Midwinter pottery in the 50s

Midwinter pioneered modern design in mass market ceramics from the 1950s to the 1970s. Under the leadership of Roy Midwinter, the firm brought the style of West Coast America to the UK. Roy Midwinter was not formally schooled in design, but had an eye for where the market was going and which new shapes the public would take to. He steered the firm's output from the organic shapes of the 1950s, through cylindrical modernism of the early 1960s and the flower power motifs of the late 60s, to the mother earth naturalism of the early 1970s.

Midwinter was founded by Roy's father, William Robertson (W R) Midwinter, in 1910. The firm's original output comprised teapots and less than glamorous sanitary ware. Business went well and by the the 1930s Midwinter was making tableware, including some Art Deco style tea services. However, other firms were showing the lead in terms of design.

Roy Midwinter served an apprenticeship with W R Midwinter learning all aspects of the business. On a sales trip to Canada in 1952 he was disappointed at buyers' reactions to the company's products. He discovered that a new style was selling well in North America and was keen to find out more. On a trip to the West Coast of the USA he looked at work by Eva Zeisel and Russell Wright which epitomised the new organic flowing shapes of mid century modern good taste.

Midwinter Stylecraft tea set with the Spruce pattern by Jessie Tait (image: Mid20c)

He adapted their ideas for the UK market. Whilst the US taste favoured rimless or coupe plates and bowls, UK buyers still wanted a rim on their tableware. So the first new range, Stylecraft (1953), still had rims, but brought in more fluid forms and a distinctive 1950s' TV screen shape for plates and saucers.

Midwinter launched Stylecraft at a very exciting time for British design. Rationing and Utility were coming to an end, and the public had a taste for new design fuelled by the very successful Festival of Britain Exhibition in 1951. In other fields 1953 was also a turning point. G-Plan furniture launched in that year and new bright and colourful textiles and wallpapers became available. Contemporary ceramics needed to fit in with contemporary taste in the home. Stylecraft was perfect. Midwinter took a lead in the market for contemporary ceramics leaving other manufacturers to copy and play catch up.

Midwinter Chequers, design by Terrance Conran

Midwinter needed to stay ahead and produced a huge number of new designs. Roy Midwinter encouraged design talent both from within and outside the firm to keep his products one step ahead of competitors. In-house designer Jessie Tait put her name to over thirty new patterns in the 1950s. Midwinter's external designers included Terence Conran, who produced a design showing his famous three-legged plant pot holder and several other contemporary patterns, ornithologist and artist Peter Scott, and Hugh Casson, whose Riviera/Cannes design became one of Midwinter's longest runs .

As well as having a keen eye for modern design, Roy Midwinter also had an eye for how to market products. G-Plan had done away with traditional suites, selling one piece at at time. Midwinter introduced starter sets, which freed customers from having to buy a whole dinner or tea service in one purchase. They could add to the set they had originally bought with some confidence that the design would not disappear from the shops after a few months.

In 1955 Roy Midwinter upgraded his Stylecraft shape with a new design called Fashion. Whilst Stylecraft was a little cautious, Fashion was full blown 1950s' organic shape. Fashion remained in production for many years, carrying many designs from cutting edge contemporary to more conservative floral patterns.

Always alert to new developments, Roy Midwinter pioneered an innovative plastic range of tableware called Midwinter Modern. In the 1950s there was a fear in the potteries that traditional ceramic ware might be replaced by Melamine.

By the end of the 50s, Roy Midwinter thought the organic forms of Fashion and Stylecraft were looking a bit like last year's fashion and in the 1960s introduced a new range based on the cylinder. The Fashion shape continued though, but appealed to more conservative buyers wanting to be modern, but not too cutting edge.

1950s ranges

These are Midwinter's contemporary ranges of tableware from the 50s

  • 1953 - Stylecraft
  • 1955 - Fashion
  • 1956 - Saladware
  • 1958 - Modern (Melamine tableware)

How to tell Stylecraft from Fashion

Midwinter Cannes plate on Fashion shape (image: Carol Jones) Midwinter Riviera plate on Stylecraft shape (image: Tann10)

Plates, saucers and dishes

Fashion was a development of Stylecraft. The plates, saucers, cups and dishes are similar. Look out for a rim on the plates, saucers and dishes on Stylecraft. Fashion is rimless; the technical term is coupe.

Compare the Stylecraft plate with a rim (right), with the coupe Fashion plate (far right).

Cannes pattern on Fashion shape coffee pot (image: Amelia2979) Wild Geese pattern on Stylecraft shape coffee pot (image: Rifleman2011)

Coffee and tea pots

Stylecraft tea and coffee pots have a more traditional look and are much less flowing and organic than Fashion. Compare the Cannes coffee pot, (far left) in the Fashion shape with the Wild Geese coffee pot (left), in the Stylecraft shape.


