Royal Doulton Bunnykins
Period Pieces #2: Royal Doulton Bunnykins Nurseryware
Our toddler receives all his meals on colourful plastic plates from Ikea. They cost something ridiculous like 6 for 90p. We have a basket full of them. They are cheap, stackable, dishwasher-proof, and can be thrown across a room without breaking. None of these attributes apply to the china nurseryware my parents recently dug out of their attic. Yet when asked if I wanted it my answer was of course – yes please!
The decision to inherit this crockery was of course compelled by nostalgia. The bowl my mum ate her Weetabix from half a century ago, and that I used in the 1980’s, can now serve a third generation.
So our mountain of Ikea plastic now has esteemed company in the form of some Royal Doulton ‘Bunnykins’ nurseryware. For those unfamiliar, Bunnykins designs feature cute little rabbits in human clothes going about their early 20th century middle-class business. Yes this might border on twee, but this is crockery with serious pedigree. It is Royal Doulton’s longest running design series, having been produced for over 80 years, and it all started in a small room in a convent.
Royal Doulton is a household British name. The company is just over 200 years old. They started producing fine bone china tableware in the early twentieth century, and Bunnykins designs for children were introduced in 1934. The original artist for Bunnykins was Barbara Vernon Bailey, daughter of Cuthbert Bailey, who was Chairman of Royal Doulton in the 1930s. Do I smell nepotism?
In fairness Barbara didn’t receive a penny for her drawings, she was hugely devoted to her father and did them as a favour. She wasn’t even a professional illustrator, she was a nun. The story goes that her Mother Superior at the convent was less than enthusiastic about this extra-curricular activity, and insisted that it didn’t interfere with daily monastic duties. So some of Britain’s most iconic and enduring nurseryware designs were voluntarily painted by a nun, late at night, alone in her cell. The Mother Superior even refused that the convent receive any future share of the royalties – ouch!
In a savvy marketing move, Royal Doulton presented a young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret with a set of the new Bunnykins tableware from which to eat their morning porridge. This no doubt precipitated a middle-class stampede to John Lewis to stock up on the cute little plates and bowls.
Sister Barbara stopped drawing in about 1950, and early pieces signed “Barbara Vernon” are now a bit of a collector’s item. However Bunnykins remains a staple of the Royal Doulton range and definately qualifies as a bonafide ‘period piece’.
About Period Terrace is a blog about interior design and DIY in Victorian and Edwardian houses. It shares ideas, projects, tips and tricks to create spaces that are ideal for modern family living, whilst being sympathetic to the age and charm of a period home. Read more...
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