02 January 2015

Spode in January

One of a set of 12 tiles for the months of the year
This lovely tile, representing the month of January, was made by the Spode company under the ownership of W T Copeland & Sons in the late 1800s. It is printed and then I think it is lightly coloured in blue by hand. The same design was also produced from the same copper plate but in a version which was beautifully coloured by hand over the print: the head dress in bright yellow, 'doublet' in scarlet and fabulous 'hose' in yellow and pale blue stripes.

At this period, as well as Months of the Year subjects, other designs for tiles were produced which depicted Seasons of the Year, Nursery Rhymes, scenes from Robin Hood, Shakespearean scenes and many more. Tiles were made by the company from the late 1700s until the end of the 20th century but the peak was in the second half of the 1800s. The designs began to be recorded in a separate set of pattern books, known as the Tile Books, from about 1840 rather than dotted amongst the records of tea, dinner, dessert ware, toilet ware and ornamental ware.
A Tile Book I photographed before conservation work in 2006
Designs were also specially commissioned by various customers and for manufacturers of fireplaces. Students of tile history are particularly fortunate to have these records preserved in the Spode archive as well as, unusually, some of the original artwork signed by the artists.

'Left over' tiles used to cover stillages when a clay cellar was converted into wine cellar
The Spode factory is for some reason often forgotten when tiles are being identified. How many say 'Look at the lovely Minton tiles' when looking at old tiles on the wall of a building or beneath their feet? It is not possible always to see the back of the tile to look for a backstamp when it is in situ but as well as the fabulous tiles from Minton, there were other manufacturers who made beautifully designed and high quality tiles. One of these was Spode. In fact when it came to very large tiles, known as slabs, Spode, under the Copeland ownership, was the best.

Next time you see some gorgeous tiles beneath your feet or set into a frieze, consider for a moment, could they be from the Spode factory?

You can see more about tiles by going to my Spode ABC and look under T.