03 July 2013

Spode and Rowing and Swimming

This parian figure from the Spode factory (under the Copeland ownership) is recorded in the Spode archive as The Rower. I rather like this handsome young man. It amuses me, though, that I also discovered the same figure (well almost) recorded under another name completely whilst working as curator at the Spode museum.

If you want to know about anything about parian ware from the Spode factory then as usual we thank Robert Copeland for one of his meticulously researched, well-written, Spode-specific books. I was privileged to work with him on this one which is entitled Parian: Copeland's Statuary Porcelain (click the title for my booklist and its details).

When enquiries came to the museum about any pot from the Spode factory research could take me a long time. For parian figures, before the publication of Robert's book, it would mean comparing the image that the enquirer had sent with records in the archive. Page after page after page after page. These could be sketches, written records and/or flimsy 19th century photographs curling at the edges. All needed careful handling and there were thousands of them which were uncatalogued at the time. Nothing of course scanned or photographed on a computer at that stage. In fact no computer! All that began for the museum around 1999.

The records were prepared and kept for a factory making pots not for historical research and some survived simply by chance over the years. Presented with the image of a parian figure then painstakingly searching took time but it all added to the knowledge and I love learning. It was important also to record each piece of research to save doing it again in the future.

If I found something not in Robert's research notes on parian then I would pass it on and I am pleased to say this variation on The Rower was recorded in his book.

Why does it amuse me? After some hunting in the archive for an enquirer I found that a figure marked Captain Webb, he of the famous channel swim, was not in the records but strangely there was an identical figure named as The Rower. Identical but with the addition of an oar! So it seems made without the oar the figure is a swimmer, Captain Webb; with the oar it is The Rower. But which figure came first? And was it a way to make two figures aimed at different customers with little or no origination cost for the addition/omission of the oar? Or some other reason...

Captain Webb completed the first recorded channel swim in 1875 and was celebrated in many ways famously on the back of Bryant & Mays England's Glory matchboxes. Robert Copeland has the first record in the Spode archive for The Rower as about 1882 in a Net Price List (the actual date may be later). Sadly Captain Webb died attempting another daring, magnificent feat in 1883. I wonder if the figure of him came first and then was adapted to something less specific after his tragic death? Unless a record is found we will never know. But knowing the wonderful Spode archive and its vast quantity of documents it could be in there somewhere.

Just like dinnerware customers could also commission parian figures. Florence Nightingale is an example. The company made a figure in one style and a private customer commissioned another in a different pose.

Parian ware has a variety of backstamps including impressed datemarks; impressed title of subject on the front or back; other impressed and printed marks as well as the company mark which could be Copeland & Garrett or Copeland; incised marks, and applied marks. A selection are below:
Printed mark c1846-1847

Printed mark 1846
Printed mark c1847 (with the '& Garrett' omitted
after the end of the partnership)
Applied and impressed marks

Datemark for 1874, impressed and incised marks
More links to parian ware are on my Spode ABC under P.