How Verceram went from has-been to hip
For decades, Verceram pottery languished in attics or was consigned to the trash. Now the vintage French pottery is back, as a new generation of design hounds fall for its quirky charm.
Bold contrasts, groovy shapes
I first set eyes on Verceram pottery when I moved to France, and was immediately struck by how different it was from other 1960s ceramics I knew.
With its bold contrasts and groovy shapes, it might have come from another galaxy.
In fact, it probably came from Montreuil, an eastern suburb of Paris. We know the owner/designer was a Monsieur Caux and that the factory was active from the 1940s until 1971, the decades the French call “Les Trente Glorieuses”. We also know that when the factory closed, Fourmantreaux & Dèsvres bought up the moulds and continued production for a short while.
But that’s about the sum of what we know and to this day no helpful archives have turned up to fill in the gaps.
Mid century zing
In the late 1940s, Verceram made enamelled green or red pottery, attractive, but with an air of late Art Deco about it.
All that changed in the 1950s. Colours got brighter. Shapes became abstract and sweeping.
This upbeat Verceram tableware, in mustard glaze with wood-grain texture, would cut a dash on any table!
But it was the 1960s that Verceram really developed its defining style.
First came a range of iridescent glazes in groovy, avant-garde shapes that played with contrast and lines, occasionally flirting with the kitsch.
Verceram followed that with a range of sleek red and brown pieces, a real foretaste of the 1970s.
Handle with care
The iridescent metallic effects – a pearlised white and an iridescent blue-black – were notoriously tricky to make, and there was a good deal of wastage. The finish was delicate and prone to damage – one slip, and the piece had to be discarded. The fact that the glazes scratch so easily makes it even harder to find perfect items 50 years later. (Hint: use only a soft brush and mild detergent, or you’ll regret it!)
Verceram pottery was made for the domestic market, so it’s rarely found outside France. If you’re lucky, you can still pick up inexpensive tobacco jars and vases at French brocantes and antique fairs. Expect to pay more for scarcer pieces, which are keenly sought by collectors.
Today, lamps are among some of the rarest Verceram ceramics.
They were made in a range of abstract and figurative shapes, including this ultra-rare Morris column table lamp, an appealing souvenir of Paris – if you can find one.
One of the most collectible items is this sweet‘smoking’ ashtray (and, yes, it really does smoke). It was made in small numbers and sold on board the luxury ocean liner, the France. That touch of ocean liner history makes it a very engaging little object.
Most Verceram are signed with the V-in-a-circle trademark, but these rare fish ashtrays have a mystery signature. They’re far too nice to flick ash into them, don’t you think?