JOURNAL

A COLLECTOR'S STORY: CHRISTEN PEARS



As a silversmith, Robert understood cast iron. He used it to make stakes and mandrels for shaping silver onto. In 1961 Robert was working on a commission for a silver candlestick in the workshop. The design featured stacked discs around a central core. It was as a result of this project, and the direct influence of silver smithing with its focus on ‘decorative’ items, which led him to consider the possibility of applying cast iron in this way, instead of solely as a material suitable for cookware or heavy duty fixtures - this was unusual.

He conceived of an inexpensive, robust candle holder as a contrast to the silver design. He also cast the candle holder in bronze, but opted to use iron. The two designs (silver and iron) are reminiscent but the simplicity of the cast iron shape he produced turned out to be one of the runaway successes of his career.

Known as Campden Designs the cast iron series expanded quickly to form a small family of shapes; including the nutcracker, fruit stand and peppermill. The cast iron range helped Robert break into new markets and sold internationally in large quantities. The tazza-shaped fruit stand was especially loved in Denmark; images of these had featured in the Decorative Art Yearbook 1964 and not long afterwards a letter arrived from design retailer Hagbarth Skjalm Petersen ordering two dozen for his shop in Copenhagen - H. Skjalm P. The candlestick and nutcracker were eventually renamed ‘Hobart’ when relaunched in the 1990s after a small break in production, as a tribute to Skjalm, who had become Robert’s friend and whose first name was pronounced similarly.

By 1963 the whole venture had grown to such an extent that it was necessary to collaborate with a specialist agency, Heal’s recommended Wigmore Distributors. Together they formed a joint holding company, which took the name Campden Designs from the cast iron pieces. In 1967 Old Hall Tableware took over until the early 1970s when Victor Cast Ware began making and marketing the range.

The designs were his first products to be marketed and sold as a ‘Robert Welch Design’ and in many ways the story, from ordinary and unassuming to iconic, imitates his story - one man, his drawing board and pencil, to today’s global company.


What started your interest in mid-century design?

- My first mid-century purchase was a set of three Danish candlesticks simply because I loved the shape.

The contrast of the modern pieces against the age of your cottage is striking, how did this aesthetic come about?

- It was purely by accident. We live in a farmhouse which dates back to the 18th century but, over the years, various renovations have stripped out the original features. It’s almost a blank canvas for the various mid century furniture and other pieces that I’ve collected over the years.

Why do you feel the cast iron pieces complement this?

 - I think the cast iron pieces are timeless and would look good in any interior. They have a very solid but elegant feel to them that I think works perfectly in our house.

Is it the material or shape which speaks most to you?

- I think actually it’s the design. I have a lot of stainless steel pieces too and

 

what they have in common with the cast iron is that they’re both functional and beautiful. The designs are pared back but distinctive and that really appeals to me.

Where do you find most of your pieces?

- I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a few pieces in charity shops but most of my purchases have been online, either eBay or Etsy.

Are there other pieces you hope to add to your collection?

- I often flick through my Robert Welch book and earmark things I’d like to add to my collection. There are many but what I covet most is a canteen of Alveston cutlery.

Do you use your vintage Robert Welch items in day to day life, or are they just for show?

- Everything gets used, obviously some things more than others, and it gives me enormous pleasure to live with such well-designed pieces. The salt and pepper grinders are used every day but things like the gravy boat, serving dishes and Bistro cutlery come out on a regular basis.


In the early 1960s Robert Welch designed his first piece in cast iron, a candleholder he named Hobart. Cast iron was an important addition to Robert Welch's portfolio, complementing his designs in silver and steel. At first Hobart was produced in small numbers,

the initial order was only two dozen, but after displaying them in his studio and home the designs popularity grew and led to a second order of one-hundred. Robert sold the designs himself out of a suitcase for a year, and initial buyers included Liberty and Heals.

As a silversmith, Robert understood cast iron. He used it to make stakes and mandrels for shaping silver onto. In 1961 Robert was working on a commission for a silver candlestick in the workshop. The design featured stacked discs around a central core. It was as a result of this project, and the direct influence of silver smithing with its focus on ‘decorative’ items, which led him to consider the possibility of applying cast iron in this way, instead of solely as a material suitable for cookware or heavy duty fixtures - this was unusual.

He conceived of an inexpensive, robust candle holder as a contrast to the silver design. He also cast the candle holder in bronze, but opted to use iron. The two designs (silver and iron) are reminiscent but the simplicity of the cast iron shape he produced turned out to be one of the runaway successes of his career.

Known as Campden Designs the cast iron series expanded quickly to form a small family of shapes; including the nutcracker, fruit stand and peppermill. The cast iron range helped Robert break into new markets and sold internationally in large quantities. The tazza-shaped fruit stand was especially loved in Denmark; images of these had featured in the Decorative Art Yearbook 1964 and not long afterwards a letter arrived from design retailer Hagbarth Skjalm Petersen ordering two dozen for his shop in Copenhagen - H. Skjalm P. The candlestick and nutcracker were eventually renamed ‘Hobart’ when relaunched in the 1990s after a small break in production, as a tribute to Skjalm, who had become Robert’s friend and whose first name was pronounced similarly.

By 1963 the whole venture had grown to such an extent that it was necessary to collaborate with a specialist agency, Heal’s recommended Wigmore Distributors. Together they formed a joint holding company, which took the name Campden Designs from the cast iron pieces. In 1967 Old Hall Tableware took over until the early 1970s when Victor Cast Ware began making and marketing the range.

The designs were his first products to be marketed and sold as a ‘Robert Welch Design’ and in many ways the story, from ordinary and unassuming to iconic, imitates his story - one man, his drawing board and pencil, to today’s global company.


Robert Welch Collector

Christen Pears

What started your interest in mid-century design?

- My first mid-century purchase was a set of three Danish candlesticks simply because I loved the shape.

The contrast of the modern pieces against the age of your cottage is striking, how did this aesthetic come about?

- It was purely by accident. We live in a farmhouse which dates back to the 18th century but, over the years, various renovations have stripped out the original features. It’s almost a blank canvas for the various mid century furniture and other pieces that I’ve collected over the years.

Why do you feel the cast iron pieces complement this?

 - I think the cast iron pieces are timeless and would look good in any interior. They have a very solid but elegant feel to them that I think works perfectly in our house.

Is it the material or shape which speaks most to you?

- I think actually it’s the design. I have a lot of stainless steel pieces too and what they have in common with the cast iron is that they’re both functional and beautiful. The designs are pared back but distinctive and that really appeals to me.

Where do you find most of your pieces?

- I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a few pieces in charity shops but most of my purchases have been online, either eBay or Etsy.

Are there other pieces you hope to add to your collection?

- I often flick through my Robert Welch book and earmark things I’d like to add to my collection. There are many but what I covet most is a canteen of Alveston cutlery.

Do you use your vintage Robert Welch items in day to day life, or are they just for show?

- Everything gets used, obviously some things more than others, and it gives me enormous pleasure to live with such well-designed pieces. The salt and pepper grinders are used every day but things like the gravy boat, serving dishes and Bistro cutlery come out on a regular basis.