Known potter #27: Leonard Bell

Leonard Bell. Casserole dish

Leonard Bell. Casserole dish.Mark

This large casserole dish with white glaze and hand-painted floral decoration was made by Leonard Bell. It has his impressed LB mark on the side. We bought it from a Melbourne auction house thinking that it was by Les Blakebrough. I have just finished re-attributing a number of pieces in our collection that were sold as Blakebroughs, but turn out to be Bell’s. Bell’s mark is similar, but the mark itself is bigger, the characters are sans serif and the L slopes to the right.

A discussion on the Identifying Australian Pottery forum has just brought this to light. In my blog entry on Les Blakebrough,  I had included a picture of  a Bell mug as an example of Blakebrough’s work.  A similar pair of mugs had been listed on eBay with a Mondrook Pottery stamp. A forum member speculated on the connection. Another replied that there was none – both were the work of Leonard Bell. I checked my database and found a record for Leonard Bell in the 1981 Potter’s Directory.

In 1981, Bell was working at Woodstock Pottery, Woodstock-On-Loddon (near Bendigo), which he had established in 1976. He trained at Bendigo College of Advanced Education, 1961-4 and Technical Teachers College, Toorak, 1967, and worked for John Davidson at his New Mills Pottery in Cornwall from 1974-5.  The entry includes a drawing of his LB mark and another WP mark for the pottery. Brett Robertson, reviewing an exhibition held at the Bendigo CAE in 1987, talks about “Len Bell’s technically flawless lidded jar” (Pottery in Australia, 27/3 (1987), p. 70).These are the only two references that I have been able to find. Subsequently, Bell must have moved his pottery to Mondrook on the mid north coast of NSW. The pottery still has a web presence but Bell is now retired.

Leonard Bell. Black orchard series dish and bowl

Why did we so willingly accept that our Bell’s were Blakebrough’s?  Well, they were all sold as Blakebrough’s and, as collectors based in Canberra, we had only seen a small sample of his work. Our casserole dish is made in a style not totally unlike the domestic ware from the mid 1970s illustrated in Jonathan Holmes’ book on Blakebrough, with feldspar glaze and iron decoration. We assumed that the celadon ware with black orchid motif,  which characterises much of Bell’s work, was a Blakebrough production line.

The Bell pieces are finely made and we are glad to have them in our collection.  The thing is, though, that we did pay rather more for the casserole dish than we would have if it had been listed as a Bell. Early works by master potters engender competition and fetch high prices at auction. We certainly won’t be able to recover our investment. But the real issue is that mis-attribution colours our perception of the achievement of both potters. This is why the new forum is proving so valuable.  It has been running for only a few months, but already I’ve learnt a great deal from people noticing connections and willing to share their knowledge.

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13 comments

  1. Hi Bernard, wordpress.com has just introduced support for mobile devices for hosted blogs like mine. I have this switched on, so my blog should display a mobile theme when it is accessed by a mobile device. I don’t have the Internet on my mobile phone, so I haven’t been able to test it. I would be interested to hear if it is working or not.

  2. Len worked for my dad, John davidson at New Mills Pottery in Cornwall, England in the 1970’s. He was a great potter and a lovely man, and they remained great friends until dads death in 2005. Lovely to see some of his work on line.

  3. Hawthorn Tech Teachers College was actually in Hawthorn. I bought a salt and a pepper shaker today. LB on the side. Gum flowers. So I am interested in their history. More into Danish Pottery though. I was a graduate from the college by the way.

  4. Thanks Judith. I went to the Tech Teachers’ College in Hawthorn and it was just over the Freeway. This was back in the early 70’s. I am also interested in whether Blakebrough would have made salt and pepper sets as the L on mine does not lean to the right but is vertical. Blakebrough’s work appears to be more into white pottery (current)

  5. Hi Judith

    I just thought I’d add that a few weeks ago I found a small Leonard Bell pot marked Leonard Bell Pottery in gothic script. From memory this was in Bendigo. The pot was not as well made as some later pieces that I have, so I think this might have been early work.
    I didn’t buy it though, so no pic.:(

  6. Hi Judith,
    I found a Leonard Bell milk jug today and thought at first it might be a Blakebrough but decided not to get excited until I had researched it. It was a Bell but the ‘L’ didn’t lean to the right either.

    Trudy

  7. I’m thinking about to put a 32 piece pottery dinner set by LB on eBay. It is of the same style as your large casserole. If you are interested I can send a photo of it and his mark on the base.
    Elspeth orchard

  8. We have a dinner set that we bought from Len Bell at his Woodstock Pottery back in the seventies. We still like using it . I would call it very crisply potted. At the same time we could not resist a very good salt glazed cylindrical vase with a flared top. Wonderful colours.

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