The Drunken Bricklayer

Nick Davies toasts the Drunken Bricklayer, an instantly recognisable and much sought-after piece of British glassware

How would you feel about having a Drunken Bricklayer in your home? Not so keen? What about if I told you that I’m referring to one of the most sought-after pieces in a range of contemporary glassware with a price tag of up to £1,000… The Drunken Bricklayer is a vase arranged as three offset cubes designed by Geoffrey Baxter in 1967 for the Whitefriars glass company. Issued in two sizes (8-inch and 12-inch) the vase came in a range of colours including tangerine, kingfisher blue, cinnamon and pewter. The design is part of the Textured range launched under Baxter’s watchful eye which followed the strong trends being created by leading Scandinavian designers. Today it is one of the most instantly recognised products of the post-war period with its quintessentially Sixties’ feel, look and colour palette.

WHAT’S THIS GRAN?

The exposure of Whitefriars work over recent years has led to a greater understanding and awareness of the pieces that were once all too swiftly packed up for the car boot sale. Numerous television shows and reference books have meant that people are taking a much more careful look at gran’s colourful glass vases. Whitefriairs adopted many different techniques in glass manufacture over their long history including blow moulding, free blowing, texturing, applied and cut decoration. Often influenced by historical references or other active design movements, they were always in step with fashion and trends particularly across the changing face of the mid to late 20th century. There are many designers who made Whitefriars such an institution in the international glass field including Harry Powell and James Hogan, but today’s collectors favour the designs of Geoffrey Baxter whose extensive catalogue and dramatic pieces are now changing hands for considerable sums. Baxter, born in 1922, was employed by Whitefriars as assistant designer in 1954. Working under the instruction of the great William Wilson, then managing director, he was the first permanent employee to be hired outside of the founding Powell family. Baxter graduated from the Royal College of Arts Industrial Glassware and drove the company forward with his fresh approach and abundance of ideas.

NUTS AND BOLTS

He developed a new method of mould making using pieces of old wood, tacks, nails and wire. These components were used in highly original and unusual ways that produced striking effects when cast into iron and used to manufacture cased textured glass. There are many variations on the Textured theme, which include pieces now fondly known as Banjo, Mobile Phone and Nuts and Bolts. However, it is the Drunken Bricklayer that remains the most loved of all. Today these vases seem to strike a resonance with collectors old and young. Deemed ‘living memory antiques’ there are no end of collectors queuing up to own one. A small example will today set you back between £150 and £300-plus, while a large piece could cost you £500 to £1,000 depending on the colour. Not bad for a bit of pressed glass!

Nick Davies co-founded West Midlands auctioneers Fieldings in 2001 with partner Will Farmer. Since then the company has become an established auction house with an extensive client base of national and international buyers. www.fieldingsauctioneers.co.uk