Friday, 24 February 2017

Discovering the story behind Linn Ware

Before buying a work of art, pottery or furniture I prefer to read up on the artist. The reason why I never did this for Linn Ware was because I never intended to start a collection.

I enjoy the stories connected with objects and places, sometimes more than the object itself. After my latest purchase of Linn Ware, I realised that I know very little about the group of women potters who created all these beautiful items that can still be found in small collections in antique shops in the Cape. Gauteng is a different matter altogether. In Gauteng, one can still encounter collections of bigger pieces for sale.

At Riaan Bolt’s stall at the latest South African Antique Dealers’ Association (SAADA) Expo held in the V and A Waterfront, Cape Town, it came as no surprise that much of his collection of Linn Ware that he brought from Gauteng was sold within minutes. For once, I was relieved that we went early and I had time to choose the pieces that I wanted before it turned into a ‘feeding frenzy’.

A brief history of Linn Ware 1942 to 1954

The Olifantsfontein kilns Photo:
The high quality of clay found at Olifantsfontein, prompted Sir Thomas Cullinan to start a company that would produce fine china. He had built a special "potters' village" and factory where he employed trained potters from Stoke-on-Trent. The first pottery was called ‘Transvaal Potteries’. The pottery closed in May 1914. This was succeeded by the Ceramic Studio, which was founded in 1926 and became known as Linn Ware in 1942.

Audrey Frank, one of the artists working at the Ceramic Studio, remembers the potteries as follows; “There were sprawling workshops surrounding huge coal-fired bottle and tunnel kilns of the Consolidated Brick and Pottery factory. A private railway with one engine, for the use of the factory, ran to and from the railway station. There was a large clay pit where the clay for the bricks and tiles was quarried. The railway station was about 1 mile away and the road to it was a sandy track, often ankle deep in sand. The dwellings at Olifantsfontein were single storied, low-roofed semi-detached cottages in a long row about a quarter of a mile from “The Works”. There was one little primary school and tennis court, and one small so-called “hall” wedged between “The Green Gate” and another cottage. One general dealer’s store supplied our groceries. There was a large compound for the African labourers who worked at the factory. Around us stretched open veldt with gum tree plantations in the distance.”

The Ceramic Studio was faced with closure during World War II, due to the loss of staff to the war effort and the unavailability of imported clays and glazes. Many of the Linn Ware glazes were developed locally because of the unavailability of imported glazes. After the Ceramic Studio closed, all the British potters were sent home and the workshops, kilns and special cottages were abandoned.

There are different theories as to precisely when the Linn Ware studios closed. But according to Artefacts, the online resource pages; “Patrick Cullinan, the last manager of the works states that the pottery studio closed in early 1954.”

Linn Ware markings

On our Linn Ware pieces we have found different markings.

The transitional mark from Ceramic Studios to Linn Ware seemed to be the ‘hut’ or ‘bowl’ stamped on the underside of each piece.

Then the words Linn Ware written underneath each piece, seems to date from after the Conrand Company bought the studio in 1943 and continued as the practice until as late as 1949.

The LW stamp that appears under each piece seems to be a later marking.

Artists who worked at the Linn Ware studio

Joan Foster Methley and Thelma Newlands-Currie were two artists that worked for both the Ceramic Studio and Linn Ware.

In “The Women of Olifantsfontein - South African studio ceramics” by Melanie Hillebrand, compiled for an exhibition held in the South African National Gallery in Cape Town in 1991, I found the following information about them.

Joan Methley  photo: The Women of Olifantsfontein
Joan Foster Methley (1898 – 1975) worked at the two studios from 1926 to 1952. She trained at the Durban School of Art (1916-1918) and the Royal College of Art, London (1919-1921). She was a co-founder of the Ceramic Studio and manager of Linn Ware. 

Thelma Newlands-Currie Photo:The Women of Olifantsfontein
Thelma Newlands-Curry (1903-1990) worked at the two studios from 1928 to 1935 and part-time from 1935 to 1952. She trained at the Durban School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London as well and was employed by the studios as designer/decorator.

Painting by Thelma Newlands-Currie of the Olifantsfontein kilns Photo:
Joan Methley had this to say about their vision for the studio, “It is to be hoped that pottery as it develops in this country will reflect the personality of South Africa and not be merely a soulless imitation of that which originates in other countries”. (Methley, J . The development of Pottery Making in South Africa, The Common Room Magazine, Somer 1926, p.24.) 

Frank Agliotti was a skilled Italian potter who worked at the Ceramic Studio from 1926 to 1931. He took over throwing from Gladys Short, the other founder member of the Ceramic Studio. He later left the studio to start his own business. Joseph Agliotti, who was trained by his father, took over as thrower from 1940 to 1952.

The following anecdote of Frank Agliotti was recorded in "The women of Olifantsfontein": “The staff included an old Italian thrower who was short but strong and able to throw whatever was required. He could throw huge Aladdin style garden pots which had to be built up in stages. As the pot grew Agliotti had to stand on throwing “bats” of wood to gain height and his arms were stretched to the armpits to reach into and pull up the sides of the pot. Visitors came out from Pretoria and Johannesburg to see and buy pots. On one occasion Princess Alice of Athlone paid a visit. Having demonstrated his skill, Agliotti persuaded her to try her hand at throwing, which of course, he controlled with his own strong fingers, and she was given her effort. “Nice, these high up people!”was his comment.”

