foolproof way to identify an original-studio piece is via a complete backstamp; one cannot rely on the name/logo alone. Obviously if the backstamp says “Connoisseur of Malvern” it was made by the original studio but what if it is the shortened version of the name: “Connoisseur”?
This is an example of a limited edition original-studio backstamp. It contains the single-word name, the butterfly logo, the sculpture number, the designer’s name, and the icons of the artists who actually created that individual piece. It also shows the year of issue.
Here’s an open edition backstamp. Sometimes the sculpture name was stamped and sometimes it was handwritten, as this one was. The stamp still has the issue year and the artist icons; the circled letter indicates the year in which the actual piece was made; some stamps include this and some do not.
This is how the original studio typically marked their artist’s proofs, with an AP where the production sculpture number would otherwise go. There appear to be no artist icons on this piece (not unusual for an AP) but the designer’s name — C(hris) Ashenden – is there.
This stamp is on a ‘Thisledown Collection’ whimsical mice piece. It has no designer name or artist icons but it does have an issue year that confirms it as an original-studio (pre-1995) item.
This piece has no issue year but it does have the designer’s name and a circled production year code. None of the 1995+ pieces have either of those.
It’s important to remember that none of the post-studio-sale pieces will have individual artist icons. That is one reason why seeing the backstamp is so vital when considering a piece being offered for sale online. One cannot rely on only a written description, because the seller may be assuming (especially if comparing a 1990s or 2000s alternate colorway to a photo of its original 1980s piece) that “Connoisseur” on its backstamp means “Connoisseur of Malvern.”
The Connoisseur name and assets were sold twice. The first sale took place in 1995, which means that the final production/sales year for original Connoisseur of Malvern (Diane Lewis studio) retail pieces was 1994. (The appearance of two Disney figures in 1995-1997 is explained here.) The 1995 purchaser — we’ll call him “Buyer A” — moved the kilns and literally tons of molds from Ledbury to a business park location in Staunton. They operated a studio there until sometime in the first half of 1997 but were gone by August.
It may well be that limited editions were all that were offered by either of the post-1994 owners. However, the backstamp/marking format was not consistent; the pieces can bear any of these three styles:
The upper example merely shows the sculpture name and a number, with no indication of an edition size or of an issue year. The middle example at least makes an amateurist attempt at indicating the size of the edition, although nothing else. The third does have a ‘normal’ edition size/sculpture number stamp and also had an accompanying certificate of authenticity stating the same thing, but that was not dated nor did it give any indication of an issue year.
The new operation produced a mix of original designs (for example, one titled “Staunton Church Rose”) and replicas of limited editions that had previously been issued and completed by the Lewis studio. It is these that are the most problematic, not only from an artistic integrity standpoint but because of the deceptively minimalist marking method they used.
This is the backstamp on an original-studio Gyrfalcon by Chris Ashenden.
Here is how one of the new-studio pieces is marked. Clearly this is NOT the #1 piece in the original 1987 edition, but lacking any other information (and the piece has none) how in the world would someone purchasing that piece nowadays know that?? There is certainly an original-studio Connoisseur Gyrfalcon #1 out there somewhere; and I do feel sorry for the person who bought this piece at an auction in 2013, probably under the impression that what they were getting was the original thing rather than a 1990s replica that “just happened to” be missing its original leather hood.
Here’s another comparison of the marks on an original-studio piece versus the later reissue/copy. The sculpture is the male lion Simba seen in the Cats post (although without its original wood base.) The new-studio reissue was done in the same colorway as the original AND was given the same name…just like the Gyr Falcon.
The backstamp on the left is from an original Diane Lewis studio piece and includes all of their usual marks: the edition size and sculpture number, the designer’s name, the design issue year of 1986, the sculpture creation year lettercode, and the icons of all the artists who worked on that piece. The replica’s stamp is on the right; this was one sold for the second time in 2016, after having been offered by a different auction house in 2008. Again, I hope the purchasers didn’t assume they were buying the original #8 Simba.