Popular patterns

Midwinter produced a huge range of patterns in the 50s and 60s on the basic Stylecraft and Fashion shapes. Some were by well-known designers and many by in-house designer, Jessie Tait. These are some of the most popular today.

Midwinter Zambesi cup, saucer and plate (image: frablingtonstanley)

Zambesi by Jessie Tait (1956) on Fashion

The black and white striped Zambesi pattern with red detail was a contemporary trend in the 1950s. Stripes are also seen on Albert Hallam's strange shaped vases and dishes for Beswick (1954) and much copied elsewhere. It was among the first Midwinter patterns to become collectable.

Values

Zambesi achieves good prices on eBay and there seems to be a good market for it.

  • Zambesi Coffee Pot - £100 to £125
  • Zambesi Tea Pot - £100 to £160
  • Sets or collections - £100+
  • Plate, cup and saucer - £20 to £30
  • Gravy boat, complete with spoon - £60 to £90
  • Large serving dish - £50
  • Cruet set - £50
  • Single large plate - £10 to £20
  • Single small plate - £7 to £10

Look for:

Midwinter Salaware plate (image:  Treasuresaloft) Midwinter Salaware plate (image: Sirhcgiarc)

Midwinter Saladware 1956 by Terence Conran and Roy Midwinter

Roy Midwinter worked with Terence Conran to produce Saladware. It was a range of dishes, bowls, plates, cups, saucers, teapots and salad dishes decorated with informal style drawings of vegetables. The most exciting piece is the celery vase (right).

This range show's Conran's early thinking. It might very well have been on the shelves of Habitat a few years later. It appealed to people happy to venture further afield for holidays and bring back a more relaxed lifestyle. The vegetables illustrated: red pepper, marrow, gherkin, cress, tomato, sweet corn, radish, garlic clove, mushroom, spring onion, artichoke and carrot would not look out of place in a modern kitchen. This must have been advanced taste in 1950s Britain.


Values

  • Saladware Celery Vase - £50 to £100
  • Set of six plates or bowls - £50 to £75
  • Single small plate - £15

Look for :

Midwinter Red Domino cup, saucer and plate (image: Mulberry House)

Midwinter Domino (1953) by Jessie Tait

Domino is a delightful polka dot pattern on the Stylecraft shape. One of the earliest Stylecraft patterns, it was very much in vogue in the early 1950s.

Domino is usually red and white, but blue and green versions also exist. A black version is very rare.

Values

  • Trio (cup saucer and plate) - £20 to £30
  • Tea pot - £20
  • Set of six plates - £20 to £30
  • Cake stand - £40 to £70
Midwinter Cannes coffee pot by Hugh Casson (image: Amelia2979)

Midwinter Riviera (1954) and Cannes (1960) by Hugh Casson

These are my favourite Midwinter designs. They bring back memories of holidays in France. It shows French café bars and harbour scenes.

Riviera was drawn by the architect and artist, Hugh Casson. Hugh Casson was a significant architect who had a passion for drawing. He was director of architecture at the Festival of Britain, but also enjoyed working on sketches and water colours. It was his sketches of the Coronation route that drew his attention to Roy Midwinter.

His drawings for Riviera were and adapted to the Stylecraft shape by Jessie Tait. Riviera became Cannes in 1960 when the design was applied to the fashion shape. Cannes/Riviera was one of the longest running Midwinter designs with a production run that lasted to the 1970s.


Values

  • Trio (cup saucer and plate) - £10 to £25
  • Tea pot or coffee pot - £50
  • Set including tea or coffee pot- £75
  • Single plate - £5 to £12

Look for:

Midwinter Wild Geese coffe pot on Stylecraft shape (image: Rifleman2011)

Wild Geese (1955) by Peter Scott

Wild Geese features a picture of three geese in flight. It captures the mood of Autumn evenings. Wild Geese was drawn by Peter Scott, better known for founding the Severn Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge in 1946 (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust). It was made for the Stylecraft shape.

Wild Geese is a relative bargain, perhaps because of the naturalistic subject.

