11 January 2020

Spode and the B Book

Soup plate, handpainted, pattern B1 c1823
The B Book is just one of many pattern books in the Spode archive.

About 75,000 patterns are recorded in the Spode pattern books. As the Spode company grew and more and more patterns were recorded, different series of patterns were given different prefixes. The first series has no prefix. Many series run from 1-9999 which means that most have many books in them.*

Some series are shorter and only have a few volumes. The B series has just one. The patterns in the B Book are given a number prefixed with B running from B1 to B959. As usual, dating Spode patterns exactly is difficult but the B Book is thought to date from c1823 to c1848. **
Plate, pattern B107, printed & hand coloured c1825
Although I say that there is one B Book this refers to the main volume. There is also a pocket-sized book*** of B patterns containing some of the B patterns which are occasionally out of order. Errors, which were known at the time, are corrected on a different page. It was perhaps for use as a traveller's book i.e. a salesman. And also some loose, unbound sheets of some of the patterns in the B900s. Multiple copies of pattern sheets were usually made so there would be a master copy, some for use on the factory (during various manufacturing processes to ensure consistency in production) and some to go to the London Showroom, etc. These loose sheets were, or were not, later bound into books.

So, what exactly are the B patterns?

The significance of patterns prefixed with a B is that the pattern, whether printed, handpainted or a combination of both, was decorated completely underglaze.

The type of patterns in the B Book is difficult to sum up as at first glance they seem such an odd mixture. The original purpose of their differentiation was simply to show they were decorated all underglaze so no mistakes were made in manufacture.
Plate, pattern B68, handpainted in blues and yellow c1824
The designs vary from the elegant handpainted border design of B1, loosely painted patterns with bold brushstrokes like B68 to printed and hand coloured patterns, like B107 which is described as 'Ivy border on Parsley sheet'. Pattern B1 is handpainted in a neat design but other B patterns are much more free and loose in style and, without any backstamp, may not even be considered as from the Spode factory. The black and white photo of a plate in pattern B68 shows this looser style with free brush strokes (sorry, poor photo). B68 is painted in shades of blue with yellow and this style of design is now rarely seen and identified as Spode.
Plate, Gadroon shape, pattern B111, 'Trophies-Marble' c1826
Many B patterns will actually be familiar to collectors of transfer printed wares as plain prints i.e. decorated only in one colour, often blue. These familiar patterns produced as B patterns include B111, B118 and B176. But many will not realise that these are recorded in the B Book when no pattern number is on the object. These will just be thought of as the plain printed version with a bit of added colour. The beauty of finding any object recorded anywhere in the Spode archive is that it helps to date it.

B111 is a version of 'Trophies-Marble' pattern. It was printed in blue and hand coloured all underglaze. Its unique number would prevent any mix up in the customer orders which could occur if only a pattern name was used. It is quite possible for many, many versions of a pattern to be produced in different colourways. Other transfer printed patterns e.g. 'Italian' were also produced with added colour but in its most familiar version, pattern 2614, 'Italian' is printed underglaze and then painted and gilded onglaze.
Plate, Gadroon shape, pattern B118 'Jasmine' c1826
B118 is a pattern known as 'Jasmine.' Again often produced as a plain print i.e. just one colour, usually blue, here it is accented with hand colouring and again allocated its unique pattern number so no mix up can occur.
Plate, 'Blue Rose' border, pattern B176 c1826
Pattern B176 is printed in green and then hand coloured in green. The border is from a pattern called 'Blue Rose' which, as you see, could be produced in other colours than its title would suggest. The usual floral centre has been replaced by a badge for the East Kent Yeomanry. Badged wares were specially commissioned and could be for any customer from King to a shipping line. Ware for regiments was big business for Spode.
Plate, 'Cotton Sprigs', pattern B362 c1832
Pattern B362 is a very pretty transfer printed design with a light fresh look and is reminiscent of ladies dress patterns of the period. It is printed in 2 colours in this case brown and green. Other colourways are recorded.
Dessert plate, pattern B364 c1832
Dessert dish, pattern B364 c1832
Pattern B364 first recorded in c1832 has botanical centres taken from 'Curtis's Botanical Magazine'. It is transfer printed in green. More of the magazine can be seen here online from the brilliant BHL.
Garden seat, pattern B516, Copeland & Garrett c1838
This garden seat, in pattern B516, is another example of a pattern printed and hand coloured. It is a sheet pattern. The background design is known as 'Thyme' sheet. Pattern B516 was also used as decoration for toilet ware. Other colourways are recorded.
Bidet in stand, pattern B516, Copeland & Garrett c1838
Cover to bidet cabinet
Covers to bidet stands usually fit superbly, sliding snugly down over it. The cabinets are exquisitely made often in mahogany. This bidet and its cabinet are in a location (which I will not name) as the cover's use is now as a plinth for an unconnected wash basin with a bunch of lavender in it. I suspect few will know from this display its original and proper use...
Plate, pattern B773 c1844
B773 show a printed pattern in flow blue. This was a style of decoration particularly popular and successful in North America and was exported in quantity in different designs through the Hudson Bay Company during the 19th century. The Spode factory, under Copeland & Garrett and later W. T. Copeland, had a monopoly with the Hudson Bay Company from c1835 to 1872. Flow blue was not popular in the UK but also sold well in Europe.

