In our Fine Art auction this November, we’ll be featuring a range of intriguing and valuable Shelley figures, including Boo Boos, designed by the illustrator Mabel Lucie Atwell, who had a long and successful career, producing work for magazines, children’s books and advertisements. Here’s the story of Attwell’s life and work, and how her designs came to be produced by the popular china company.
Born to a butcher, Augustus Attwell and his wife Emily Ann, she was their sixth child. She was privately educated at the Coopers’ Company School and at the Regent Street school. Mabel then studied at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art, as well as Saint Martin’s School of Art. However, due to her dislike of the emphasis on still-life drawing and classical subjects and her desire to pursue her interest in imaginary subjects, she left.
Her early career revolved around magazine illustration, with work she had produced for magazines Tatler and The Bystander leading her to being taken on by agents Francis and Mills. Early works were broadly derivative of several of her peers, including her friend Hilda Cowham. Other contributions to magazines included The Daily Graphic and The Illustrated London News.
1900 saw her begin to receive book illustration commissions from the likes of W & R Chamber and the Raphael House Library of Gift Books. Through the 1910s, Attwell provided illustrations for a number of classic children’s titles, such as Mother Goose (1910), Alice in Wonderland (1911), Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales (1914), The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (1915) and a 1921 edition of Peter Pan and Wendy.
Attwell's work even garnered the interest of Queen Marie of Romania, herself a writer of children’s books, who invited Attwell to stay for a time at the royal palace in Bucharest. She would illustrate 2 long stories written by Queen Marie, published by Hodder and Stoughton.
Alongside her book and magazine illustrations, in 1914 Attwell introduced a particular graphic style of cutesy, cuddly-looking infants, which found themselves marketed on all sorts of items, from greetings cards and calendars, to nursery equipment and pictures, crockery and dolls.
In the 1920s, Mabel wrote her own series of children’s stories, about little fairies in green suits called Boo Boos. Her pictures from these stories would become her most recognisable series of illustrations, and they were further reproduced on postcards.
Then, in 1926, Shelley Potteries entered the picture. Having already seen success with pieces decorated with designs by Hilda Cowham, they approached Mabel and commissioned her to produce designs for children’s nursery ware, which comprised six plates decorated with Boo Boos scenes. She then designed a Boo Boos-themed tea set. The response to her designs for Shelley was positive, with Pottery Gazette declaring them “a truly irresistible range of nursery ware, altogether in advance of what was usually put before the trade.”
This success led to the production of her infant and Boo Boo designs as figures by Shelley, from 1937 onwards. They continued in production into the 1960s, until, in 1966, Shelley China Ltd became part of Allied English Potteries and production of Shelley ware ceased.
Mabel Lucie Attwell died in 1964, but her illustrations endure and items featuring her work are still produced today.
You can view all the Shelley China pieces we'll be featuring in our November Fine Art auction here
How to Sell Shelley or Mabel Lucie Attwell Items at Auction
Do you have Mable Lucie Atwell or Shelley items to sell? Our friendly team can advise you and provide auction estimates. We hold valuation days every Tuesday at our Silverdale premises. Simply email us for an appointment at email@example.com or call us on +44 (0)1782 638100 Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm.
If you can't attend in person, but would like to submit items for valuation, send us an email with details and a photograph (eg make, model, model number, measurements, condition) and one of our experts will provide information and auction estimates. Alternatively, give us a call to arrange a home visit appointment.