Values

  • Trio (cup saucer and plate) - £5
  • Tea pot or coffee pot - £30 to £50
  • Set including tea or coffee pot- £60
  • Single plate - £2 to £5

Look for:

By Steven Braggs, February 2013

Your comments

"Hi, are you interested in buying my Terence Conran Nature Study china?" Sue Hogben 13/05/2013
"Hi Sue,
I wouldn't be, but if you give your contact details in another post, perhaps someone reading the site might be interested. Best regards" Steven 14/05/2013
"Hi Sue

Do you still have your nature study china? I might be interested in buying." Matt watson 26/05/2013
"I have a set of Midwinter Stylecraft Classic shape 3-60, complete apart from 2 cups. Can you tell me how to find replacement cups - my internet searches have come up empty-handed. How do you search for the right decoration? Mine are white with pale green and gold leaf pattern and gold on the edge. Any idea what they are worth? Any info would be much appreciated. Thanks" Kate 25/08/2013
"I had a full dinner set of Midwinter Stylecraft Staffordshire England Classic Shape 3-60. I was wondering how much it is worth?" Anna 27/02/2014
"I have 2 cups and saucers stamped as Midwinter, but I cannot find anything with the same pattern on any of the many websites I have looked at. Is there anyone who could identify it for me if I send a photo?

Thanks" Julie 15/03/2014
"Hi Julie,
Please feel free to send me a photo (steven@retrowow.co.uk) I'll identify it if I can. best regards" Steven 16/03/2014
"Hi I have 4 items of midwinter stylecraft magnolia, table serving dishes with lids X2 excellent used condition a gravy boat a small chip on base plate underneath, and a meat plate that unfortunately has a crack in any ideas if they are worth anything ? and where would be the best place ?" Jan 20/05/2014
"I would guess they would be worth from £10 to £20 each for the serving dishes, but they are not that common. Cracked or chipped items would be worth a lot less. Check out eBay completed listing. I would suggest selling on eBay if you want the best price.

Best regards" Steven 20/05/2014
"Hi Sue,

I'd be interested in knowing more about your nature study china you are thinking of selling.... poole.pottery@sky.com" Justin 24/05/2014
"Hi,
I have a coffee set of Midwinter Stylecraft with stamp 'Stylecraft Midwinter Staffordshire Made in England Reg. D 711843 868695' On each item is also red paint? scratch/dot. The problem is that it looks exactly like the Midwinter - Silver Wheat - Red design in shape and colour, but mine has only the red and silver rims and no wheat or other design on it.(the items are -except for the silver and the red rims- plain white.) Someone suggested it could be a set from before Jessie Tait started on the design in 1953. I have no clue and I have nowhere seen the set I have. Is there anyone here that could tell me more about this set?
I don't know if I could post a link here, but if you google on Jessie Tait Silver Wheat, it will show exact my set.. just without the Wheat..
Thanks in advance,
Cath:-)" Cath 21/06/2014
"Hi, i have quite a lot of Jessica Tait Zambesi range from coffee cups , milk jugs, tureens etc and none of my pieces have the red flash on the handles etc....is this a variant of the Zambesi range ? Thank you in advance" Rosalind 24/07/2014
"I have a set of Midwinter Stylecraft, Cannes, Hugh Casson comprising 6 cups, 4 saucers, 6 plates and 1 large plate, all in excellent condition. Any advice on price and where to sell them please?
Also Midwinter Porcelon Burslem in a mockled pink design, 5 saucers, 3 side plates, 1 dinner plate, 1 cup, 1 sugar bowl and 1 milk jug, again any idea on price please and where to sell? Thank you." Angie 23/09/2014
"Csn you tell me anything about my set of Stylecraft fashionshape please? the msrkings are - Midwinter Stylecraft staffordshire england - fashion shape 10 - 62. the design is of a desert scene with a cactus. The set was given to me by my mother and I cannot fid this set anywhere on the internet. i'd appreciate any information please.

Set includes small bowls, various size plates, gravy jug, and serving bowls." Paul Brett 05/10/2014
"Hi
I have a small sideplate sized Stylecraft Fashion Shape plate marked 10-62. It has a silver carrying handle. Do you know if this is as original or has the handle been added more recently. It was with my mums possessions, but I'm not sure how she came by it. Thank you" Janet 10/10/2014
"There is certainly a modern trend to turn vintage plates into cake stands and I've seen Midwinter plates become victim to this. However, Midwinter did also do this themselves and did fit handles to plates, which could be used as serving plates. I can't say for sure, but I guess if you Mum had it for some time it is likely to be original." Steven 11/10/2014
"I've just been passed on some Midwinter Zambesi china if anyone is interested. I have 3 tea plates - one has a chip, 2 large all black jugs(one has discolouration on the inside), a small black jug, and 2 small sugar bowls - one zebra and one black. Would be open to offers for them. I also have a serving dish - all black but only the bottom - no top!" Adrienne 28/10/2014
"I have two platers one is large ,Jessie tait midwinter" Jayne Latimer 11/11/2014
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