Saleroom Life

by Sheffield Auction Gallery

Month: July 2016

Keith Murray

Wedgwood approached Keith Murray in 1932 offering him a position as a designer in their company. Born in Auckland in 1892, he had emigrated to England in the early 1900s with his parents. He was trained as an architect, which gave him an excellent eye for design and form, and had been working for Powell & Sons’ Whitefriars Glassworks and then the British Glassmakers Stevens & Williams before Wedgwood eagerly took him on board. His first range for Wedgwood came out in 1933 and he designed for them with huge success during the 1930s and 40s. Although few of his pieces were produced in the 1950s and 60s, he remained a consultant for Wedgwood until 1969.

Murray’s designs are now iconic and to many he is considered one of the pioneers of the Art Deco style. He produced designs that were very simple; they were bold, modernist pieces produced with clean lines where form was integral to decoration, clearly drawing from his architectural training and his belief that good design should show common sense. A large number of designs included the ribbing or fluting effects which became a signature style of his.


Murray designed pieces primarily in green, moonstone (white), straw yellow and blue. Blue is a particularly desirable colour, although this colour was often glazed unevenly so good, even examples realise the highest prices but black basalt is by far the rarest and most sought after colour he worked with. He worked with three glazes; matt, semi-matt and celadon satin and almost all of his work was marked with a backstamp; there is both a ‘KM’ mark and a signature mark used.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website


The phenomenon known as Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 by pharmacist John Pemberton as a simple experiment of curiosity and started life sold by the glass in the Jacobs Pharmacy in Atlanta where he worked. The name comes from the ingredients originally used to make the drink; coca leaves and kola nuts. Frank Robinson, the Pemberton’s bookkeeper was actually the one who created both the name and the very distinctive Coca-Cola logo, which was in fact simply his own handwriting. He was also responsible for publicising the drink as a medicinal ‘pick me up’. Coca leaves, which were also used to make the drug cocaine, were eventually replaced in the early 1920s by caffeine.

Coca-Cola was first officially advertised in a magazine in 1902 and other merchandise quickly followed such as glasses and trays. The Coca-Cola image changed slightly during the 1920s and 1930s, alongside the ingredients, to become more family-inclusive, focusing on group enjoyment. The most well-known product of this, of course, is the famous Santa Claus images. The winter wonderland Santa Claus was developed by Swedish artist, Haddon Sundblom in the early 1930s to match the patented red of the Coca-Cola cans and is still an image synonymous with the Coca-Cola we love today.


The value of most Coca-Cola advertising is calculated the same as most collectables; rarity and condition are generally most important and realise the highest prices. Items from the late 1880s and 1890s, before official advertising from the company, are difficult to find these days making them highly sought after as are unusual items such as artwork with images of men, instead of the traditional smiling ladies. Mint condition centenary items are also popular but must be unopened and carry the centenary logo.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Automata Dolls

The height of interest in automata was from the 1880’s to the 1920’s. One of the key forms of automata from this time was the figures dancing on French music boxes. They were largely made for an adult audience by makers including Gaston Decamps, Fernard Martin and Leopold Lambert with designs such as flower sellers, acrobats and musicians being popular.

Clockwork dolls with moving parts and sound were also made for children. In fact the first walking doll was made as early as the 1820s while talking dolls took longer to perfect. Early examples produced sound due to the action of turning the doll’s arms or indeed the whole body with this exertion of pressure producing sound. Later from the 1880s, the pulling of a string became very common. However, these early talkers merely squeaked and it wasn’t until Edison’s invention of the miniaturized phonograph that the dolls finally spoke or sang. Dolls made in the 1890s containing the original tiny wax cylinder phonograph in their torsos are very rare today.

During this time, many new automata functions were being patented, not just the phonograph; one patent of particular interest was that of the ‘Mama Doll’ produced by Madame Hendren, the trademark of Averill Manufacturing Company. The ‘Mama Doll’ was a soft-bodied doll with composition head and composition lower arms and hands. What made her so unique was her voice box; when her body was tilted she cried out ‘Ma-ma’, hence the name. She is typically marked “Genuine Madame Hendren Doll”. These dolls became incredibly popular in America in the early 1920s, stealing the market from the previously desirable German bisque doll.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

Distler Tinplate Toys

The German company, Distler is best known for producing small and affordable tinplate toys. Established c.1895 in Nuremberg by Johann Distler, it first produced Penny Toys. Penny Toys were tiny toys measuring no longer than five inches, made very cheaply from pressed tin. They were extremely popular around the turn of the century and their success allowed companies like Distler to expand into larger tinplate toys.

In the 1920s and 30s, Distler greatly expanded both in terms of workforce and products, making some excellent cars and beginning to expand into clockwork mechanisms. Tinplate toys with moving parts are particularly popular with collectors and Distler made some very good battery operated examples. The 1956 “Elektro Matic 7500 FS” Porsche is probably their finest with an ignition key, forward and reverse gears and remote control with spiral wire. The Porsche is now highly sought after with examples in rare colours and mint-boxed conditions attracting the most interest.

In 1928, Mickey Mouse made his first appearance on our screens and his success was a huge boost to companies like Distler, who were one of the first manufacturers to get a license to produce Disney toys. Many early Disney toys were actually designed from memory, after seeing the films, so do contain some inconsistencies from the original characters. Disney toys are a huge collecting
field in their own right and toys complete with boxes confirming that they were made with permission of Walt Disney, like the Distler toys, hold higher values and appeal.

By the 1960s, Distler could no longer keep up with competition from the more inexpensive toys and production stopped in 1962.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website

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