17 January 2012

Spode and Marketing

Sorrento pattern, 1961 catalogue page
Marketing and sales literature forms an important part of any business archive and the Spode Archive is no exception. When produced most of this type of material was regarded as 'throw-away' literature valid for a short period only before patterns were discontinued or prices changed. At Spode the price lists, which could change quickly, were often in a separate publication to be used in conjunction with an illustrated catalogue. The illustrated catalogue, which was more expensive to produce, then had a longer life but could still be regarded as current. Often separated over decades it is exciting to marry up documents from the past to make more sense of them.

Over the years marketing literature was added to the Spode Archive in a haphazard way - by chance and by luck. There are gaps and duplicates but material dates from the late 1800s up to 2008. Whilst curator at the Spode Museum I began to add current literature in a more formal way. From about 1996 to 2008 the catalogues, price lists and Product Information Guides (quaintly referred to as PIGs) are nearly complete. As I got to know the collection I was able to spot gaps and then look out for papers long forgotten in old offices and storerooms onsite. Also I asked staff to look out for things irrelevant to them that the museum might treasure and gradually managed to build up a more comprehensive collection of this material. Many staff were interested in the company's history and were very helpful in supplying old papers.

For the researcher marketing and sales material can be fascinating giving an insight into dates of production, fashion, prices and business practice. But its very nature can make it unreliable when looking for purely historical facts. The Spode company tended to use c1770 as the date the business was established by Josiah Spode I as this was the only way they could present the complicated early history in a succinct way - there is much more to it than a simple date. They also preferred to present the young Josiah Spode I as apprentice to one of the best potters of the mid-1700s when this was not so.

Serious researchers should always consult original documents, rather than marketing literature, to help dispel myths which have grown up over the years. A commercial company would not always have the time to do in-depth research. Spode with a historical consultant and, later, a dedicated museum was helped to get the facts straight for use in its publicity material. It is known companies can round dates up or down to create anniversaries, or even make a guess, and to gloss over or omit anything not so advantageous to the company image - all in the marketing cause!

Although there is a sort of consistency in getting dates wrong at Spode in many marketing and sales publications there were also some exceptionally good give-away booklets and brochures produced, particularly from the latter part of the 20th century when there was a desire to get things right. It often depended on attention to detail by an individual.

Cup making with a jolley, 1975
So much Spode marketing material was produced over the years it sometimes turns up at flea markets, on the web and in bookshops and is worth looking out for. Spode Never Out of Fashion is one such booklet. It was first issued in 1975 and then again in 1981. As a free give-away item many thousands were produced over the years. Never Out of Fashion was the slogan of the company which accompanied the logo at the time. Other slogans from the late 20th century were Spode the Original and Only Spode is Spode.

Intended to help market and sell Spode's product worldwide Spode Never Out of Fashion is a little book full of interesting and extremely accurate information. Its attention to detail and accuracy suggest it was researched and compiled by Robert Copeland who, as well as a partner in the firm, was Marketing and Sales Director and was able to combine his skills in this field with those of a researcher with a passion for Spode history. The booklet includes history of the company, some current patterns, manufacturing processes and even 'principal ceramic colour groups' plus a little note about marketing and distribution. The text is accurate and informative and illustrated throughout in black and white.

Engraving, printing, & transferring, 1975
The whole complicated process of ceramic manufacture is detailed from the arrival of raw materials through to distribution. I suppose it was intended to both entertain and inform Spode's customers, whether retailer or individual end-user, and it proved just how much hand craft and care went into Spode products. All part of the marketing message.

Descriptions, flowcharts, images and graphs are all packed into this little publication. Modelling, making, decorating, engraving, printing, glazing, painting, gilding and groundlaying are some of the processes described with a particularly good series of images for the engraving, printing and transferring processes.

If you are interested in ceramic processes through the ages then the last book written by Robert Copeland is a must. Manufacturing Processes of Tableware during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries is detailed on my booklist.


  1. Pam, thanks for a really fascinating article. I am always interested in how companies (especially 'heritage' companies as Spode was to become) present themselves to the world. Those are such wonderful period photos. Do you know who the engraver is in that picture? I have several booklets and brochures myself; some were free and others were purchased. Another slogan, and my personal favourite, was "Invest in the Original", which sums it all up to me.

    1. Hello Tom,

      Thanks for your kind comments about my latest blog. Glad you enjoyed the subject matter.

      I am sorry I do not know who the engraver is. If I find out I will post a blog....and also hope that any reader who knows will contact me. It would be nice to be able to share the names of these unsung heroes of Spode.