Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Bitten by the Pratchett bug!

Clarecraft was set up initially in 1980 by Bernard and Isobel Pearson. In 1990 they acquired the rights to make pieces based on the Discworld series of books. In 1993 the factory was taken over by Trish Baker and Sally Crouch. Bernard continued to make Discworld pieces and the Cunning Artificer is responsible for producing the amazing buildings of the Disc. After reading the books the designers would come up with an idea which would be shown to Terry, when it got his approval, (and only when it got his approval) it would be manufactured. The beauty of the Clarecraft figures is that due to the processes and the fact that each one is handmade and hand painted each figure is unique. Also mistakes were made and tweaks were made to figures resulting in many different versions of the same figure. Famous examples include putting the wrong badge number on some of the City Watch characters (Carrot and Angua being given Vimes number), an errant apostrophe on the dried frog pills boxes and adding the cloak to the Vetinari figurine to make it easier to paint. These of course just added to the fun of tracking items down and I can still remember the absolute joy I felt when I managed to snag a perfect Mark 1 Carrot off eBay for a reasonable price!

With the arrival of Discworld figurines there of course followed Discworld fanatics. The Disc has a nasty habit of bringing out the fanatical collector in anyone and Clarecraft soon realised that the figurines were acquiring a devoted and loyal following. Acting on this they did what any reputable collectable company would do and set up a club!!! Not just any club, but the Discworld Collectors Guild!

The Discworld Collectors Guild was set up and for the payment of a small sum you got yourself a card (every club needs a card otherwise what’s the point in belonging to it!) and a free figurine/pewter figure. The card entitled you to buy the collectors piece, a special piece produced every year for sale only to members of the Guild. Initially these were available through normal Clarecraft stockists but it soon became apparent that certain proprietors were not demanding the production of the card prior to sale!!! This nefarious practice was brought to an end when the figures were made available only through Clarecraft themselves.

I came to the Collectors Guild and indeed Terry Pratchett rather late. My father had been trying to interest me in Terrys’ books for years but I resisted! Finally, in 1997 I was sat on my own on Christmas day in my then boyfriends flat, he had to work and I was waiting for him to finish. Bored and lonely I did what any young woman would do when left alone in someone elses flat. I snooped, shamelessly and obsessively! Finally, when I had exhausted that particular avenue of entertainment I became bored again. I am an avid reader, have been all my life and this flat belonged to a young man and his flatmate so the only literature appeared to be of a certain type of publication not suitable for young ladies…. and one book. It was Soul Music by Terry Pratchett. I picked it up, I wasn’t heartened by the picture on the front and frankly the blurb on the back didn’t thrill me, but I was desperate. I began to read.

I would like to say I was instantly in love with it all but although I enjoyed the book and wanted to read more I was quite casual about it all. I went to Tesco and bought another paperback Pratchett and then another. And quickly realised that there were some that I would grow to love and some that I, well, wouldn’t. I then read Hogfather and that is what ultimately did for me. By the end of that I was hopelessly and completely in love with the Disc and its inhabitants. I began to accidentally say Hogswatch instead of Christmas, kept forgetting that the Verucca Gnome doesn’t exist and I subscribed to the Samuel Vimes Boots theory of economic unfairness, which I still finds illustrates the point nicely today!

In the back of all these paperbacks was a little advertisement. Promising that the characters I was growing to love would ‘step out of the page’ thanks to a company called Clarecraft. When I discovered Discworld I was 17 years old. I had no money (in common with every 17 year old). I had no idea how much these figurines might cost, I also had no access to the internet (oh, I feel old). I was vaguely intrigued but in the time before the internet I would have to fill in and cut out the coupon in the back of the book and (gasp!) post it off to Suffolk to get my hands on the goodies. I ignored it!

Time went on, I continued to devour the books and soon had my firm favourites. I loved the City Watch series and soon imagined myself to be a member, walking the streets and taming miscreants (never dreaming that a few years later I would end up in the Roundworld Constabulary!). I went to university, was still poor and still could only look longingly at the little pictures in the back of the books.


