05 October 2014

Spode and Incense Burners

In the early 1800s Spode produced a variety of different shaped incense burners. The function of an incense burner was to delicately perfume a room. Perhaps the room was stuffy or the smell of food needed to be dispersed after a grand meal or maybe, as people didn't wash themselves and their clothes in the way we do today during this period, the delicate scent of burning incense was necessary. These were items for the well-to-do who could afford both incense and a special little burner in a beautiful and fashionable design.
Cottage incense burners. L: probably Spode, bone china. Mid & R: Spode Felspar porcelain, early 1800s
Spode's designs included charming little cottages in the style of cottage ornés - rustic buildings of picturesque design. The smoke from the incense seeped out of the chimney. All the little flowers and leaves were made separately from clay, by hand, then carefully applied before firing, glazing, firing and painting and then of course firing again. The Felspar porcelain backstamp illustrated is a lovely design and includes both the London and Stoke addresses. Note the flowers in the design. They represent the Union (what became known as the United Kingdom): thistle for Scotland, shamrock for Ireland, and rose for England.
A Spode Felspar Porcelain backstamp
Cottage incense burner, Spode, bone china early 1800s
The full size cottage ornés were usually associated with grand houses and their estates in the UK in the late 18th and early 19th century, embracing the fashion of the wealthy for both Picturesque and Pastoral styles.
Cottage orné, Langton by Partney, Lincolnshire
Incense burners are sometimes called 'pastille burners' but this is not a description found in the Spode archive papers where incense burner is definitely the phrase of choice. For information about the use of the word perfume and incense look on the P page on my Spode ABC.

'Round House Scent Pot' is also used to describe an object sketched into a Spode shape book from 1817 which looks like the round cottage illustrated in the top picture.

In 2022, via Instagram, I was delighted to see a post by Andrew Dando, Antique Pottery & Porcelain Specialists, showing more cottage style incense burners and also more about the incense cones which fitted inside.

Andrew has kindly sent me images to use on this blogpost. He says that the incense cones (see image below) 'were usually made from charcoal mixed with 5-10% saltpetre and aromatic resin, bonded together with gum arabic, to which drops of essential perfumes were added. The mixture was often formed into small cones and dried thoroughly before use. When lit the cones smoulder with no flame for up to 20 minutes'. This would gently perfume the room as the smoke dispersed.

As well as his website (link above) there is more lovely stuff to be found via his Instagram account  @andrew_dando_antiques and there will be news of more incense or pastille burners in the future.
Cottage incense burner, Spode, early 1800s, with incense cones (Andrew Dando)

Cottage incense burner, Spode, early 1800s, in use (Andrew Dando)

I find the cottages charming but other incense burners from Spode could be described as perhaps more elegant and were highly fashionable with many different shapes and patterns offered. They were also made in different ceramic bodies which included Spode's beautiful white bone china, 'Felspar Porcelain', black basalt and red stoneware. These were 'top of the range' and expensive items from Spode and a reminder these were aimed at the well-to-do and found in the grand houses. 

One of my favourite incense burners features a bit of early 19th century 'Egyptomania' and is made from Spode's high quality black basalt body. It is decorated with white sprigs of Egyptian hieroglyphics - or the North Staffordshire interpretation of them at the time. (For more information about sprigs go to my Sprigged Stoneware page). This basalt incense burner is thought to date from about 1805 and is recorded as a Pyramid Incense Burner. There is a record of it in the 1820 Shape Book which you can view in detail online by clicking here; then scroll down to 'Incense Burners and Phosphorous Pots'. You can go on to look at various records of these items produced in different shapes.
Pyramid Incense Burner, 1820 Shape Book
The conical (rather than pyramid) top is the part which is made by throwing and these are the measurements you can see in the Shape Book which records the technical details of manufacture. The illustration is drawn to be able to see through the top. To understand further I have included an image showing it in its 2 parts as well as assembled. The base has a little 'collar' (broken in the one featured) to hold the incense. The top, or 'chimney', is shaped like a flame and has a hole to allow the scented smoke to escape. The square base is pierced for the same reason. Spot the crossed crocodiles (or 'crocodial' as is usual in the Spode archive).
Pyramid Incense Burner, black basalt sprigged in white c1805 and in its 2 parts

A 'Beaded Upright Scollopd Incense Burner' is another favourite just for its name alone. The 1820 Shape Book shows it was to be 2 and a half inches tall. I have illustrated one from the V & A where it has been mistaken for a 'matchpot' in the collection records. Matchpots are a much simpler shape with no lid and these too can be found in the Shape Book on page 1. Showing there was quite a demand for these items many more shapes are found in the 1820 Shape Book including the following: Beaded Low Incense Burner, Antique Incense Burner, Dolphin Tripod, Beaded Incense Burner with Dolphin Handles (3 sizes), Bow Handled Incense Burner and a 3 Legged Imaged Handled Beaded Incense Burner.
Beaded Upright Scollopd Incense Burner, 1820 Shape Book
A 'Beaded Upright Scollopd Incense Burner' could be decorated in a variety of ways. One is illustrated here and looks really pretty with the stunning yellow background and delicate handpainted wild roses. Another can be seen in a different pattern from the V & A - just click here. Again it is described as a matchpot. It is decorated in pattern number 3967 from about 1824 and is a version of a design known as 'Tumbledown Dick'.
Beaded Upright Scollopd Incense Burner, bone china, pattern 3798 c1824

Wares in Spode's pattern 1166. Dolphin Tripod incense burner 2nd from right c1808
In a snapshot I took of the cases in the Spode museum some years ago (below) another version of the Dolphin Tripod incense burner can be seen in red stoneware sprigged in black.

It seems that whatever the fashion demanded - quaint and rustic, up to the minute Egyptomania or something more classical - Spode responded to its customers' demands and requirements with style, high quality and a little bit of panache!
Dolphin Tripod incense burner 2nd from right c1810