John Beswick Ltd, formerly J. W. Beswick, was a pottery manufacturer, founded in 1892 by James Wright Beswick and his sons John and Gilbert, in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent. The firm survived until in 1969 when it was sold to Doulton & Co. Ltd. They closed the factory in 2002 and the brand name John Beswick was sold on in 2004 to Dartington Crystal, which outfit resumed production.
The pottery was chiefly known for producing high-quality porcelain figurines such as farm animals and Beatrix Potter characters and have become highly sought in the collectables market. The Dartington owned brand will still sell you items from a range of their classic pottery animals at prices ranging from around £16 for a seated piglet to £65, which sum will buy you an impressive-looking red stag.
Based at the Gold Street works in Longton (Stoke-on-Trent), Beswick originally produced tablewares and ornaments such as Staffordshire cats and dogs. Yet when James Wright Beswick died in 1921, the company continued to expand under his grandson, John Ewart Beswick. In 1934 the introduction of high fired bone china meant they could produce high-quality figurines, such as famous race horses and champion dogs. The company was made a limited company, John Beswick Ltd, in 1936.
An important change came in 1939, when Wolstanton-born Arthur Gredington (1906-1976) was appointed chief modeller and the firm began producing farm animal figurines which quickly became widely collected. Gredington’s range of no less than 190 rearing horsemen is one of the largest (and most popular amongst collectors) ever produced by the company. Not that the number 190 is anything but a notional one, for it is made up of minor variants of the basic 150 or so of Gredington’s horse figures. There were, for instance two versions of model 868 (a racehorse, jockey up), one with the jockey in an orange or scarlet jacket cut away at the waist sitting bolt upright. In the second version introduced in 1952 horse and rider have greater animation, the rider flung back by the motion of his steed.
The commonest model of version two with a brown horse can be found for around £175. Yet these have fallen in price from around £250 a few years ago, although colour does make a difference, for a version two 868 in grey can sell for £650, whilst one in chestnut with damage to an ear sold for £2,124 in January, and yet a third, in rocking horse grey, the most sought-after colour, sold for £2,588. Version one is harder to come by, but the price for one with a brown horse rarely exceeds £500. The rarest of all Beswick wares is Spirit of Whitfield, a pony, modelled after the pit pony Kruger. An example of this item sold for £9,500 in London fifteen years ago.
Under decorating manager Jim Hayward, there was a shift towards lifelike animal pieces, including cats, dogs, farm animals, fish and wild animals. Continued expansion enabled the acquisition of the adjoining factory in 1945 to accommodate offices, warehousing and new potting and firing facilities.
In 1947, Lucy Beswick suggested bringing to life the illustrations in the Beatrix Potter books. In 1948, John Beswick secured the right to reproduce a range of 10 Beatrix Potter earthenware characters, the first of which was Jemima Puddle-Duck, modelled by Arthur Gredington. In 1952, Beswick began manufacturing a range of Disney characters, including Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Bambi. Along with the designs of James Hayward, the high-quality pieces they produced have become quite desirable. A Beswick model of a running hare, 5 inches high, model no. 1024, issued 1945-1963 was sold by us at Bamfords for an impressive £330 a decade ago now.
Arthur Gredington retired in 1968 and the following year the company was sold to Royal Doulton and although animal figures continued to be produced, by 1989, the Beswick backstamp was dropped in favour of the Royal Doulton Royal Albert DA one.
The popularity of the Beatrix Potter characters was a factor in re-introducing the range in 1998, specifically for the collectors’ market. But by the end of 2002, Royal Doulton ceased production of all Beswick products and in 2003 the Gold Street works were sold.
In 2004 the Beswick name and product design rights were also again sold. The John Beswick name is now owned by Dartington Crystal, which continue to produce animal figurines using some original production moulds from the Gold Street works; they also produce vases under the John Beswick name. The Snowman and the Gruffalo figures are just some of the nursery figures still being produced.
Yet if you want to collect, you should ideally be looking to buy items from the Gredington era (1939-1968) and the earlier the better. As usual, check for damage and wear. There is also a published price guide by Harvey May (no relation!) last republished in 2014, which gives some idea of current prices (which appear pretty stable at present) and mould numbering. Buying new is best avoided, as it will take decades before your purchase reaches the sum you paid, and there is always the danger that the manufacturer will over-produce, which always hobbles future prices.