A couple of years later I went down to Leeds to see a friend. My university city was small and historic. Leeds was huge. With lots of shops. On one of our trips into town we stumbled into a little shop which sold Clarecraft figurines. I was able to see the figurines for real for the first time. I liked them, they were pretty. To a student they were also expensive. I picked up a little leaflet, that I still have (told you, fanatical collector!). This leaflet told me about a wonderful thing called the Collectors Guild. I think it was about £20 a year to join, a huge sum for me but I considered it and considered it and eventually paid my 20 quid. I got my card, I got my pewter miniature (more on those later), I got my Ankh Morpork Coat of Arms and each quarter I got my Newsletter. It told of figures that were retiring, new figures that were being produced, it had puzzles and prizes. A veritable cornucopia of Discish delight. Throughout it all however, I never dreamed I would begin to collect them, that of course, is how these things start (it is also how I ended up with 7 cats, collecting by stealth!!)

Each year the Guild would give out renewal pieces. Initially collectors got a different thing for each year they had been a member but this was unwieldy and hard to administrate. It was decided that this would be changed. Members would receive a Coat of Arms on renewal. The Coat of Arms would change each year and each member would get the same one regardless of how long they had been a member. They could choose to give up the Coat of Arms and instead get 15 quid off a figure of their choice. I stuck with the Coats of Arms. I joined too late to get the original renewal gifts, and too late to get the very first Coats of Arms. These included the Seamstress Guild, the Beggars Guild and the Assassins Guild and each became very collectable and on occasion, quite expensive. The original renewal gifts and the Coats of Arms will be discussed later.

One day however, I received a missive informing me that Clarecraft had ‘Cocked Up’. They had produced a new Carrot figurine. DW100. Unfortunately, they had made the first few with badge number 177. The sculptors had believed that 177 was the Precinct number when in fact it is Vimes personal badge number. They had also produced that years Collectors Edition, ‘Angua as a Wolf‘, again with the wrong badge number. These were Rarities. They had decided to release the items with the wrong badge numbers to collectors only. Not being keen on Angua and at this point still not thinking that I would turn into a (hushed tone) ‘serious’ Collector, I decided on an approach that has stood me in good stead ever since. I bought the figurine that I liked the most, rather than the one I thought would eventually be worth the most. I counted my pennies and sent off my 30 quid (well, 29 pounds 99 pence) and for my efforts I received my DW100, Carrot with the Wrong Badge Number!!!!!! I put him on my shelf and admired him and was pleased that I had managed to buy one piece. I decided that if this was the only one I ever bought, I was happy! I had never collected anything in my life before, I underestimated what it is to be a Collector (capital c!).

Sadly, several years later my poor Carrot was knocked over by my cat whilst I was cleaning and lost his feet at the shins, I still have Carrot and Shins though and hope one day to get round to getting them reunited! Unfortunately as I still also have the cat it might be better to wait a while!

I continued to receive my newsletter. It told of The Discworld Event. The Discworld Events were a way for the fans to get together without the word convention being used. There were already several conventions in existence, usually costly affairs and Terry preferred the idea of the more informal sounding event, a chance for fans to get together without too much pressure or expense.


Terry attended these events, there were always lots of pictures of people having an obscene amount of fun. And they were always in Suffolk. I lived in the North East and it seemed so far away. Each event I planned to save for the next. 2 years would roll round and I would be stuck at home again. At the event, they had special Event Pieces. Produced only for that event. By this time the collecting bug had well and truly struck. I had a list I my head of figures I coveted. I got on with it and time moved on (as time is wont to do).


I left uni, started making money and building my collection. I discovered eBay and a whole new world of retired figurines was opened to me. I paid over the odds for some, and also got some bargains. But I always stuck to the golden rule. I only ever bought a figure if I liked it.

I got to fulfil a long held dream when I went to my first Discworld event in 2003. It was all I had hoped for. I sat and painted my own figurines in the ‘Paint Your Own’ tent. The weather was wonderful, the people were friendly and the beer was cold. I got to meet Terry and have him sign a print I had bought (I had never met an author before so was not prepared with huge piles of books, I learned that lesson the hard way after queuing for a looong time behind people with every book they ever owned :-)). I was tongue tied and overwhelmed, if you have read Hogfather I think I probably did only manage an ‘’nk you’ when he signed my print :). Terry continued to wander around for the rest of the weekend, it was a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

