The backstamps on Connoisseur of Malvern sculptures can provide a wealth of information unmatched by those of any other porcelain studio. In addition to the sculpture name and – in most cases – the retail introduction/issue year, as well as the edition size and individual sculpture number on limited editions, there are also unique artist symbols identifying the artists who worked on each individual piece. Often the name of the original designer also appears as a stamp; e.g., Diane Lewis, Richard Sefton, Chris Ashenden, etc. But many pieces also bear a letter code indicating the year in which that particular piece was physically created.
Working from my file of Connoisseur backstamp images, I have been able to construct a “key” showing the relationship of letter-code to production year. This was done by establishing several baseline years from the first (#1) sculpture in some limited editions, which necessarily must have been given the lettercode matching the retail issue/introduction year. I also checked the codes on pieces numbered #2 or #3, on the assumption that those were likely to also have been created during the introduction year…but also realizing that a design introduced near the end of “year A” may have seen a delay in the completion of sculptures #3 or #4 until early January in “year B”, especially if the piece is particularly complex.
There are a few other caveats as well, the most important being that not every Connoisseur sculpture backstamp included a production year code. For example, I have not yet discovered one on any low-numbered (#5 or below) piece with an introduction year of 1981 plus the first (original-format) Connoisseur logo stamp with the “as seen through the eyes of a butterfly” trademarked phrase. This #5’s stamp does not include a code.
This very low-number 1983 issue piece does not include it either.
The letter codes began, quite logically, with A and were enclosed within a circle. An exception to the “circle rule” is the letter A which appears inside a square. I have also not found a B letter code on anything, although I do have one extremely blurry backstamp photo which may have a B within a square; despite all possible photo enhancements I’ve been unable to see it clearly.
The production year guide below relies on the codes appearing on these three #1 sculptures for the baselines: Thai Dancer (1987), Puma (1988) and Sheer Bliss which was a one of a kind in 1989. Two additional #2 sculptures as well as nine #3 sculptures support the correlations below. Asterisks denote special comments.
A = 1980 which corresponds to the first year of the studio’s retail production
B = if used, then 1980 and/or 1981
C = 1981 *
D = 1982 **
E = 1983 and 1984 ***
F = 1985
G = 1985 and 1986 ****
H = 1987
i (always in lowercase) = 1988
J = 1989
K = 1990
L = 1991
* If the Mountbatten rose was issued in 1981 (there is no issue year on the #4’s stamp), as well as the first Shakespeare’s Flowers plaques, then this is the correct year assignment for the C code.
** The #3 plaques of the Daisies and Primroses in the Shakespeare’s Flowers series have this code; there is no issue year in that series’ backstamp nor on the accompanying Certificates of Authenticity.
*** The #2 Chickadee Family exclusive for Neiman Marcus, with an issue year of 1984, has this code; but so, too, does El Dorado #1 which was introduced in 1983!
**** The G code has been found three different #3 sculptures that appeared in 1985, plus a #4 from 1986. This was no doubt due to the relocation of the studio to Ledbury in June 1986. But confusingly it also appears on the Peace Rose Centerpiece #1….which supposedly was introduced in 1984! More #1/1984 backstamp images are needed in order to further clarify the year assignment(s) for this letter.
I have found no lettercodes after “L” which seems to indicate that their usage stopped at that point. In any case, the final retail production year of the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio was 1994. Any sculptures that were produced from 1995 onward were not made at the Lewis studio.
Now for a few backstamp examples showing how they can (or can’t) reveal the actual creation year of a given Connoisseur piece. I must stress again that only the original-studio pieces display production year codes and/or artist icons; see Identifying Original Studio Connoisseur for an illustrated guide to the differences.
Open (nonlimited) edition stamps sometimes included the design’s issue year but often they did not. Because those pieces tended to be smaller in size, this was probably a result of a lack of available space; for example, adding an issue year stamp to the small underside of the Azalea Blossom would have made things very cramped! In these cases the logo format provides a clue: Pieces issued before 1986 will say “Connoisseur of Malvern” but those first issued between 1986 and 1994 are simply “Connoisseur.” The first image is a rarity which is a stamp lacking a sculpture name; it is a small white rabbit and I am endeavoring to find out what its name was.
Connoisseur did a number of special issues for entities such as the Rainforest Foundation and the National Wildflower Center. Although most of the stamps I’ve found do not have production year codes – probably because they were expected to sell out quickly and since the stamp has the issue year, a code was thought unnecessary – some do have it, such as this open-edition Penstemon. (the red marks are not original to the piece)
These stamps illustrate why the G code can give collectors fits! All are #3 sculptures of designs introduced in 1985 but the production year codes are “split” between F and G. The logical explanation is that there was a break in production in the first half of 1986 due to the impending move to Ledbury.
It would have been an extra bonus if the #1 Saw Whet Owl had received a J stamp but no code was applied. The #4 Blue Passion Flower does not have a yearcode either; the P is an artist icon. This seems to be another case where there was insufficient space to fit the “Year of Issue XXXX” line, so it would have been convenient to instead have the small production year code applied to this piece.
Obviously the above guide is not ‘set in stone’ and will be subject to updating as I discover more #1-sculpture backstamps with a letter code included. The E and G stamps are the ones that have most often appeared on single-digit numbered pieces with differing introduction years, and the B stamp awaits discovery of at least one very low-number stamp bearing an issue year line. The A stamp also invites confusion because I have seen it on two double-digit sculpture numbers within designs that were issued in 1980…and in 1982! One source has told me that the letter series began in 1984 but that would throw all of the “benchmark #1” backstamp codes several years out of sync.
The final five letter codes (H through L) appear to be very consistent, with no low-number matchup anomalies found to date.
Additional information regarding the backstamps appearing on Connoisseur of Malvern sculptures can be found in several of the Reference Section posts.
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.