10 October 2016

Spode and India

 Plate, India pattern c1815
Spode is famous for the perfection of the ceramic technique of underglaze transfer printing in blue in the late 18th century. The fashion for this type of ware blossomed and was a huge success for the company. Many patterns were produced in different styles and exported all over the world initially aimed at the well-to-do customer.

One of these patterns was India.
India pattern, detail of centre of design
The pattern dates from about 1815.  Although it has the name India, it reproduces a Chinese porcelain design from the K'ang Hsi period (1700-1722). In the early 1800s the name 'India' was often used to describe Oriental style and this is the source of this early 19th century pattern name. The style continued to go in and out of fashion throughout the 19th century. Some of Spode's product range was always in oriental style right up to the 1990s. 

It is a lovely pattern and I particularly like the border design. India was produced on a fine earthenware known as pearlware. Spode's earthenwares were thinly potted and so were beautifully lightweight and elegant. The lead glaze gave them a smooth silky feel.

Some pieces of ware in India pattern had an elaborate backstamp. Something of a curator's dream! To turn over a plate of this period and find something on it is a bonus - not everything was marked by pottery manufacturers in the early 1800s. To find a whole story in print on the reverse is wonderful. 
Backstamp on a soup plate, India pattern 1816
The mark reads:

'This BLUE-WARE is printed from the CALX of British COBALT, produced from Wheal Sparnon Mine in the County of Cornwall August 1816.'

So what does this backstamp tell us?

It uses the contemporary phrase Blue-Ware. This, then, is what Spode II was calling this type of ware when it was made. It is now usually referred to as transfer printed ware, blue printed ware, underglaze blue, and, in the US, transferware.

Calx is a metal oxide, in this case, cobalt.

As well as a Master Potter, Spode II was also a master of marketing. Here he is finding a British supply of cobalt, instead of importing from Europe. He is using the emphasis on this British supply of an important raw material to market 'Buy British' at a time of turmoil in Europe. 

In other versions of the backstamp the word 'Wheal' has been removed as it also means mine.
At the bottom of the map is Sparnon, near Redruth

Wheal Sparnon was near Redruth in Cornwall and the vein of cobalt was discovered there in 1807. I understand that initially cobalt was regarded simply as by-product of tin mining. Wheal Sparnon was leased by a group of Staffordshire potters of whom Spode II was one. It was the only mine dedicated to producing solely cobalt in the whole of Cornwall.

Some versions of India pattern were hand painted over the blue print. In the Spode pattern books in the Spode archive, the earliest known design like this has pattern number 2489 first recorded in 1816. It is handpainted in colours over the blue. A version with red painted over the border has pattern number 2612 which dates from about 1818.
Plate (detail) India pattern 2612 c1818
Saucer, India pattern, backstamp
There are 6 backstamps on the saucer illustrated here. Printed in blue is the Spode name and the mark of the printer or printing team; painted in red is the pattern number 2612 with a workman's mark below; another workman's mark can be seen also painted in red; an impressed mark in the centre, probably another workman's mark, completes the 6.

In the 20th century India was used as the source for a pattern called Chinese Rose which was to become hugely commercially successful for the company. You can find more out about Chinese Rose on my Spode ABC on the C page.
Catalogue page for Chinese Rose pattern 1938

30 August 2016

Spode and Kate Bruce

Kate Bruce 
Kate Bruce was a paintress employed by Spode for a long time. My research has found she started during the period when the company was known as Copeland & Garrett (1833-1847) and continued on during the ownership of W. T. Copeland from 1847 and was still working in the early 1900s.

Like most employees of the Spode company little information exists about individuals whether the famous 'premier' artists and designers who were men, apprentice boy painters training to work in the style of the premier artists or women working as anonymous paintresses.

There are pieces painted by Kate Bruce in the Spode museum object collection and they are not uncommon amongst private collectors either. A quick search on the web and you can find her signed pieces for sale. She seems to have been prolific! Pieces are known to be painted by her because, very, very unusually for a woman at Spode, she was allowed to sign her work. Most of what she painted uses designs of small cornflowers.

Soup bowl/bouillon cup & saucer from Worthpoint
Backstamp on soup cup & saucer, company marks (blurred) & pattern number R2079
A report of a Royal Visit to the factory on January 6th 1897 by the 'Princess of Wales and other members of the Trentham party' (Trentham was the seat of the Duke of Sutherland and is not far from Stoke) says that:

'...The royal visitors were met at the showroom entrance by Mr. R. P. Copeland, the head of the firm, and Mr. W. F. M Copeland. They were first shown some artists engaged in decorating articles of pottery, one being the venerable and respected Mrs. Bruce, who after 53 years of service with the firm, still skilfully handles the camel-hair pencil and was engaged in applying a cornflower to some plates...' Pencil is the pottery industry's term for a paintbrush.
Dessert plate, bone china, Gadroon shape painted by Kate from Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
It would seem from the above report that Kate began work at the factory in 1844. Conversations with Robert Copeland led me to believe she may have been a favourite of the Copeland family and this is why she was allowed to sign her work as well as demonstrate her skills before royalty and other important visitors to the factory.

Although unusual for a woman to sign work at Spode it was not unusual to work for the company for many years, well past what would now be thought of as retirement age.