In 2005 I went to the next Event. This time though, something wasn’t right. Normally the collectors piece for the year was produced and made available at the event. This time, there was no sign of it and questions about it received vague, ‘It’ll be out soon’ type replies. I had no reason to doubt them so I didn’t! I also felt a vague sense of disquiet at a new attraction. A lucky dip. £25 got you a fumble in a large bran tub. You were guaranteed a figurine. I went and because I wasn’t born lucky I got a DW01 Rincewind (I already had it and I’m not a massive fan of the Rincewind books so frankly I was disappointed). My companion had a go, he was born lucky and reached in and got an Angua, Collectors Edition with the Wrong Badge Number!!! The very piece I had foregone in order to get my precious Carrot several years before (by 2005 my collecting had gathered pace and I had a large number of figurines, including some rare ones). I of course was delighted but did ponder on what an odd thing it was to do. I had a delightful weekend and put it out of my head and went home where I continued frequenting Clarecraft, Discworld forums and eBay.

One night, shortly after the event I was browsing, it was late on, I couldn’t sleep. I clicked onto the Clarecraft site as usual and found a new message. It said that Clarecraft was having trouble staying profitable (handmade in Britain isn’t easy) and they would be closing in October. Any orders placed before the middle of October would be fulfilled. I was shocked, I actually cried. I couldn’t believe I was so upset but, without realising it, Clarecraft, its people and its figurines had become a massive part of my life. I immediately set to work on a list of must have figurines. Again I stuck to my rule on liking them and instead of buying the more recent figures that would be rarer, I bought the figures I really wanted. I had been given money by my dad to buy a drum kit after starting lessons some months previously. I spent the money on figurines. I still don’t have a drum kit :-). I’ve never regretted what I did with the money.

Clarecraft closed, people lost interest. I meandered to the Cunning Artificers site, where Bernard Pearson, the founder of Clarecraft still produced his own amazing wares. These were buildings however, beautifully made and incredibly expensive. Bernard held an ‘Event’ in 2007, something to fill the gap, the Discworld Jamboree. It was great fun but it was a one off. Wadfest was still going but that had never had the same appeal for me as the Clarecraft Events and I never enjoyed it as much. It gradually stopped being such a big part of my life. I did something I vowed I would never do. I put my collection in cupboards, out of view. I lost interest. I stopped buying them. I stopped loving them. I had a database of all my figures, I updated it regularly with prices they went for on eBay. I stopped. It wasn’t just Clarecraft that had gone, it was a whole little community that shared my interest.

A few days ago, at a loose end, I decided to do a check and see what figures I actually have. I took them out of the cupboards. I looked at them. I realised how amazing they are and I fell in love with them all over again. I picked up each figurine and it had a story, I knew the history of each piece, what it was called, what it was worth, how it came about, how I acquired it, I wanted to tell someone. I remembered how much I actually knew about these figurines, realised I had acquired a lot of information in the 14 years since I picked up a Pratchett book. I saw the detail, the humour and warmth and I looked on the internet. I searched for information on these figurines. Information that used to be freely available. I only found questions. People wanting to know more about their figures, how much were they worth, who made them, whom did they depict. I found answers that were lacking, from people who admitted to not being fond of Clarecraft, only Pratchett. People who were trying to help but who could only offer basic information. I thought back to when I first started collecting, how hungry for information I was. I thought how if I began collecting now I might give up through lack of reliable information. I decided to write what I knew down.

I think there is an element of the ‘mad fan’ in everyone and this is me indulging my inner ‘mad fan’. I hope you find it useful and maybe even entertaining and I hope you allow your ‘mad fan’ to join in and make it complete!

 

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for the detailed information. Will you be updating this on a weekly basis, biweekly?

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  2. Hiya
    I will hope to update it as often as I can (currently working on the next bit). I work funny shifts but would hope to add a new bit at least once a week. If theres anything particular you want me to do a piece on (the shields, badges, oddities, or any set of characters etc) just let me know, I'll get round to it all eventually I hope but it might take a while. The next bit is about the Event Pieces and should be up tonight or tomorrow :)

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  3. Hi I have a dried frog pill box which reads dried frog pill's. Is this one of the errant onesand if so do you have any idea of it's value? Thanks for your blog I used to collect these and you just reminded me why!!

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  4. Hiya. Yes. The ones with dried frog pill's are the ones with the so called errant apostrophe :-). They dont tend to come up on ebay too often. Value is tricky. They dont make rocket money but if you list it well so people know its rare it may make a bit. There is another variation on the dried frog pills boxes where the pewter trademarks were glued inside. They are nice little rarities and not as well known as some of the others.
    Im glad youre enjoying your collection again. :-).
    CV

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