06 January 2011

Dating Your Spode Pieces

Putting a date to your Spode pieces can be difficult. Here are some tips.

Using the Spode archive and published books you can learn about the many different backstamps (marks) on Spode pieces. This though can only be a guide to a date - it is not an exact science and some backstamps were used for many, many years. Learning about styles and shapes can also help date pieces, particularly on the older pieces from the early 1800s when many were not marked.

Spode used hundreds of different styles of backstamps in its nearly 250 year history.
A few Spode backstamps from 'Spode & Copeland Marks and Other Relevant Intelligence '
There are few recorded dates for the introduction and use of any of the Spode backstamps. Robert Copeland carried out the most reliable and detailed research of backstamps used by the company and his 'marks book' is a necessary requirement for the serious collector.

'Spode & Copeland Marks and Other Relevant Intelligence' is discussed in my Recommended Reading 3 on this blog. In the book you will find over 300 backstamps described. More have been discovered since and are occasionally published by the Spode Society in their publication 'The Review'. When Curator of the Spode museum I also recorded some of those used in profusion between 1995 and 2008. theses latter are in the  in the Spode archive.

As a general dating guide it will help to know there are 4 distinct periods of ownership of the Spode company. A brief description of these periods and sample backstamps follow:
Painted backstamp c1807
Start of the Spode business to 1833: the company was known as Spode. Pieces were not always marked and sometimes just a pattern number appears and no Spode name at all. Painted marks are often in red and marks can also appear printed usually in blue or black, (although other colours were used) or impressed into the clay so appearing colourless. It is possible to have a combination of all three. Above is the image of a backstamp with the Spode name, the pattern number 967 and another small red cypher, which is a workman's mark.
Printed backstamp c1835-45
1833 to 1847: the company was known as Copeland and Garrett. Marks appear with this name printed or impressed and often include ‘late Spode'. This means formerly Spode as the name continued to be used because the Spode brand had become so well-known. Above is an unusual backstamp which includes the name of the pottery body (ie recipe). You may also find pieces which are impressed Spode and then printed Copeland & Garrett. The undecorated pieces were already made and marked Spode prior to the name change in 1833. 
Printed backstamp with painted pattern number c1880
1847 to 1970: the company was owned outright by the Copeland family and a variation on Copeland or W. T. Copeland was used; again often in conjunction with the Spode name.

In 1970, to celebrate the supposed bicentenary of the founding of the company, the name reverted to Spode with a new logo designed by John Sutherland Hawes. This is the name used until the closure of the factory in 2009. (See below and Spode Logo blog).
Printed backstamp with datemark A3 for 2003
A great help to dating wares from the late 1800s to 1963 is that there are often impressed marks on pieces which give you the month and the year. These are usually on flat pieces, for example on a saucer but not on a cup.

They can look insignificant and be difficult to read but once you know what to look for then you can date a piece quite accurately. (From c1770-1870 datemarks were not used except around the 1860s when a series of impressed marks was used for which the full code is not known).
Impressed datemark T over 23 for August 1923
From 1870 to 1963 impressed datemarks were used -  on earthenware from 1870 until 1957 and on bone china and fine stone from 1870 until 1963. These take the form of a letter over two numbers, for example J over 33, which would give you a date of January 1933. Remember other numbers and letters appear on pieces which are not datemarks so you have to be certain they appear as one letter above two numbers. See the comments below to learn how to read these more easily. 

The following gives the letter code for each month:
J for January
F for February
M for March
A for April
Y for May
U for June
L for July
T for August
S for September
O for October
N for November
D for December

Datemarks after 1963 until 1976 are indicated by a printed letter associated with particular backstamps and are a little complicated. There are several series of letters and a different letter is used to indicate the year depending on whether the body is bone china, fine stone or earthenware. To decipher these you (and I!) would need Robert Copeland's 'marks book' mentioned above.

By 1976 the date letters were the same for bone china, fine stone and earthenware starting at A as follows:
A to N for 1976 to 1989
No letter O was used
P to W for 1990 to 1997
No letter X was used
Y to Z for 1998 to 1999

In 2000 a new series of letters began. The year 2000 was given A0 (ie letter A number 0); 2001 was A1 etc until the close of the factory in 2009.

An error is recorded for the fine stone body when the date letter was  inadvertently omitted from the backstamps in 1981. This body was withdrawn in about 1993.

More can be found on my How Old Is My Spode? page.
Spode shards from the Spode site with backstamps c1800-1833
Spode shards incorporated in a mosaic by Emma Biggs at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery