The Cumming Study Collection

Articles

Minton Creamer

Minton Creamer

The Cumming Collection began, innocently enough, with the purchase by Robert and Marian Cumming of a pair of Sevres-style vases, vaguely described by the antique dealer as ‘Continental’. With a bit of research, they turned out to be English, mid-19th century, made by Minton. Five years later, a chance bid at a 1983 auction yielded a magnificent, ‘Continental’, Sevres-style plate which also proved to be by Minton. However, this prize came from a large service ordered by Buckingham Palace in 1863 for the wedding of Edward, Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The service is in the Queen’s Collection at Sandringham.

Bob was now hooked on collecting English porcelain and he decided to concentrate on the Minton factory. There were knowledge gaps for the company’s early years which offered the challenge of historical research, and he pursued this vigorously, in parallel with building a study collection of Minton’s first period of bone china prior to 1816.

Until 1796, a controversial process patent precluded the legal production of bone china as we know it. But that did not stop the Staffordshire potters from experimenting and, when an attempt to extend the patent failed in Parliament, Joseph Poulson was among the first to spring into production in his new china pottery. He also formed a marketing partnership with Thomas Minton who had built a near-by earthenware pottery. When Poulson died in 1808, Minton rented the china works from his Estate and carried on under his own name until he abandoned china production in 1816. In 1824, he built his own china pottery, and then under his son, Herbert and his successors, Mintons occupied a pre-eminent position among English ceramic manufacturers throughout the 19th century.

The time-frame of the Collection began to widen as interesting pieces were acquired from later in the 19th century. That lead to a conscious decision to build a broader study collection, based exclusively on Minton, which would illustrate the evolution of English ceramics across the 19th century.

Minton Sugarbox

Minton Sugarbox

As the Collection developed, it outgrew display and storage space in the Cumming’s Ottawa residence. Also, as Bob wanted to see it preserved and utilized for public education, an agreement was reached for the donation of most pieces to the George R. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto. About 300 examples are now in the museum, and more will be added in due course.
Every piece has been photographed on print film and slides as it entered the Collection, and each item is catalogued with full research details. These thick catalogue binders constitute an invaluable research resource which, along with extensive material in the collection archives, will be donated to the Museum.

The Collection at the Gardiner Museum is available to researchers and serious collectors on application to the Museum curators.