14 September 2012

Spode and Cup Handles

Spode cup, Bute shape, no backstamps
Collectors of antique Spode often look to the shape to confirm that the piece is indeed from the Spode factory in the absence of a backstamp. At the beginnings of the industry in the 18th century pots were not always marked. Spode was no exception to this and in the late 1700s and early 1800s not everything from the Spode factory had a mark. There could be several reasons for this. A new company was unknown as a brand and so there was no reason to mark it; it added a cost for the manufacturer as the backstamps were applied by hand during the making process; large sets, such as a tea or dinner service, were never expected to be split so just the main pieces were marked. In this case you may find a teapot with the Spode backstamp and/or a pattern number but nothing else in the set marked.
Spode cup, Bute shape, Love Chase border, 
pattern 1119
pluck & dust method of decoration
200 years or so on collectors would like to know who made a plate, saucer or cup and look for clues as to who the manufacturer was in the absence of any markings. In the early 1800s many of the pottery manufacturers made similar patterns and sometimes even the same pattern. But more often there would be a greater variation in the shapes from the different potters. Different qualities of ware were produced by different factories and experience handling antique pieces will help to spot this. Bone china (a type of porcelain) was invented at the Spode factory around 1799/1800 and Spode's recipe produces one of the whitest bone chinas ever made. Of high quality, it is also translucent and resonant.
Spode gilding detail to handle
To work out if an unmarked piece of this early period of the factory is Spode or not it is best to look at holloware for clues rather than flatware.

Two of the main shapes made in teawares were Bute shape and London shape made by most of the potters at this period. For Spode, London shape came in around 1813; prior to that Bute shape had been the most usual having been in production at the factory from 1800 or earlier. The unmarked cup shown here, decorated with a red border, is Bute shape; the particular detail of the handle strongly signifies it is Spode together with the style of gilding on the handle. The pattern is actually a known Spode pattern originally produced as a blue printed pattern and called Love Chase. Further research finds it is recorded as pattern 1119 of about 1808. But even without this record the evidence is there to point to Spode manufacture.

You can page through an 1820 Spode Shape Book on line by clicking here and then select teawares to look at the different shapes. Bute shape is on page 163. London shape is on page 166. If you look closer at this Shape Book you should also spot that there were, for example, several sizes of milk jug, slop bowl and cups on offer - a bit different from the more standard tea services of the modern era. An open bowl is for slops; a sugar has a lid. You can find lots of shapes for teawares in this book and examine the handles to help you identify pieces. The name of the shape is given at the top of the page. (Another copy of this book is in the Spode Archive with some differences but I do not think a direct study between the 2 copies has ever been done).

Spode cup and saucer, London shape, unrecorded pattern
Spode cup, London shape, backstamp
For the London shape it is again the handle which will help to identify a piece as Spode as well as the silhouette of the cup, particularly around the foot. The illustration here of the cup and saucer shows an elaborately decorated Spode London shape cup.

Handpainted and gilded in the expensive combination of cobalt blue and gold together with voluptuous white roses it is actually a bit over the top! It probably dates to around 1820. Many of Spode's patterns of this period had the pattern painted inside the cup with gilding on the plain white of the outside or vice versa or sometimes the outside simply left white. In the latter case the china is so translucent you can see the pattern inside through it.

Spode cup, London shape,
solid gilding to the handle
The design here is decorated all over, inside and out. This time it is clearly marked as Spode. I was never able to find it recorded in the pattern books so it is possible it could have been made to match a service by another manufacturer who was perhaps no longer able to supply the customer. These are known as matchings.

Thank you to Janis Rodwell who, after seeing this post, tells me the cup and saucer matches Minton's pattern 827; and that Minton had a gap in their production of bone china from 1816-1824. So, as I thought, it does seem that this is a matching and a Minton customer came to Spode to match an existing service when it was not available during this break in production. Perhaps the bold Spode marks on both cup and saucer would tempt that customer to come back to Spode in the future.

To add to the exuberance of this design the handle is solidly gilded. The gilding looks beautiful in candlelight which is how these pieces would have been seen when new (and modern) in the early 1800s.

Gold was a big part of the expensive patterns from the Spode factory throughout its history, always using gold and never a substitute. Gold decoration was added last and fired on at a low temperature. Once fired and out of the kiln it looked dull and brownish, so it had to be burnished, and was also sometimes chased on the most expensive pieces. Tools with tips of agate or bloodstone were used for this skilled job. Different treatments to the gold after firing could give different finishes used together with great effect.
Spode cup and saucer, London shape, 
bird's eye view
More connections with gold and Spode come with W. T. Copeland, owner of the Spode company from 1847, who was a Prime Warden of Goldsmiths' Company. There was a secure and designated gold safe on the factory site and in the Spode Museum object collection a (now broken) mortar used for grinding gold has speckles of glittering gold still visible. My preference is for plainer designs, but it was impossible to resist buying the elaborate cup and saucer for just a few pounds.
Coffee cup, Spode bone china,
London shape, pattern 2169

The London shape coffee cup shown here is a favourite pattern - simple and elegant, recorded as pattern 2169. It has a broad, lavender, groundlayed band and simple gilded lines combined with Spode's beautiful white bone china.

The pattern was first recorded in about 1815. This cup has a Copeland backstamp showing that the pattern could still be available much later in about 1847. If this cup had had no mark it is likely to have been dated much earlier.