Earlier, in 1912 David Dee had set up an insulator works but was soon working in various other potteries around Melbourne suggesting this business did not take off. When he co-founded Premier Pottery he was still working part time. Dee was very good at throwing and produced all the early pottery. His work was mostly for commercial purposes and the few pieces on which he signed his own name were made for use of his own family. Sadly Dee passed away in 1934, five years after Premier Pottery opened and was not present to see the future successes of the business.
Premier's earlier work reflects the influence of English potteries, due to Hawkin's background and training, and utilized underglazes and coloured glazes imported from Britain. However Premier's soon developed a style that was distinct, and by the 1930s became a highly established and successful business. Throughout this period Premier was characterized by experimentation in glaze techniques and surface treatment, along with the incorporating of Australian motifs into their designs.
The products of Premier Pottery Preston were not mass-produced. Everything was hand-made. In such an environment, inevitably pieces were produced that were not intended for the retail market but were family gifts, experiments, or simply giving rein to the potter's creative spirit. Although perhaps not strictly 'Remued' many such pieces are nowadays amongst the most interesting and sought-after.
Pottery produced at Premier Pottery Preston is better known as the Remued range. The main characteristic of these pieces is the drip glaze style. Before Premier Pottery produced the Remued range they branded their pieces as PPP or Pamela. The name ‘Remued’ comes from Reg Hawkins’ second wife. Nonie Deumer was her maiden name, which spelt backwards is Remued. She became an investor in the company after David Dee’s death.
Reg Hawkins had sole control of the company after Dee’s death and that generated much ill-will between him and Dee’s widow. This ended up being quite a difficult time for Premier Pottery as she then refused Hawkins access to Dee’s glaze recipe book containing much of the company’s trademark styles. Hawkins offered £100 to resolve the issue but was refused by Mrs. Dee. Eventually Walter Dee’s own glazes worked their way into the Remued range and the company continued to succeed.
The continuous success of Premier Pottery was also because, two years before Dee’s death, a 17-18 year old Alan James was riding his bicycle down Oakover road when Reg Hawkins offered him a job. Alan accepted and became an apprentice thrower working under David Dee. Alan picked up the skill easily and was faster and better than anyone else in the company. He enjoyed his work and would practice at every opportunity. Alan’s skill and speed resulted in Premier Pottery becoming the leading business in its field as it was able to produce much more than the competition with little resources.
Margaret Kerr began working at the Premier Pottery from the early thirties, having worked previously as a clay modelling instructor. She was responsible for a lot of the Australian floral and fauna decoration on the Remued range and may have even made the moulds of gumleaves, gumnuts and koalas that appeared often as decoration on the various pieces. She was a talented artist though she only exhibited her own work during her student years in the mid 20s. Originally Kerr would visit the pottery to work on her own pieces which the pottery would fire and glaze for her, and in return she would contribute to the decoration of the pieces being made. Margaret Kerr’s decoration was another contributing factor to the ongoing success of Premier Pottery up until World War II, when she retired.
Alan James was the only worker to remain at the pottery during World War II. The only reason the pottery was able to remain operational was because the government had contracted the pottery to produce acid stoneware jars and white army crockery. Making any decorative pieces was forbidden at the time because of wartime restrictions.
The potter responsible for most Remued production was Allan James who had originally been taught throwing by David Dee. In 1951-52 he set up a second small pottery operation using an electric kiln, not at Oakover Road but in the backyard of his home at 16 Esther St, Preston. It may be speculated that he was preparing to abandon Premier Pottery, which probably would have meant the end of Premier because the pottery revolved around him. Whatever transpired it is known that, about that time, his position at Premier changed from being an employee in a firm owned by Reg Hawkins to being a co-owner. Alan continued to work by day at Premier and worked evenings at home as well.
The 'backyard' product, not surprisingly, bore a close similarity in style to contemporary Remued production from Oakover Road. A new numbering series was instigated, the 'A' Series, marketed alongside the Later Series through the same agents. Like the Later Series the 'A' Series started at number 1 but was distinguished by the prefix letter 'A'. Initially 'A' Series shapes were nearly all new, not repeating previous shapes. They included that favourite of 1950s potters, ramekins (numbered A1 & A2) plus lamp bases, dishes and vases.
In 1946 Premier Pottery was back to the level of production it was at before the war but strong competition arose from cheap Japanese imported goods, hindering the success of Premier Pottery. This trend continued, ultimately forcing them to close their doors for good in 1956.
Allan James then went on to establish Kerryl Pottery in the nearby Melbourne suburb of Reservoir, at 53 Banbury Rd, and transferred production of 'A' Series items there. Reg Hawkins did not join him. The series was extended with new shapes and new styles of glazing reflecting changing fashions. Slip-casting was introduced for some designs, replicating popular pieces from other potteries including Beswick, Shorter & Son and E.G.Greenway. Many familiar shapes from the Later Series also made a re-appearance in the Kerryl range, particularly after about number A88. The name may be derived from Margot Kerr who worked at Remued from the early 1930s and was responsible for introducing the now highly collectable gumleaf/gumnut design, although it is believed that it was named for Kerry, the son of Allan and Myrtle James.
Premier Pottery Preston is considered a high point in the history of Australian decorative pottery and pieces are sought and displayed by leading museums such as the National Gallery of Victoria.
There was an exhibition of Remued and Preston Premier pottery held at Bundoora Homestead in 2005.