Ian Sprague

A pair of steamers

A pair of steamers

Over the years we’ve acquired a number of pottery steamers made by Ian Sprague. They look like lidded pots but have a central chimney. By placing the steamer above a pot of boiling water, you can use it to cook rice, meat, fish or vegetables. This style of steamer is said to have originated in China where it has been in use for many centuries.

The two steamers in the picture above are both recent acquisitions. The steamer on the left  has Ian Sprague’s personal and Mungeribar Pottery marks. The one on the right has a mark that we haven’t seen before; however, the style is so close to Ian Sprague’s early work that we are almost certain it was made at Mungeribar.

Sprague’s personal mark is a capital I over a horizontal separator and the Morse code for S—three dots. This mark has a similar form and may be a precursor.

This video shows a contemporary potter making a steamer in the same design.


Mystery potter #33: Ian Sprague

Lidded bowl

Lidded bowl. Inside view Lidded bowl. Mark

This lidded bowl is made from a red-blond stoneware clay. It is not very large – 12.5 cm high, counting the handle, and 14 cm in diameter – but substantial to the feel, with a nice interface between glaze and unglazed clay body and a well-fitting lid. The glaze is a matt pale blue-grey, covered in oxide spots and textured with tiny air bubbles and pin pricks.

We bought this piece at an estate auction last year as part of a job lot that turned out to include a Les Blakebrough lidded box and vase, a Leach Pottery, St Ives, lidded bowl and a Harold Hughan lidded jar.   In this company we were sure that it, too, would be by a known maker working in the Anglo-Oriental style, but we have not been able to decipher the mark, which is hopelessly obscured by the glaze.  Now it must stand on its own merit, like an unmarked work, unless we can find another attributed piece like it, or someone has enough knowledge to recognise its maker in the form, and the materials and processes used to make it.

Ian Sprague. Impressed mark, upside down Ian Sprague. Impressed mark, upside down

Postscript: A gallery visitor who knew Ian Sprague well recognised this as by him when he saw it in our workroom. The impressed mark (shown upside down in both images) is also a forensic match.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/potsmarks/5296026426/&#8221; title=”Ian Sprague. Impressed mark, upside down by Judith at Bemboka, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5128/5296026426_0e4f7883da_t.jpg&#8221; width=”100″ height=”100″ alt=”Ian Sprague. Impressed mark, upside down” /></a>

Mystery potter #19: ‘K with horizontal bar’

Pair of stoneware goblets

Pair of stoneware goblets. Mark

These very tall and heavy stoneware goblets with flanged stems were listed in a recent auction catalogue as having been made at Mungeribar Pottery but the impressed mark is quite different. It looks like a K divided by a horizontal bar. The Mungeribar Pottery mark is an impressed M. Yet the attribution may still reflect a shared provenance of some kind.

Mungeribar Pottery was established by Ian Sprague at Upper Beaconsfield, Victoria, in 1964. Sprague, an architect by training, and then in his early forties, had just completed a three-year diploma in ceramics at the Central School in London and some months working at the David Leach Pottery in Devon. He returned to Australia in February, 1962, planning to set up his own pottery and to run it on Leachian lines.

There was very little expertise with stoneware and high temperature firing in Australia at that time. In the early stages of fitting out the pottery, he was helped by the visiting English potter Robin Welch. The kiln was designed by Arthur Homer of St Agnes, Cornwall. In the October 1965 issue of Pottery in Australia, Sprague published an article describing his experiences for the benefit of other potters.

While Welch was in Australia, he exhibited some of his work at the Craft Centre Gallery in South Yarra (another of Sprague’s initiatives). It was viewing this exhibition which led the young Victor Greenaway to visit Sprague at Mungeribar, and subsequently to accept an apprenticeship there.

Ian Sprague. Stoneware cup. Marks

Welch’s Australian work was characterised by cylindrical forms with multiple flanges but he signed his work with his full name. Sprague had his own mark, an impressed square with two quarters and three dots, shown here with the Mungeribar ‘M’. [I have since learnt that this is Morse code for IS.] Greenaway’s marks are described in another entry.

Victor Greenaway. Stoneware goblet

Greenaway used a flanged goblet as the mark for the Broomhill Pottery from 1975; and there is clearly a similarity between the ‘K with horizontal bar’ goblets and this beaker made by Greenaway while he was still at Mungeribar. I assume that their maker was a potter working in stoneware in the late 1960s and early 1970s, associated in some way with Mungeribar or influenced by the same trends.


Ian Sprague, “The pottery at “Mungeribar””, Pottery in Australia, Vol. 4, No. 2, October, 1965, pp. 21-24.

“Sprague & Greenaway”, in Alison Littlemore and Kraig Carlstrom, Nine artist potters, North Sydney, N.S.W. : Jack Pollard Pty. Ltd., 1973, pp. 106-123.

Victor Greenaway : ceramics 1965-2005, Roseville, N.S.W. : Beagle Press, 2005, pp. 123-125.

More on sources

Ford, Geoff, Encyclopedia of Australian Potter's Marks, p.204 (detail)

Geoff Ford’s Encyclopedia of Australian Potter’s Marks documents potters and potteries active before 1975 but includes marks used after this period. I thought it might be useful to provide an index of entries in the encyclopedia for potters active in the 1960s-1970s and beyond. Having marks recorded for these potters provides a good start but collectors will need to go to a wide range of other directories to cover the field, and many marks are still unrecorded.

Alexander, Doug
Ardern, Elsa
Beck, Robert
Blakebrough, Les
Bovill, Gillian
Brereton, Kevin
Carnegie, Francis
Douglas, Molly
Dunn, Phyl
Englund, Ivan
Englund, Patricia
Garnsey, Wanda
Garrett, John
Gazzard, Marea
Gilbert, John
Greenaway, Victor
Halpern, Artur
Halpern, Stanislav
Halpern, Sylvia

Hick, William
Hughan, Harold
Juckert, Eric
Kemety, John
Keys, Eileen
Laycock, Helen
Laycock, Peter
Leckie, Alex
Le Grand, Henri
Levy, Colin
Lowe, Allan
Maddock, Beatrice
McConnell, Carl
McLaren, Gus
McLaren, Betty
McMeekin, Ivan
Memmott, Harry
Mitchell, Cynthia
Moon, Milton

Pate, Klytie
Peterkin, Les
Preston, Reg
Rushforth, Peter
Sadler, Ken
Sahm, Bernard
Sayers, Joan
Schulze, Robert A.
Shaw, Edward
Smith, Derek
Smith, Ian (SA)
Sprague, Ian
Taylor, David
Travis, Peter
Tuckson, Margaret
Warren, Peggy
Welch, Robin
Wilton, Charles