Richard Dennis has been curating exhibitions and selling ceramics, including designs by Pugin and William de Morgan, from his Kensington Church Street premises, for more than four decades.
Dennis’s career began with a job sweeping up at Sotheby’s in 1959. He soon graduated to the ceramics and glass department, where he made his mark introducing Tiffany and Gallé glassware to the sales.
In 1965, he began dealing in Edwardian silver and French glass paperweights, and, from the proceeds of a successful buying trip to South America, was able to open his Kensington store. He used it to indulge his passion for seeking out under-researched fields of excellence and bringing them to the notice of collectors with exhibitions and publications.
He has published more than 80 catalogues and books to accompany his shows, and many of the areas he popularised, including Doulton, Moorcroft, William De Morgan and Martin Ware, subsequently developed into hot collecting fields.
So what can you buy from this venerable collector? Highlight of the sale will be a fountain designed by George Tinworth for Doulton Lambeth for the 1878 Paris Exposition (est. £20,000-£30,000). There are also numerous lots below the five-figure watermark, including a pretty coffee and dessert set made for Biba by Burgess & Leigh in 1973 (lot 510, est. £150-£250).
In among the pieces by famous factories and designers (John Moyr-Smith, William De Morgan, the Martin brothers, Doulton, Charles Vyse), there are a handful of items made by modern potters: Emma Bridgwater, Janice Tchalenko, Maureen Minchin, David Burnham Smith, and Sally Tuffin, Dennis’s wife.
The sale marks the end of an era: though the Dennis name will not disappear from Kensington Church Street, it will be Dennis’s son, Buchan, at the helm.
What does the future hold for Dennis senior? "More books and more pots," he says, cheerfully. He helps to run Dennis Chinaworks, his wife’s pottery, housed in the stables at their Victorian Gothic rectory in Somerset. But his main interest is encouraging little-known British potteries and factories, such as the Burgess & Leigh Pottery, in Stoke on Trent, the last surviving working Victorian pottery, whose crumbling buildings are badly in need of restoration.
Richard Dennis: A Potted History, 12 March, Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, W1S (020 7447 7447, www.bonhams.com). For more on Richard Dennis’s present projects, visit www.dennischinaworks.com.