06 September 2013

Spode and Regency Roses

My latest bargain - bird's eye view
Although I don't really collect Spode I just couldn't resist it. Three pieces from a Regency teaset on the bottom shelf in an antique market. When I saw them I stopped dead. They were beautiful. I immediately recognised them as Spode; the pattern, the shape and the beautiful, pure white of Spode's bone china.

The pattern number is 984 and for some reason I remember numbers and also remembered this pattern as unrecorded in the Spode pattern books, simply known from marked pieces. Literally, there is a blank page in the pattern book between pattern numbers 983 and 985. This pattern was introduced in about 1807.

The three pieces were described as a trio. This is not really a word used in the pottery industry but more of a dealer/collector term for three pieces extracted from a service. Initially a service was never expected to be split and this helps to explain why in the late 1700s/early 1800s not all pieces were marked with the manufacturer's name: there was simply no need to mark all the pieces if, for example, the teapot was marked.
Pattern 984, bread & butter plate c1807
Of the 3 items I bought, only the bread and butter plate (called simply a B & B at Spode) was marked, and that indistinctly, so if you did not know what to look for you might miss it. The bread and butter plate is of large saucer shape and sometimes erroneously called a 'saucer dish'. Commonplace today, bread and butter could accompany an elegant session of Regency tea drinking.

The shape of the ware is Bute shape and you can see this detailed in a Spode 1820 Shape Book. Click here for the relevant Spode Exhibition Online pages. Choose 'Browse the Book' and then search for page 163. Some of the pieces are illustrated and the list of pieces includes 2 sizes of B & B in inches. Some of the other sizes are given in pottery sizes. Something of a 36 size is smaller than something of a 24 size. Explanation is given on the Spode Exhibition Online pages.
Pattern 984, bread & butter plate
with teacup and saucer c1807
This design, sometimes referred to as Rose Border at Spode, is printed by a method called 'pluck and dust' or 'pull and dust'. It is printed onglaze on bone china (as opposed to the more familiar underglaze blue printing for example on earthenware - see my blog Spode and printing...and Hogarth). The design is printed from a hand-engraved copper plate; the engraving is filled with a stiff oil not a ceramic colour. The design is then transferred from the copper via tissue paper to the object. At this point the image on the object is almost impossible to see clearly and sometimes lampblack was added to the oil prior to printing to make it easier to see.

Once the print in oil is on the object then ceramic colour is dusted onto the piece and adheres to the oil thus picking up the design. Any surplus colour is carefully removed from the object before it goes on to be fired. You can see that this is a fiddly, difficult process. Most designs for this method at Spode occur in the pattern books, in the early 19th century, between about 1806 and 1810 (although Spode still had a 'pluck and dust' department up to about 1943). You can find more about the various printing methods in Drakard & Holdway's book Spode Printed Ware - details on my booklist.

'Difficult to see' marks: pattern number top and gilder's mark left
The pattern number 984 (detail)
Of this set of 3 pieces there was only one piece  with any backstamps, or marks, and that was the B & B. These were in gold and had suffered some wear. Usually, but not always, the pattern numbers are painted on in red - it depended on the process and on the colours being used. There is no handpainting on this piece so the gilder applied the mark in gold along with his/her cypher. The pattern number 984 is visible after careful looking. Have a look at my detailed image of the mark. The 9 is fairly clear. The 8 is on its side in the style of writing numerals at this period. And the 4? Well, I knew the number, but if it had needed researching you would only have had to look at a few pattern records 980 to 989 to find out more. There are no 2 digit pattern numbers at this period and a 4 digit number beginning with 9 would be too late a date for the style.

What of the design? The roses are beautiful (and this is from someone who doesn't much like cultivated roses although I will tolerate wild ones in the garden). The print is in iron red which gives a delicate effect combined with the 'pluck and dust' printing method. I have seen this pattern described as a print on a solid gold background but this does not seem correct. The gold is cleverly applied above and below the print following the flow of the rose border and highlighting little stems along the way and gives the appearance of a solid gold background. Against Spode's very white bone china the effect is stunning. Seen in natural light or candlelight it is extremely elegant. There are some blemishes in the manufacture of the body but, as my husband pointed out, this is still very early days for bone china, probably invented at Spode in about 1799/1800. Spode's recipe was to become the industry standard and with the quality of these pieces, even with a few marks, you can see why.
Border detail, note the light gilding to the base of the stems on the inner border