Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Collecting Scandinavian Enamelware

Alex Drake Vintage's Cathrineholm Lotus Ware Collection

A thirty-second history lesson:
From the 1940s to the 1970s, Scandinavian enamelware design and manufacture was at its peak. It ruled the kitchenware roost.
Scandinavian designers were known to embrace ultimate form and function.
Grete Prytz Kittelsen (for Cathrineholm) and Herbert Krenchel (for Torben Orskov and later Glud & Marstrands) emphasised that the purpose of a simple bowl, for example, should be to work well both as a tableware piece and an object on display.

Why enamel?
The strength of materials (metal, hard enamel) and almost limitless colourway possibilities. Its versatility - not easily breakable despite easy chipping on rims. Easy to clean and displays well.

Why so costly?
From crystallised powder (glass, white sand, potash, etc) applied to metal, an enamelled object is fired up to 1470 F or around 800 C in a kiln.
Any dirt, finger mark, miscalculation, wrong technique etc will ruin a piece. Production of any enamel object is painstakingly long.
Hence, fast forward more than 60 years later, talented UK ceramic designers Hannah Dipper & Robin Farquhar's (People Will Always Need Plates) create their limited-edition "tenbytwo" set of nesting bowls at a not-unreasonable £2500.

Existing vintage Scandinavian enamel pieces on the Internet and in high street vintage shops thus hold a relatively high retail value.

Krenit bowls and salad servers. Photo from liveauctioneers.com

Cathrineholm vs Krenit
At time of writing, despite other vintage Scandinavian enamel collectables out there, Cathrineholm and Krenit enamel bowls are two of the most popular collectable pieces for most midcentury enthusiasts. Comparing the two is almost always a delightful and sometimes fervid point of discussion for enamel traders and collectors.

Cathrineholm Lotus Ware was made from 1962-1965. Plates, bowls, casseroles, coffee canisters, coffee pots and percolators, tea kettles, spice jars and soup tureens are distinguished by their lotus leaf decoration. They were made in about 11 colours, including combinations.
According to literature, Kittelsen was responsible for the form and colour whilst Arne Clausen, another Cathrineholm designer, pushed for the idea of lotus leaves. Lotus ware became irrefutably trendy, not just in its native Norway but across Europe, in Japan and the USA.

Krenit (kren from Krenchel and nit from eternit, which is a fibre cement Krenchel used as an engineer), only made bowls with accompanying salad servers. The bowls' interiors were shiny, contrasting stunningly the matte black exterior. The colour palette was simply beautiful.

Cathrineholm Lotus ware was produced more than a decade after Krenit bowls came into production.

What it means to the collector:
Some will favour the simplistic, timeless look of Krenit bowls, whilst others will bask in the colourful vibrance of Cathrineholm, particularly Lotus Ware.
At the Haggerston School Modern Show in Oct 2014, a few visitors muttered the word Kitsch in reference to the bright presence of the Cathrineholm pieces I was showcasing. (I have an archived blog about Kitsch here. Make a cup of tea and give it a read.)

We can all be a bit self-righteous, holding to a variety of unshakable notions and beliefs.
I'm happy to share the following points though:
Cathrineholm Lotus Ware has a truly strong presence because of its colourways. The factory has been shut since 1970 and so far, there has been no attempt by any design company to re-issue. Yes, there are Deka plastic bowls made in Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA. These bear lotus leaves which
apparently Arne Clausen, the Lotus ware designer, permitted Deka to re-use. But it's the enamel pieces that we're examining.

Krenit bowls, since 2008, have been re-issued by Normann Copenhagen. In the world of collectables and antiques, it is held that any original piece, once reproduced will loose some, if not a chunk, of its commercial value. Only time and market behaviour will tell.

If you're a disciple of design wanting to collect according to the creative merits of both designers, then consider this:
Krenchel's Krenit Bowl won the Gold Prize at the 1954 Triennial Award whilst Kittelsen won Grand Prix for her enamel work at the same design event. Only bowls and salad servers were created by Krenchel whilst Kittelsen produced enamelled pieces from jewellery to tablewares and kitchenwares.

There is no right or wrong about collecting. If you're after muted colours and a classic look, go for Krenit. If you'd rather feel cheerful, happy and energised, then get Cathrineholm Lotus.
If you're collecting for financial purposes, then be prepared to know the market and look after your pieces well.

Finland's Finel Bowls. Photo from etsy via fuzzandfu shop

Ultimately, you as the collector/enthusiast/end-user will be the one constantly seeing and handling the enamel pieces you've acquired.
So choose well and most importantly, enjoy them.

Alex Drake Vintage will be showcasing Cathrineholm, Krenit and Finel enamelware
at Midcentury Show East, Space 12, Lower Hall, Dulwich College, London on November 22, 2015. 
Over 60 midcentury and modern furniture, homewares and collectable dealers will be showing high-quality midcentury and modern items.

Want to buy Scandinavian enamel? Head on to our site alexdrakevintage.com.



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