Not sure how to start this blog, so I’ll begin in the middle and tell you about what I got today. This might give you (and me) an idea of what sort of blog it’s going to be, and we can see where we go from here.
Today’s outing: an unremarkable stroll around the charity shops of Stockbridge, a busy and fairly fashionable inner suburb of my home town of Edinburgh, Scotland. If you’re not from the UK and you don’t know what a charity shop is, it’s a second-hand goods shop run by a charity as a fund-raising venture, selling cast-off items handed in by members of the public. Most British high streets have a few of these shops: they are popular and colourful and help to keep town-centre retail areas lively at a time when so many small commercial shopkeepers have gone out of business. And they also serve a social purpose of supplying serviceable pre-used goods at low prices to people who can’t afford to buy new.
Charity shops will feature heavily in this blog, because I tend to spend a lot of time in them, seeking out Random Treasure. My haul today: a small earthenware jug and a small porcelain vase, each by a potter whose work I like very much.
The jug, frankly, looks very much like a lot of other handmade pottery jugs from the 1960s and 1970s. Red earthenware, matt black glaze over most of the body, whitish glaze around the top rim. Nice shape, well made, probably a good pourer. I turn it upside-down because you can usually learn as much or more from the base of a pot as you can from looking at it the right way up. I’m pleased to find the impressed name “Shanagarry” on the base, a familiar name signifying the pottery of Stephen Pearce (or possibly that of his father Philip), made at Shanagarry, a village in County Cork in the deep south of the Republic of Ireland.
You might wonder if I know about this pottery because I know about all potteries everywhere. Just how geeky is this blogger going to be? But no, I don’t know about them all, probably not even a majority of British potteries, and certainly only a very small minority of Irish ones. No, I happen know about Shanagarry because I’ve seen and handled their products a few times before, and have always been impressed by the quiet, understated professionalism and utility of their wares. I’ve also been quite successful at selling on their pots to collectors on eBay, so I know that if I decide to move this jug on, there’s a good chance that I’ll get a reasonable return on the £2.00 purchase price that the charity shop is asking.
The vase is small, shaped in the form of a classical urn, and charming. It is made in a strong, lightweight off-white porcelain with a semi-matt glaze and decorated in black with some simple and rather spiky flowers. Unmistakably the work of Philippa de Burlet, as is easily proven by the clear painted signature on the base. She’s a Devon potter of some distinction, but this is the third piece by her that I’ve found in a charity shop in the past two or three years. I really can’t understand why she seems to be so little known and her work so easily discarded. If you want to buy one of her pots new, you can go to her website and get a list of galleries which exhibit and sell her work at alarmingly high prices. This little vase is a keeper, although I’m not quite sure yet where in the house it will be displayed.
That’s today’s finds and my first blog posting. Was it boring? Will anyone read it? If they do, will they come back to read more? If they do, can they expect more of the same? Well, my postings won’t all be about pots, because pots aren’t the only species of Random Treasure that I seek. And they won’t all be about specific objects, because I’ll be looking at other aspects of the search for Random Treasure. What makes objects desirable? What gives them their value? How do you find them, research them and then (if you want to) move them on?
And if you’re looking for lost Treasure, is there such a thing as a map to help you find it?