The Government will do all it can to keep a unique and “incomparably rich” archive of ceramic drawings in Britain, MPs have been told.
Culture Minister Barbara Follett promised to “work as hard as I can” to persuade a US-based equity firm to keep the Minton Archive in Staffordshire.
The vast collection documents two centuries of design and manufacture by pottery company Minton, which merged with Royal Doulton in 1968 and was acquired by Waterford Wedgwood in 2005.
It includes work by designers such as Augustus Pugin, and is the most comprehensive history of how the English pottery industry came to dominate world markets, much of it produced in Staffordshire.
But US-based equity firm KPS Capital Partners, which bought much of Waterford Wedgwood when it collapsed earlier this year, is in the process of selling the archive.
The collection, valued at up to £6 million, is held by Bonhams, the auctioneers, in preparation for sale. The catalogue reveals that the collection has been divided into separate lots, which experts say would destroy its historical value.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Labour former Arts Minister Mark Fisher (Stoke Central) urged the Government to intervene.
He said: “I know that you appreciate the extreme importance of this collection and this archive not only nationally but internationally.
“Along with the Spode and the Wedgwood archives, it is one of the great industrial archives of the ceramic industry.
“It would be a tragedy if it was broken up.”
KPS needed “pressure” from the UK Government to keep the collection together in Britain, he added. Ms Follett said she had written to KPS to ask about their plans for the archive and hoped to speak to them within the next 24 hours.
“I will work as hard as I can to keep the archive in Britain and particularly in north Staffordshire,” she said.
Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency, was working with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to find a way of keeping the collection intact, she said.
Tory Sir Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire South) told MPs that Minton made tiles in the Palace of Westminster.
He said: “This incomparably rich archive must be kept in this country. Once it is broken up, that is it forever.”
Ms Follett said: “I am glad that south Staffordshire is weighing in with north Staffordshire on this.
“We do need as much help as possible and we do stand ready to do what we can to save it.”
Mintons Ltd was founded in Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, in 1793, by Thomas Minton. His factory produced earthenware and bone china.
The archive includes thousands of original watercolours and drawings by artists associated with Minton.