13 January 2015

Spode and Hot Water

This object looks like a watering can but it is properly called a hot water can and has nothing to do with plants or greenhouses. It is associated with toilet sets or toilet ware.

Nowadays hot water cans are often separated from their original context and their original purpose is forgotten. They are seen perhaps as ornamental items but were vital if you wanted more than an ice-cold wash on a cold winter's morning! This hot water can is transfer printed in blue in a pretty pattern called Aster. This pattern was introduced by Spode in about 1832 and was originally called Chinese Plants. Many of Spode's earliest patterns, of the late 1700s, were strongly influenced by designs from 18th century Chinese porcelain. This influence continued, following the vagaries of fashion, for the rest of the company's life until it closed in 2009.
Hot water can, earthenware, Aster pattern, backstamp c1889
The backstamps on the Aster hot water can tell us it is white earthenware, indicated by the impressed crown. Copeland over the crown tells us that it was made in the period when Spode was owned by the Copeland family. There is also an impressed datemark which is hard to read but I think is for 1889.

So what was the purpose of a hot water can? Imagine the days before a plumbed-in bathroom. If you are well-to-do you have a toilet set in your bedroom. Items varied depending on wealth, personal taste and the date but usually you would have a ewer, basin, chamber pot, slop pail, toothbrush box, soap box and a sponge box (the last 3 items are for some reason often confused today). Some of these items were available in several sizes and other items were available too such as urinals and bedpans.
Catalogue page, hot water can centre, 2 designs of slop pail above & below. Bottom left toothbrush box; 2nd from bottom right a toothbrush vase. c1900
Now imagine the large ewer filled with cold water ready for washing in the morning. A small amount of hot water added to this in the basin would make washing much more pleasant. This freshly boiled hot water was carried up to the bedroom by a servant in a hot water can from the kitchens or sculleries. These sometimes matched the service but the hot water cans were not always ceramic.
Metal hot water cans lined up ready to take to the bedrooms, Erdigg
Spode's ceramic hot water cans were available in many patterns such as the bird design illustrated. It is transfer printed and then hand coloured and has pattern number 2/2164 first recorded in about 1883.

Many toiletware patterns are recorded in the famous Spode pattern books. There is also a separate set of pattern books specifically for toiletware patterns dating from about 1907 to 1938 in the Spode archive. The pattern prefix is T.

On my Spode ABC there are a few more images on the T page under Toiletware - click here.
A glimpse of the Spode Toiletware pattern books with red bindings c1907-1938
Hot water can, earthenware, pattern 2/2164 c1883
Catalogue page (detail) 'Ewers and Bowls' c1867-1881
'Composition of Sets' c1902-1910