01 September 2020

Spode, a lorry and four cups

This photo was taken in 1959 at the Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent.

It illustrates something very special. But what's the story behind the photograph?

In 1959 the Spode company was owned by the Copeland family operating as W. T. Copeland & Sons Ltd.

In the photo you can see what was then a modern vehicle to be proud of. It is smartly painted in the Spode livery.

The same typeface was also used as part of Spode backstamps of the period as well as on printed material, such as the in-house magazine the 'Spode Saga'.

Detail of lorry livery
Backstamp c1960
Cover, 'Spode Saga'
Catalogue page 1959
Also in the photo is a young man who I believe would be the driver but sadly I have not found his name.
Lorry driver
But look, there's more. Look under the wheels.

This is a publicity stunt!

The lorry is balanced on four bone china cups. This is pottery showmanship at its best - showcasing the strength of Spode's bone china.

Spode bone china cups under the wheels
Bone china is a Big Thing in the Staffordshire pottery industry.

The qualities of bone china are:
  • whiteness
  • translucency
  • strength
  • resonance
Its manufacturing and design quality was hugely important to the top pottery manufacturers, and particularly to Spode, who laid claim to its invention and/or perfection in about 1799/1800. It is this bone china which took the Spode company to greatness in the early 1800s overtaking rivals who could not compete with the quality of this new product.
Coffee cup, pattern 2812 c1820
Looking inside the cup showing translucency
The photos above show a bone china coffee cup in pattern 2182 of about 1820. You can see the whiteness, the quality of both shape and pattern design, and the translucency. 

So... in this marketing gimmick, what better way to show the strength of the then current Spode bone china than to balance something heavy on the product for a dramatic statement?

The lorry on four cups was the result. I love it!

I was lucky, whilst curator of the Spode museum, to have Robert Copeland (1925-2010) as my Spode mentor and colleague sharing his vast knowledge of the company history with me. At various times Robert was a partner in the firm and director as well as Historical Consultant. Conversations with him, whether formal or over a cuppa or lunch were always fascinating, often very amusing (we had the same sense of humour), and I used to scribble notes down, many of which are now preserved in the Spode archive.

I mention this because, of course, Robert was full of information about the 'lorry on four cups' event as he was there at the time and instrumental in developing the idea.
The author & Robert, deep in ceramic conversation 1998
He told me that for this Spode 'show of strength' a new area of nice smooth roadway was prepared on the factory site. After the publicity photographs had been taken and the lorry removed Robert recalled, with a giggle, that the cups had sunk into the new soft roadway and couldn't easily be retrieved!
Catalogue page bone china 1959
The 1959 catalogue page from a bone china catalogue shows the style of ware available at the time. The cup shape might even be that used in the lorry stunt.

01 August 2020

Spode and 'an accomplished violinist'

Violin c1780
So what has a violinist got to do with Spode? Quite a lot! Read on...

In his history* of the Adams potting family, Percy Adams wrote:

'When any festivities were held at the Bank House [the Adams' home in Bagnall, Staffordshire], Josiah Spode of Stoke (afterwards the famous potter) would always be invited to be one of the musicians, as he was an accomplished violinist. The two succeeding generations of the Adams and Spode families were intimate friends.'
Josiah Spode I, National Portrait Gallery
The particular Josiah Spode mentioned by Adams in the above extract is the one we now know as Josiah Spode I (1733-1797). In his lifetime the numbers at the end of the names were not used to differentiate between the Spodes. But now it helps us to know who was who of the many Josiah Spodes. In the Spodes' lifetime they would use a suffix of Elder or Younger, for example.
'Festivities' and violinist
Stoke to Bagnall - a couple of hours walk each way

How young Spode I made his way from Stoke, where he lived, to Bagnall, to play his violin at the 'festivities', we do not know. But most likely on foot or perhaps hitching a ride on a cart.
Bagnall in its Staffordshire Moorlands setting

Peter Roden** says:

'No one seems to have attached any significance to this talent in relation to his [Josiah Spode I] other obvious talent in the pottery industry.

Learning to play the violin is not something that one often learns in later life, and in Spode’s case, the suggestion [from Adams' writing] is that he had developed a local reputation as a violinist before he became famous as a potter. Is it not relevant to consider who might have taught him - after all, having access to violins is not something that one normally associates with eighteenth century paupers?

Whilst we are never likely to know who actually taught him, or gave him his first access to a musical instrument, we can note that (a) it would have been someone cultured, and (b) it is possible that his musical abilities may have provided his initial introduction to influential potters in his childhood.'

Peter Roden's research, then, raises intriguing questions about the early life and range of skills of the famous potter and founder of the Spode company. It is also recorded elsewhere that Spode I with his violin was for hire and played for money.

I sometimes feel that, born into poverty and the 'man of the family' from the age of 6, he was determined never again to be poor. From a young age he worked hard in the fledgling pottery industry, made money from his accomplished violin playing (you could say he had another  string to his bow!), married Ellen Finley, a woman running her own successful little haberdashery business, and juggled mortgages and pottery partnerships to be financially safe. It wasn't until he was in his forties, in 1776, that he was able to buy his own factory with his son Josiah Spode II. It would seem he had backup plans if anything drastically failed and was determined to be financially sound.
Detail of an haberdasher's trade card (London)
So there we have it, Josiah Spode I not just a master potter but also 'an accomplished violinist'.
* 'A history of the Adams family of North Staffordshire, & of their connection with the development of the potteries, with numerous pedigree charts & notes on allied families' by P. L. Adams.

**This blogpost is based on detailed research by Peter Roden. The subject has always fascinated me and it is wonderful to find out more about the founder of the Spode company from this research. As ever, I thank Peter for sharing his decades of Spode family research with me. I couldn't do this blog without his work. I am in awe of the details and new Spode family (and Spode company) history he discovered over the years.

For more information enjoy consulting:

'Josiah Spode (1733-1797): his formative influences and the various Potworks associated with him' is available to consult at the Spode archive. The publisher's website, the Northern Ceramic Society, can be found by clicking NCS. Click here for my booklist with more details about Roden's publications.