Shelley tea set

Shelley tea service valuation

by Allan Blackburn

Dear Allan, Please could you give me a valuation of this 40-piece Shelley tea service? It would be coming up to 100 years old. It is in good condition and there are no cracks or blemishes. Thank you.

Yours, Jean.

This sophisticated tea set is a real gem. To have a 40-piece set, complete and in good condition, is really something to be proud of! Well done for looking after it so well over the years. If it’s a 40-piece set, I am presuming that it includes tea cups, saucers and side plates as well as other essentials like a teapot and sugar bowl.

It is made of glazed china with an elegant, floral pattern in pinks, blues and greens. It was produced between 1910 and 1920 and is an ordinary floral pattern in a conventional style. Looking at the photo, I would give it a valuation for insurance purposes of £150.

The value of sets like these is not just in its manufacturer and the fact that it is complete; it is also determined by the design, the handles of the cups and the shape of the plates. These sorts of additional details give it an extra value.

Shelley produced many different designs over the years and they were at their height when they released their retro ranges in the 1930s and 40s. These boasted geometric shapes and very bright colours and sets from this period, in good condition, can fetch about £600 at the moment.

Shelley has been established since the mid 19th century. The Wileman family already owned a Staffordshire pottery, but in 1860, they opened a second factory which was to specialise in producing the finest china. At this point, James B Shelley joined the company to work as a salesman. By 1870, Henry, the head of the Wileman family, and his son James Wileman had died. Now, James Shelley took over management of the china works and became a partner in the business. They had traded under the name JF Wileman and subsequently Wileman and Co, but after a dispute over the ‘Foley’ name, they finally became Shelley Potteries Ltd in 1925.

Shelley was now at its creative peak and began to employ well known artists like the children’s illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell. As I mentioned earlier, the 1930s were a real high point for Shelley’s in terms of their design.

By the end of the 1950s, Shelley was fast losing its market share to cheaper manufacturers. In 1966, the business was sold. Sadly, Shelley is now no more. For would-be collectors, Shelley is a rewarding field. There are many, many books, catalogues and websites out there and there is much fun to be had in researching the various designs and patterns. As well as this type of floral design, there are also nursery wares, deco styles and the wonderful chintz style we see with Royal Winton, so there are lots of opportunities to specialise.

Shelley can sometimes be easy to date. If you look underneath at the bottom of the pieces, the under glazed stamp can give us a huge clue as the dates of its production. For example, the phrase ‘Fine Bone China’ was not added until 1945, so if you see this on your tea service you know it’s a fairly new example.

Thank you for sending in your photo. I love Shelley, and for tea sets, there’s nothing quite like them, so it’s always nice to see them, especially when they’ve been taken good care of. Besides, I always think a cup of tea tastes far nicer in a decent cup!