28 December 2013

Spode and Cheese Dishes

Cheese stand, probably for a round of hard cheese,
agate ware, Copeland & Garrett, 1833-1847
During the Christmas period there seems to be a strong association with Stilton cheese as one of the expected foods of the season. Nibbling on my tasty piece of Stilton I thought about the specialist cheese dishes Spode produced, particularly in the Regency period, which led me to think more about Spode and cheese connections.

I have a love of food history and, as well as enjoying the results of cooking old recipes, it helps to understand the use and identification of 'mystery' objects made by Spode throughout its long history. So here are my thoughts and a few images to get the taste buds working.

Spode made different items for serving and storing cheese for 200 years or so. They varied in design, shape, style and size depending on, for example, the type of cheese, the style of dining in fashion, a customer's wealth and status, and the date of manufacture.

This agate ware cheese stand made between 1833 and 1847 was also produced with a magnificent domed cover to match.
Catalogue page, Copeland, c1867-1881 (left); cheese stand & cover, 
agate ware, (right), with replacement knob, Copeland & Garrett, 1833-1847
Cheese stands were also produced in earthenware and decorated with a range of Spode's transfer printed designs. These sometimes had a glass, domed cover such as the one illustrated. This is in Geranium pattern and was made in about 1830. The usual central botanical subject is omitted from the design and replaced with a coat of arms - in this case that for the Copeland family who were closely connected with, and later owned, the Spode company.

Cheese stand with glass dome, c1830
The cheese cradle here is from the Regency period. It is in the elegant Rome pattern. In the modern era the same shape was reintroduced, in about 2002, in the Spode Signature range, as giftware, as an ornament, rather than useful ware, decorated in Italian pattern. The particular shape was designed to hold a wheel of hard cheese and followed the designs of those made in wood. In Ford Green Hall in Stoke-on-Trent (where I was the last resident curator) I recall there was an 18th century mahogany one in the collection. From memory I think it had little wheels on the base to ease its passage around the dining table!

Cheese cradle, Rome pattern, for a wheel of hard cheese, Spode, c1816
In the early 1800s if you were wealthy enough to afford a Stilton cheese then you would probably also be able to afford a fine Spode Stilton cheese pan. The one shown here is from about 1820. It is in Italian pattern. The base is deep to hold a large Stilton safely and to allow diners to be served from the dish. The handles are carefully placed to give the right balance to carry what would be a heavy object with its cheese and work with or without the cover. The cover helped to keep the cheese in good condition and moist and perhaps to keep pests off which appear to be something of an issue in the early 1700s. Daniel Defoe, in 1724, in A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain writes:

'Stilton, a town famous for cheese, which is call'd our English Parmesan, is brought to table with the mites, or maggots round it, so thick, that they bring a spoon with them for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese.'

I like to try old recipes but this is one style of presentation I have not replicated.


Stilton cheese pan, Italian pattern, Spode, c1820
This Stilton cheese pan is transfer printed but you will notice there are joins in the pattern between different scenes. This is because a copper plate was not engraved specifically for this shape. It was probably not cost-effective to create special engraved copper plates just for the Stilton cheese pan but seems to have been quite acceptable to use coppers already in existence to print this unusual piece. This is often the case when printing large items. You can see another example of this on my blog Spode and Printing... then scroll down to the leg bath.


Underside of base of Hygienic cheese dish
Back to cheese... as the 19th century moved on Spode continued to produce cheese dishes in different shapes and sizes. Gradually cheese dishes began to get smaller. On my post Spode and Italian pattern there is a catalogue page from c1900 which includes a shape known as the Hygienic cheese dish. The cover and base have small holes to allow air flow (hopefully no maggot flow!) 

The 'Nett Price List of Earthenware' of 1913 lists 18 different shapes of cheese dish plus a Cheese Platter and Cover. You can see the relevant page and also an entry for a piece of dairy ware which should read Cream Stean... not Steam! A detailed post on wares for the dairy is in the future but you can see a cream stean on my post Spode and Cats.

Catalogue page, W. T Copeland & Sons, 1913
Italian pattern was introduced in the Regency period in about 1816 and probably Spode's most successful pattern ever. It was never out of production. Many leaflets, booklets and brochures were produced for this pattern and for researchers these really help to see the many hundreds of shapes the company was producing at different dates.

The Hygienic shape continued to feature in catalogues in the 1930s. Look for item 22 on the page from a 1932 booklet.

'Blue Italian'  booklet, c1932
Spode's Italian Wholesale Price List, 1930
The Wholesale Price List for Italian pattern in 1930 includes, under the heading of Cheese Dishes Various, entries for shapes described as: Camembert, Doric tall cover, Doric squat cover, Hygienic Wedge shape (2 sizes), Hygienic Gadroon edge (2 sizes) and St Ives shape. I have not seen images of some of these shapes listed and wonder what sort of classical elegance a Doric cheese dish might have had.


A miniature cheese wedge, bone china,
Spode Ltd, 2000
In 1932 a leaflet for Italian pattern includes a shape, without illustration, listed as St Ivel. Is this the same shape as St Ives? St Ives is a town in Cornwall, UK; St Ivel was a now-nostalgic and famous brand of 'lactic cheese spread'. Perhaps one is a misprint or perhaps the St Ives name evolved into St Ivel to work with the brand?

Further into the 20th century cheese dishes continued to be produced in a more simple modern style. They were produced with patterns such as Italian, Tower, Camilla and Primula as well as Christmas Tree. Spode's cheese dishes were mainly produced on earthenware. They are known in the agate ware as already seen and in stoneware with sprigged decoration as well as occasionally on the more expensive bone china including, in 2000, on a miniature cheese wedge in the Treasures range.

Robert Copeland details some cheese dishes in his beautifully researched little book Ceramic Bygones & Other Unusual Domestic Pottery. Other potters are included in this book but it features many wares from the Spode factory.

The other perfect book for cheese lovers and pottery lovers alike is Cheese Dishes: A Guide to Cheese Dishes from 1750-1940 by Audrey M. Dudson. A member of the famous Dudson family of potters, her renowned research and knowledge is encapsulated in this comprehensive and beautifully illustrated guide to the subject. You can explore both the current Dudson pottery and the excellent Dudson Museum (which is in a bottle oven!) by clicking here.

For a view of an excellent range of cheese dish images visit Spode Exhibition Online - click here for an India pattern one and then type cheese into the search box for more....

There are many more types and shapes of cheese dishes from Spode in all types of pottery bodies and designs so this is just a taster.