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, whose name was Parker, moved the kilns and literally tons of molds from Ledbury to a business park location in Staunton. A few of the original studio’s artists, including Wendy Green, stayed on at the new location. Parker operated the studio there until sometime in the first half of 1997 but were gone by August.
After the Staunton location closed, the timeline gets temporarily murky. Parker resold the studio to an American businessman named Reasoner, and by some indications this probably took place in May 1998.
Both the Parker and Reasoner operations seem to have produced only limited editions; at least I have never found any non-limited ones, and I’ve come across many examples from the post-1995 studios.
The Parker and Reasoner era backstamps are not consistent from one design to the next. The uppermost 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 indicates the size of the edition, although nothing else (it does not even say Made in England!) 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 Parker studio did produce some orginal designs (for example, one is titled “Staunton Church Rose”) but it is not known whether the Reasoner operation did likewise. The problem is that one or both owners began to produce 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 minimalist marking method they used.
In the three above backstamp examples, both “Roy Rogers” and “Black Magic” were original (though not original Lewis studio) designs; “White Lion” was a white-colorway replica of the 1980s completed limited edition Simba.
This is the backstamp on an original-studio Gyr Falcon by Chris Ashenden.
Here is how one of the post-1995 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 1990s reissue was done in the same colorway as the original AND was given the same name…just like the Gyr Falcon. In other words, two 1990s reproductions of the 1980s closed edition were produced: one in the original brown coloration and named “Simba”, just like the original was, and also a white one titled “White Lion.”
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.
I do not know whether both the Parker and Reasoner studios engaged in this deplorable practice of re-issuing previously-closed limited editions, or only one of them did, because neither owner put an issue year in their backstamps.
In 2007 a large auction house in Michgian held several weekend sales that included a number of mixed original-studio and post-1994 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. Some were the same colorway as the authentic Connoisseur originals but most were different. Not all had year notations but the ones that did, were usually marked 1996. These throw a monkey wrench into the timelilne because although that year falls within the Parker ownership, the initials KR are those of Reasoner. Both of the two original studies shown above had been created and sold by the Lewis studio during the 1980s.
Exactly where, and when, the Reasoner-owned operation was located is something I am still researching. I did discover that in December 2003 he registered a new corporation in the USA, titled “Connoisseur Inc.”
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. One or both of the subsequent owners 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.
Reasoner used four logos during his ownership of the Connoisseur assets (the company was dissolved after his death in 2007.) One is the corner-butterfly logo/script details backstamp, and the other is the centered-butterfly logo. The other two are modifications of the centered-butterfly logo but with a concave bottom. This appears on several pieces produced by Bronte “for Connoisseur Inc” (the USA corporation) during that same time period. A similar logo was also used on his offshore-made mass produced items cast from Lewis studio molds; these logos 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 the Reasoner era.
Any piece with artist icons in the stamp was made before 1995 by the original studio. Likewise any piece that says “Connoisseur of Malvern” rather than simply “Connoisseur.”
A piece with a designer name (especially “W. Green”) but no icons and no issue year is probably from 1995-1998.
Because none of the Parker or Reasoner studio pieces are dated, a Certificate of Authenticity could provide a clue: Any COA showing a studio address of Staunton Court would have been made there between 1995 and 1998. However, because I have never seen a COA accompanying any post-1994 piece that has been offered for sale in the past eleven years, I suspect that none were issued.
Pieces that are do not bear artist icons or designer names, and have a centered-butterfly logo fall into the wider date range of 1995 to (at the latest) 2006. They are all either Parker or Reasoner studio pieces and some are re-issues of completed limited editions previously created by the Lewis studio during the 1980s.
Pinning down a date range for the corner-butterfly-logo pieces is tricky because although they were definitely used during the Reasoner ownership, Parker’s operation may have used them as well. The lack of any issue years on non-Lewis-studio pieces is most frustrating.
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.