Although I knew that Connoisseur of Malvern created some porcelain sculptures exclusively for particular retailers, I was surprised to discover two promotional pieces for a corporation: two woodpeckers designed by Christopher Ashenden for the H.P. Bulmer company.
The Bulmer company (“Bulmer’s”) had long been a British institution in cider-making, dating back to its founding in the late 1880s by Percy Bulmer. Young Percy began making cider from the apples in his father’s Herefordshire orchard and launched his fledgling business in 1889. By 1911 the company was granted a Royal Warrant and was incorporated in 1918. By the 1970s Bulmer’s was the world’s largest producer of cider, more than 90% of which is derived from local orchards.
Such success could not go unnoticed and in 2003 the company was sold to the Scottish & Newcastle brewery which five years later was acquired by the Heineken group. The backstamps on the Connoisseur pieces show that these were made whilst Bulmer’s was still the original Herefordshire company.
“Woodpecker Cider” was first produced at Bulmer’s in 1894. The general consensus is that it is a sweet cider, with a lower alcohol content, although a fairly recent Bulmer’s web site (more about that later) describes it thus:
The use of the English bittersweet apple provided Woodpecker with a distinctive taste and refreshing drinkability. A crisp semi-dry finish, amber hue with a lightly sparking appearance, sweet fruity aroma and a slight toffee-apple note.
The brand’s logo is, logically, a woodpecker – specifically the European Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis. It is the largest of the British woodpeckers (between 12”-14”, or 30-36 cm, long) but unlike most of its kind it rarely “drums” on tree trunks. In fact it tends to spend much more of its time foraging on the ground than in trees, and one of the Connoisseur studies reflects this behavior.
Connoisseur made two Bulmer’s Woodpecker sculptures: one limited edition and one non-limited. Unfortunately the backstamps contain no dates but likely were done in the 1980s.
This is the non-limited edition, depicting the bird on the ground. It is 4” (10 cm) high and 7” (17.78 cm) long.
The backstamp identifies Chris Ashenden as the designer and includes the expected artist icons, which in this case tell us that this bird’s mold was made by Stephen Dalley. At present I have not identified the other two icons which indicate the caster and the painter.
The corresponding limited edition is surprisingly small in scope: only 15 were produced. It is more than twice the height of the non-limited piece (9” / almost 23 cm) with an equal wingspan width. It is about 7.5” (19 cm) deep.
I am surprised that this backstamp does not identfy Ashenden as the designer although he clearly was; he was doing all of Connoisseur’s birds except for a very few large studies done by Richard Roberts. Even more surprising is the omission of any artist icons. Under other circumstances this might indicate a non-original piece, but in this case the full “Connoisseur of Malvern” name plus the existence of the corresponding non-limited piece suggest that it was merely an accidental omission. This is the only example that I have seen and so until or unless additional ones emerge, I cannot say whether all the backstamps are like this one.
Bulmer’s Woodpecker Cider is still available in England in various bottles and cans. A detailed 2013 review of Woodpecker cider can be found here. This reveals that the Woodpecker available in the USA was (is?) produced in Vermont, after an existing plant (Green Mountain Cidery) was purchased by Bulmer’s parent company in the 1990s and renamed. It’s unclear whether it is still being produced here, although this review seems to indicate that it is.
It would be interesting to know how these pieces were offered. Were the limited versus non-limited pieces allocated to Bulmer’s retailers of certain sales volumes? Were the non-limited ones available to the general public as free promotional items while the limited ones were by purchase only? Perhaps those 15 were given to executives at the Bulmer’s headquarters instead. If any reader knows more about the circumstances surrounding either of these special birds, there is a direct contact form on the About the Archive page.
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.