In Heymans's thesis there is also mention of four unknown Italian prisoners-of-war who were potters at the Ceramic Studio.

South Africa has a proud history of creative people. If one looks at the number of public buildings that were decorated with tiles and sculptures made by the Ceramic Studio, the question arises as to how many of these works of art have been lost or survive or were simply recorded.

I believe that the potters of Olifantsfontein and their works deserve more research and recording. I for one have learnt a lot from my limited reading of the history of Linn Ware and would like to know more. What I have read provides me with a new appreciation for these works of art.

The women of Olifantsfontein-South African studio ceramics by Melanie Hillebrand, 1991
Pottebakkerswerk in Suid-Afrika met spesifieke verwysing na die werk wat vanaf 1925 to 1952 by Olifansfontein gedoen is by Johanna Adriana Heymans, Master Thesis 1989 


  1. An amazing story. Thanks for all the interesting information.

  2. Hi....Thank you for all this info. I have been to an auction and bought a beautiful bowl...It has 3 distinct dots/spots on the base. It looks like Linn Ware...but has no other markings besides the 3 dots. Pls can you help me identify this beautiful bowl.
    Thank you. ....I live in Montague Western Cape

  3. Hi Terry, you can send a picture of the bowl and a picture of the markings to my email address and I can see if I can help you. Regards Thys

  4. Hi Thys.

    Not directly related to your post on Linn Ware or indeed ceramics to the caliber that you deal in, but perhaps you will have some insight into my own research.

    Your post makes mention of Frank Agliotti. I am wondering if you would know if this would be the same Agliotti (or perhaps a relation of) that had a ceramics studio on the East Rand of Gauteng?

    I am doing research into architectural vernaculars of South Africa and my current focus is the Hacienda style popular in the 60, 70s, and into the 80s which was often accompanied by a Mexican sleeping under a Saguaro Cactus (sometimes also accompanied by an orange sun and/or mule) and my research has lead me to believe that the Agliotti was one of the primary producers of these wall pieces, but I am struggling to find any information beyond that. If you would happen to have any further leads or information on Agliotti it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you kindly

  5. Hi Alex

    According to the Master in Arts thesis of Johanna Adriana Heymans, 'Potterbakkerswerk in Suid-Afrika met spesifieke verwysing na die werk wat vanaf 1925 tot 1952 by Olifantsfontein gedoen is', May 1989, was Frank Agliotti an experienced Italian Potter that worked at the 'Ceramic Studio' from 16 August 1926 to 3 September 1931 (page 34). In the book 'The women of Olifantsfontein - South African studio ceramics' by Melanie Hillebrand, 1991 on page 16, it is mentioned that Frank Agliotti left the Ceramic Studio to start his own business in Kempton Park. As Frank was a potter by profession one can safely say that it would have been some kind of pottery studio.

    In the Heymans thesis it is mentioned that Frank Agliotti's son Joseph also worked at 'Ceramic Studio'(page 35) and in the book by Hillebrand there is a note on page 16 that Joseph Agliotti worked at the 'Ceramic Studio' from 15 February 1940 to c1952

    There are some contradictions between a newspaper article about Glenn Agliotti's grandfather in the Sunday Times of 19 November 2006 by Jocelyn Maker and Simpiwe Piliso that states, "Agliotti's father Frank and his brother Joseph were never friends. For years there had been "bad blood" between them. They had fought over land in Kempton Park and a small pottery business that their father, Giuseppe, had bought after he arrived in South Africa from Italy."

    In the book 'Glenn Agliotti' by Peter Piegl and Sean Newman, June 2013 the following information appears. " Grandfather Francesco came to South Africa from Calabria in the south of Italy after World War Two. The South African government was looking for people with specialised knowledge and he was an expert in ceramics and clay. He established a pottery in Kempton Park and bought property in the area as his business flourished."

    If we keep in mind that Frank( Francesco?) Aggliotti worked at the 'Ceramic Studio' from 16 August 1926 to 3 September 1931 before he started his own studio he could not have come to South Africa after WWII(1 September 1939 to 2 September 1945).

    The fact that is clear from all of this is that Frank Agliotti had a ceramic studio in Kempton Park. I hope this information helps you.

    Good luck with some interesting research.

    Kind regards

  6. Hi Thys,
    I have what I believe is a Linn Ware piece from 1936, but the makers mark is painted on the underside in glaze, saying "THE CERAMIC STUDIO, 1936" and the number "9185". The last 5 is unclear though... This bowl belonged to my granny, but I never asked about it's provenance when she was alive. Can you give me more info? I would be happy to email photos.


  7. Hi Gail

    You have an original piece from The Ceramic Studio that was founded in 1926 and was sold and became Linn Ware in 1942. Your piece was still produced by the Ceramic Studio the glace might have a Linn Ware feel because some of the artist that worked at the Ceramic Studio was later employed by the Linn Ware Studio.

    The Ceramic Studio was the first potter's studio in the history of pottery in South Africa that produced artistic ceramics in mass. (Heymans 1989)

    For more information on the Works of the Ceramic Studio and an example of their mark you can visit

    I hope this will help you.
    Kind regards


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