10 October 2016

Spode and India

 Plate, India pattern c1815
Spode is famous for the perfection of the ceramic technique of underglaze transfer printing in blue in the late 18th century. The fashion for this type of ware blossomed and was a huge success for the company. Many patterns were produced in different styles and exported all over the world initially aimed at the well-to-do customer.

One of these patterns was India.
India pattern, detail of centre of design
The pattern dates from about 1815.  Although it has the name India, it reproduces a Chinese porcelain design from the K'ang Hsi period (1700-1722). In the early 1800s the name 'India' was often used to describe Oriental style and this is the source of this early 19th century pattern name. The style continued to go in and out of fashion throughout the 19th century. Some of Spode's product range was always in oriental style right up to the 1990s. 

It is a lovely pattern and I particularly like the border design. India was produced on a fine earthenware known as pearlware. Spode's earthenwares were thinly potted and so were beautifully lightweight and elegant. The lead glaze gave them a smooth silky feel.

Some pieces of ware in India pattern had an elaborate backstamp. Something of a curator's dream! To turn over a plate of this period and find something on it is a bonus - not everything was marked by pottery manufacturers in the early 1800s. To find a whole story in print on the reverse is wonderful. 
Backstamp on a soup plate, India pattern 1816
The mark reads:

'This BLUE-WARE is printed from the CALX of British COBALT, produced from Wheal Sparnon Mine in the County of Cornwall August 1816.'

So what does this backstamp tell us?

It uses the contemporary phrase Blue-Ware. This, then, is what Spode II was calling this type of ware when it was made. It is now usually referred to as transfer printed ware, blue printed ware, underglaze blue, and, in the US, transferware.

Calx is a metal oxide, in this case, cobalt.

As well as a Master Potter, Spode II was also a master of marketing. Here he is finding a British supply of cobalt, instead of importing from Europe. He is using the emphasis on this British supply of an important raw material to market 'Buy British' at a time of turmoil in Europe. 

In other versions of the backstamp the word 'Wheal' has been removed as it also means mine.
At the bottom of the map is Sparnon, near Redruth

Wheal Sparnon was near Redruth in Cornwall and the vein of cobalt was discovered there in 1807. I understand that initially cobalt was regarded simply as by-product of tin mining. Wheal Sparnon was leased by a group of Staffordshire potters of whom Spode II was one. It was the only mine dedicated to producing solely cobalt in the whole of Cornwall.

Some versions of India pattern were hand painted over the blue print. In the Spode pattern books in the Spode archive, the earliest known design like this has pattern number 2489 first recorded in 1816. It is handpainted in colours over the blue. A version with red painted over the border has pattern number 2612 which dates from about 1818.
Plate (detail) India pattern 2612 c1818
Saucer, India pattern, backstamp
There are 6 backstamps on the saucer illustrated here. Printed in blue is the Spode name and the mark of the printer or printing team; painted in red is the pattern number 2612 with a workman's mark below; another workman's mark can be seen also painted in red; an impressed mark in the centre, probably another workman's mark, completes the 6.

In the 20th century India was used as the source for a pattern called Chinese Rose which was to become hugely commercially successful for the company. You can find more out about Chinese Rose on my Spode ABC on the C page.
Catalogue page for Chinese Rose pattern 1938