In 2007 a large auction house in Michgian held several weekend sales that included a number of mixed original-studio and Buyer-A studio pieces, all listed as being “Connoisseur”. Unfortunately they did not provide a backstamp photo for any of them. Included were almost two dozen pieces listed as being “artist proof” or “one of a kind”; several showed up later for sale online with photos, having no backstamps but only handmarked like these. Not all had year notations but the ones that did, were usually marked 1996. This puts them squarely into the Buyer A/Staunton ownership era. Some were the same colorway as the authentic Connoisseur originals but most were different. Both of these two original studies were created and sold by the Lewis studio during the 1980s.
Special Note: Original-studio designer Wendy Green continued for a short time at the Staunton location and applied her name decal (W. Green) to some of the pieces she designed there. However, such pieces do not have artist icons as well, nor are they dated in any way although they were likely made during 1995 or 1996.
After the Staunton location closed in 1997, things get temporarily murky. Buyer A resold the Connoisseur name and molds to an American businessman, and by some indications this took place in May 1998. We’ll call the new owner Buyer B. Whether Buyer B set up the studio elsewhere is unknown, because there is a five-year gap until he registered a new corporation, this time in the USA, titled “Connoisseur Inc” in December 2003.
Another Connoisseur stamp appearing from time to time is this corner-butterfly one which was originally used by the Lewis studio ONLY for print advertising. The new owner (possibly Buyer A but more likely Buyer B) used this logo on the pieces themselves. None of them are dated but it is very possible that this stamp did not come into use until 2003. It has been found on at least one piece that was produced during 2004. It’s not known whether any COA was provided with these.
I have not found any indication that the Buyer B ever set up an actual working studio in England; there are several strong clues that he did not, but instead contracted with other existing studios to produce pieces marketed with his branding. What I don’t know, and have been stymied finding out, is whether any production took place between his purchase of the business in 1998 and formal registration of the USA company in 2003….a five-year information gap.
Buyer B used four logos during his ownership of the Connoisseur assets (the company was dissolved in 2007.) One is the corner-butterfly logo/script details backstamp, and the other is the centered-butterfly logo from the Staunton era. The other two are modifications of the centered-butterfly logo but with a concave bottom. This appeared on several pieces produced by Bronte “for Connoisseur Inc” during that same time period. A similar logo was also used on Buyer B’s offshore-made mass produced items; these are shown in the Pseudo-Connoisseur Backstamps post. See also Resin Copies of Connoisseur Porcelain because these unfortunate items can also be laid at the doorstep of Buyer B.
Because none of the non-original-studio pieces are dated, a COA (if any) is the only real clue: Any certificate showing a studio address of Staunton Court was made there between 1995 and 1998. Obviously any piece with artist icons in the stamp was made before 1995 by the original studio.
Pieces that are lacking a COA, do not bear artist icons, and have a centered-butterfly logo fall into the wider date range of 1995-2003. They are all new-studio pieces and some are be re-issues of completed limited editions previously created by the Lewis studio during the 1980s.
Any piece with a corner-butterfly logo stamp was probably made between 2003 and 2006 (possibly as early as 1998) but its not known what company actually produced it.
The best method of distinguishing original-studio Connoisseur pieces from the ones produced in the post-Diane Lewis era is a thorough familiarity with the backstamp formats. If you are a collector who wishes to focus only on the studies produced by the original Lewis studio in Malvern and in Ledbury, this knowledge is absolutely critical.
Images of Connoisseur of Malvern porcelain sculptures herein are provided for informational and educational purposes only, not for reproduction, resale or advertising. All photographs are copyrighted by their owner as indicated via watermark. Photographs with a Connoisseur watermark originally appeared within their copyrighted publications and appear here via the kind permission of Connoisseur of Malvern, Ltd.