02 August 2016

Spode and Showing Off

One of the important parts of the Spode business, not often mentioned, is that of the showroom. It was no use making beautiful things to sell if there was nowhere to display the wares to prospective customers.
3 of the 9 sizes of 'Beaded New Shape Jar', bone china, pattern 1166 c1808
From its earliest days the Spode company had a showroom both at the factory in Stoke and, after 1778, also in London. Eventually the company had showrooms not just in the UK but all over the world...
Spode's first London showroom was in Fore Street
Whilst Spode I remained in Stoke running the business at the factory end, Spode II left with his wife and little children, to set up the London business in Fore Street in 1778. The property included a showroom and accommodation and this is where the sales and marketing part of the business began. Sadly Spode II's young wife died in 1782 and was buried in St Giles Church, Cripplegate which you can see in the picture of Fore Street.
The London showroom, Portugal Street
In 1794 the London business moved premises to Portugal Street. At the front of this converted theatre are interesting bits and pieces to do with the running of a pottery warehouse. I found that in the 18th century the word warehouse was regarded as more dignified word for shop; and Spode II's warehouse would have included an elegant showroom, storage for stock and again accommodation.

Look at the Portugal Street image and note the barrels in which ware was packed in straw for transport from the Stoke factory to London and then on all over the world to Spode's customers.

To the right a workman carries a large foot bath through the door. A wagon is parked below a hoist and workmen on the left struggle with a willow crate where pottery is again packed in straw. Cratemaking was a specialist trade. You can see some images of crates here>.
Wedgwood & Byerley warehouse, London c1809
The inside of the Spode warehouse may well have looked something like the interior of Wedgwood's London warehouse. All sorts of well-to-do customers would visit the London showrooms. Find out about HM Queen Charlotte's visit to Spode's in 1817 here>.

Back in Stoke, in 1806, the Spode manufactory was visited by HRH the Prince of Wales, (later to become Prince Regent and, later still, HM King George IV). On this exciting occasion Spode II was appointed 'Potter & English Porcelain Manufacturer to His Royal Highness'.
Universal Magazine report of Royal visit to the factory 1806
Later Spode II became Potter to the King
The factory showroom is described as 'a room of 117 feet in length... fitted up with a splendid assemblage of goods'. In an ode written in the early 1800s in praise of Henry Daniel, an expert in ceramic decoration, there are the lines which mention 'a small but neat showroom'. In the 'pattern room' wares are displayed 'suspended on lathy strings... some on steppy shelves' which conjures up a wonderful image of quite a modern sounding display of wares.
Cups suspended on 'lathy strings' (somewhere) in 2013
Why mention this? Because Henry Daniel and Spode II worked closely together. Daniel was responsible for decorating Spode's ware from about 1805 until 1822 and the fascinating thing is that Daniel's business operated on the same site as the Spode factory. Amongst other things he rented his workshops from Spode II. So, put simply, Spode II was responsible for making his pots to a high standard and then the responsibility for painting the pieces to the Spode order went to Henry Daniel, such as in pattern 1166 shown at the top of this post.

The ode goes on to describe the Spode wares further:

'Numerous Tea Sets spread the bench below;
The centre table forms still richer glow,
While spangling orders all the ground bestrew;
With mathematic marks each piece is grac'd'

The 'mathematic marks' refer to the pattern numbers applied to the wares. This unique number identified the pattern and enabled orders to be repeated successfully. Sometimes the Spode name accompanied it, other times just the number was applied; often there would be a workman's mark or cipher too.
'Mathematic mark', now referred to as a pattern number, 889 c1806
Pattern number 2169 and workman's mark c1815
Coffee cup, bone china, pattern 2169 c1815
The advent of photography in the late 19th century, and an interest in this new-fangled technique by members of the Copeland family, led to various aspects of the factory being photographed and later published in a souvenir booklet of 1902.
The showroom at the Spode factory 1902
In the image of the showroom at the Spode factory in 1902 are many very grand pieces made under the Copeland ownership - elaborate vases, fine dessert wares and parian figures. Some of these pieces are in the Spode museum's object collection.
Monumental urn, cover & stand. Spot it at the back of the showroom on the high shelf.
In the same but palm-bedecked showroom, you can see a gentleman believed to Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner with his entourage and, I think, a Copeland or two as well as the monumental urn again.
Wealthy customers from all over the world came to visit the showroom in Stoke
The Spode company, under all its various ownerships, exported all over the world. The rich and famous would come to visit the showrooms and tour the factory. As well as royalty this included included celebrities such as the author Charles Dickens. You can find out much more about his visit to the Spode factory here>.
Detail of Dickens on a Spode commemorative plate 1970
The style of the factory showroom changed with the fashions and from high Victorian moved to stylish minimalist 20th century versions. But sometimes the company seemed to lose its nerve with the minimalist style, in both brochures and showroom, as some of the following images show. This was often driven by marketing needs.
Naran pattern in a Chinese-influenced setting in the Earthenware Brochure 1938
Blue printed ware fitting the revival for traditional pine furniture perfectly in the 1990s