Sometimes together with her name on the pieces will be her age and an example is known (from a private collection) with the inscription 'painted by Mrs Bruce aged 74 1900'. This, together with the inscription on the piece above would make her date of birth 1826/7 and, if the royal visit report is correct, starting to work for the company at about the age of 18 although I would expect earlier, for she would have had to complete a seven-year apprenticeship either at Spode or another manufacturer.

Mrs Bruce featured in at W. T. Copeland souvenir booklet c1902

02 August 2016

Spode and Showing Off

One of the important parts of the Spode business, not often mentioned, is that of the showroom. It was no use making beautiful things to sell if there was nowhere to display the wares to prospective customers.
3 of the 9 sizes of 'Beaded New Shape Jar', bone china, pattern 1166 c1808
From its earliest days the Spode company had a showroom both at the factory in Stoke and, after 1778, also in London. Eventually the company had showrooms not just in the UK but all over the world...
Spode's first London showroom was in Fore Street
Whilst Spode I remained in Stoke running the business at the factory end, Spode II left with his wife and little children, to set up the London business in Fore Street in 1778. The property included a showroom and accommodation and this is where the sales and marketing part of the business began. Sadly Spode II's young wife died in 1782 and was buried in St Giles Church, Cripplegate which you can see in the picture of Fore Street.
The London showroom, Portugal Street
In 1794 the London business moved premises to Portugal Street. At the front of this converted theatre are interesting bits and pieces to do with the running of a pottery warehouse. I found that in the 18th century the word warehouse was regarded as more dignified word for shop; and Spode II's warehouse would have included an elegant showroom, storage for stock and again accommodation.

Look at the Portugal Street image and note the barrels in which ware was packed in straw for transport from the Stoke factory to London and then on all over the world to Spode's customers.

To the right a workman carries a large foot bath through the door. A wagon is parked below a hoist and workmen on the left struggle with a willow crate where pottery is again packed in straw. Cratemaking was a specialist trade. You can see some images of crates here>.
Wedgwood & Byerley warehouse, London c1809
The inside of the Spode warehouse may well have looked something like the interior of Wedgwood's London warehouse. All sorts of well-to-do customers would visit the London showrooms. Find out about HM Queen Charlotte's visit to Spode's in 1817 here>.

Back in Stoke, in 1806, the Spode manufactory was visited by HRH the Prince of Wales, (later to become Prince Regent and, later still, HM King George IV). On this exciting occasion Spode II was appointed 'Potter & English Porcelain Manufacturer to His Royal Highness'.
Universal Magazine report of Royal visit to the factory 1806
Later Spode II became Potter to the King
The factory showroom is described as 'a room of 117 feet in length... fitted up with a splendid assemblage of goods'. In an ode written in the early 1800s in praise of Henry Daniel, an expert in ceramic decoration, there are the lines which mention 'a small but neat showroom'. In the 'pattern room' wares are displayed 'suspended on lathy strings... some on steppy shelves' which conjures up a wonderful image of quite a modern sounding display of wares.
Cups suspended on 'lathy strings' (somewhere) in 2013
Why mention this? Because Henry Daniel and Spode II worked closely together. Daniel was responsible for decorating Spode's ware from about 1805 until 1822 and the fascinating thing is that Daniel's business operated on the same site as the Spode factory. Amongst other things he rented his workshops from Spode II. So, put simply, Spode II was responsible for making his pots to a high standard and then the responsibility for painting the pieces to the Spode order went to Henry Daniel, such as in pattern 1166 shown at the top of this post.

The ode goes on to describe the Spode wares further:

'Numerous Tea Sets spread the bench below;
The centre table forms still richer glow,
While spangling orders all the ground bestrew;
With mathematic marks each piece is grac'd'

The 'mathematic marks' refer to the pattern numbers applied to the wares. This unique number identified the pattern and enabled orders to be repeated successfully. Sometimes the Spode name accompanied it, other times just the number was applied; often there would be a workman's mark or cipher too.
'Mathematic mark', now referred to as a pattern number, 889 c1806
Pattern number 2169 and workman's mark c1815
Coffee cup, bone china, pattern 2169 c1815
The advent of photography in the late 19th century, and an interest in this new-fangled technique by members of the Copeland family, led to various aspects of the factory being photographed and later published in a souvenir booklet of 1902.
The showroom at the Spode factory 1902
In the image of the showroom at the Spode factory in 1902 are many very grand pieces made under the Copeland ownership - elaborate vases, fine dessert wares and parian figures. Some of these pieces are in the Spode museum's object collection.
Monumental urn, cover & stand. Spot it at the back of the showroom on the high shelf.
In the same but palm-bedecked showroom, you can see a gentleman believed to Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner with his entourage and, I think, a Copeland or two as well as the monumental urn again.
Wealthy customers from all over the world came to visit the showroom in Stoke
The Spode company, under all its various ownerships, exported all over the world. The rich and famous would come to visit the showrooms and tour the factory. As well as royalty this included included celebrities such as the author Charles Dickens. You can find out much more about his visit to the Spode factory here>.
Detail of Dickens on a Spode commemorative plate 1970
The style of the factory showroom changed with the fashions and from high Victorian moved to stylish minimalist 20th century versions. But sometimes the company seemed to lose its nerve with the minimalist style, in both brochures and showroom, as some of the following images show. This was often driven by marketing needs.
Naran pattern in a Chinese-influenced setting in the Earthenware Brochure 1938
Blue printed ware fitting the revival for traditional pine furniture perfectly in the 1990s