The pattern book page for B773 can be found here>.

Although the B Book records patterns decorated completely underglaze it is contemporary with other pattern books which also include underglaze patterns. There is some overlap. So researching in the Spode pattern books is never straightforward and it is worth remembering the records were made for a business, produced to aid the manufacture of pottery, and not for the use of historians, researchers and collectors.

I think  it is an interesting book for researchers and collectors as there are so many surprising patterns in it. Just when you think you know the style of designs that Spode produced in the early 1800s the B Book makes you think again...
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*For more details on how the pattern books developed and their dates see Robert Copeland's marvellous book: 'Spode & Copeland Marks & Other Relevant Intelligence', Studio Vista, 2nd edition 1997 ISBN 0 289 80069 2
The relevant pages are 117-124 from where the image of B68 is also taken.

Since publication, new information has come to light about the discovery of another pattern book in 1988 (in a private collection; p117-118) originally thought to be Spode but which is now thought not to be Spode.

**There are some pages in the B Book with patterns prefixed with C. Some sheets seem to have been bound in by mistake; and others seem to have had the the C prefix by mistake or... are actually C patterns in the wrong book. The C Book is a pattern book recording handpainted designs which are described by Robert Copeland as 'cheap and cheerful' and date from 1845-1870.

*** A full comparison between the B Book and the small B Book was done by the late Bill Coles working as a volunteer for me in 2003. The comparisons are interesting and sometimes the small book gives more details than the main book.

09 December 2019

Spode and Christmas 2019

Plate, 'Christmas Tree' pattern S2134, crimson border c1941
December is upon us and many will be thinking about Christmas.

Commercially this was a very important time for the Spode company as its most successful pattern in the 20th century was 'Christmas Tree'. In production, throughout the year, at the Spode factory in Stoke in England, this seasonal pattern was exported to the North American market in vast quantities.

Here's a fun fact: 'in the last quarter of 1999 Spode's Christmas Tree was recorded as the largest selling casual dinnerware pattern in the USA.'

So important was 'Christmas Tree' pattern for the success of the company, that I have given Christmas its own dedicated page on this blog. So, click Christmas and Spode for links to lots more about Christmas and Spode in general; a little bit of Christmas History; and more about the iconic Spode 'Christmas Tree' pattern.

Click here to find who really introduced the festive Christmas tree in England... no it wasn't Prince Albert... and more here.

Here are a few Spode patterns made for the Christmas season, in no particular order, to get you into the Christmas mood.
Plate, pattern D2035 c1860
Backstamps, pattern D2035
Plate, 'Christmas Tree' pattern S3324, green border 1991
Backstamps, note Q datemark after pattern number
Small plate, pattern D5208 c1868
Backstamps for pattern D5208


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I am grateful to Paul Hanson of Philadelphia who kindly shared images of his Christmas pieces with me.