09 November 2016

Spode and Audubon Birds

Dessert plate, bone china (detail) Audubon's Birds featuring Morton's Finch
Spode's Audubon Birds pattern is a design from the 1940s but has its roots firmly in the style of Spode's showpiece dessert services of the early 1800s. The 19th century dessert services were often spectacular and comprised many, many pieces - sometimes hundreds - made for rich customers.
5 different Spode part dessert services c1800-1828
Whilst many of these early 19th century designs featured flowers in groups and sprays, the more specialist customer demanded botanical subjects or exotic birds.

Many of these services were handpainted. Each piece would feature a different subject as the centre design. Once the service was complete it would look spectacular with many, many plants or many, many birds often derived from publications of the time, such as Curtis's Botanical Magazine. The flower subjects and the bird subjects were usually named on the backs of the pieces, painted or printed in beautiful script.
Cream/sugar tureen stand, featuring 'Pine Grosbeak', pattern 1979 c1814
Handpainted backstamp on cream/sugar tureen stand, pattern 1979
Icepail, Lady Staffords shape, pattern 2114 c1820
Audubon Birds pattern is a 20th century design made by Spode under the ownership of the Copeland family. The pattern was produced on bone china and finished with a gilded edge. The birds were transfer printed in outline and then, as detailed in the pattern books (now in the Spode archive), 'handpainted by the boys'. The boys were the apprentice painters learning from the master painters at the factory who were all men. In the 1959 and 1961 catalogue the marketing blurb says the pieces of the pattern 'are a delight to see and a treasure to possess'.
Spode catalogue page, Audubon Birds 1959
The bird subjects for Audubon Birds pattern were derived from the studies of John James Audubon (1785-1851). Audubon's book 'Birds of America' was printed between 1827 and 1838.

On the Special Collections pages of Lehigh University, USA, you can find out more about this book including:

'Measuring 39.5" x 29.5", Birds of America has long been recognised as one of the greatest bird books of all time. Audubon, a self-taught ornithologist and talented artist, researched his specimens in their natural habitats, hunting them to secure their likenesses with brush on paper. His innovative methods of wiring them into position enabled him to sketch and paint elusive specimens, thus contributing to his accuracy.

Audubon supplied his publisher with life-size paintings that were transformed into copperplate etchings and printed in black on white paper. Each plate was then meticulously hand-coloured by Robert Havell's staff according to Audubon's specifications. In many cases, Audubon supplied the birds alone, leaving the background to either his field assistants or Havell. Over 1,000 birds appear on 435 plates, typically bound into four volumes, each with its own title page.'

Copper plates were engraved by the Spode engravers for the 20th century pattern to be produced by the pottery transfer printing process. In this case though the copper plates were engraved the 'right way round'. For the book the copper plates would have been engraved 'back to front'.

Click HERE> to explore Lehigh University's wonderful pages.
Frontispiece from Lehigh University Special Collections
Red-shouldered Hawk
Spode's Audubon Birds pattern followed on from the success of a pattern with rhododendron centres called, unsurprisingly, Rhododendron. Both were introduced in the 1940s during World War II (1939-1945) for the American market.
Spode catalogue page Rhododendron pattern 1959
Audubon Birds pattern would have to have been mainly for export anyway, as from 1942 to 1952, during and after World War II, no decorated pottery was allowed to be sold in the UK except seconds and export rejects.

Spode designer Harold Holdway* recalled that he had access to a copy of Audubon's 'Birds of America' which belonged to Ronald Copeland and so was able to use this to produce the pattern for American customers. The birds were adapted from Audubon's book to fit the ceramic shapes and were not direct copies of the ornithological subjects.
Spode catalogue page, Audubon Birds 1961
On the 1961 catalogue page illustrated here you can see that dinner, dessert, tea and coffee wares were in production. A.D. cups were (and it took me years to find this out) After Dinner cups - a term more widely used in the USA. The numbers against the items on the page, such as No.1 or No. 2, are sizes for holloware pieces such as a sugar bowl or teapot. The simple drawings down the left hand side of the catalogue page show the Hamburg shape.

Spode produced different versions and different shapes of the Audubon Birds pattern. Each version of the pattern was allocated its own unique pattern number and entered into the pattern books. This meant no confusion was made when a customer ordered a particular version. One of the most well-known versions of the pattern was introduced in 1941 on Hamburg shape with pattern number Y6466 and continued in production for many years.
Backstamp for a coffee saucer featuring a Bobolink, early 1970s
Previously in 1940 pattern number Y6437 was produced on Regimental shape which had a plain edge rather than wavy. Also produced on Hamburg shape were pattern numbers Y6682 of 1943, the same as pattern Y6466 but with a Marina Green ground all over; and Y6919 of 1947 which had a Celadon Blue rim.
Soup saucer, pattern Y6466 featuring  Black-throated blue warbler, early 1970s
Backstamp for the soup saucer above, early 1970s
Audubon's Black-throated blue warbler published 1827 -1838
Tea and coffee wares were also produced to accompany the dinnerware on Hamburg shape.

Below are listed the bird subjects used on the various pieces of tableware for Spode's pattern. They are listed as recorded at Spode but I believe some have been renamed and reclassified since the publication of Audubon's Birds of America, some may not exist and some may be misspelt.

Plates - 10 inch and 9.5 inch

1. Western Tanager
2. Red Eyed Vireo
3. Canada Jay
4. Chestnut Backed Chickadee
5. House Finch
6. Lazuli Bunting
7. Arkansas Kingbird
8. Audubon's Warbler
9. Bohemian Waxwing
10. Scissor Tailed Fly catcher
11. Maynard's Cuckoo
12. Yellow Throated Warbler

Teacup, Coffee Cup, Soup Cup

1. Common Redpoll
2. Dickcissel
3. Bartram's Vireo
4. California Jay
5. Black Capped Chickadee
6. Tennessee Warbler
7. Painted Bunting
8. Northern Shrike
9. Brewer's Blackbird
10. Cape May Warbler
11. Indigo Bunting
12. Bullock's Oriole

Plate 8 inch, Soup plate 8 inch, Soup saucer, Dish 12.75 inch, Baker dish, Square Salad Bowl

1. Townsend's Solitaire
2. Myrtle Warbler
3. Crested Flycatcher
4. Morton's Finch
5. Passenger Pigeon
6. Golden Winged Warbler
7. Blue Grosbeak
8. Least Flycatcher
9. Band-Tailed Pigeon
10. Black Throated Blue Warbler
11. Sage Thrasher
12. Lazuli Bunting

Plate 6.5 inch, Coffee saucer, Tea saucer

1. White Throated Sparrow
2. Pine Warbler
3. Maryland Yellow Throat
4. Blue Headed Vireo
5. Bobolink
6. Cedar Waxwing
7. Clay Coloured Sparrow
8. Cuviers Regulus
9. Ruby Crowned Kinglet
10. Magnolia Warbler
11. Parula Warbler
12. Chestnut Sided Warbler

A series of 6 'Presentation Plates' on Hamburg shape, individually boxed, were produced in the 1970s. There is no information as to which 6 centres were used but probably taken from those for the 10 inch plate.

Leaflet for 'Presentation Plates'. (The orchid is incorrectly named) 1976
* See 'Harold Holdway: 20th Century Ceramic Designer' by Holdway, Harold & Holdway, Ruth. Details on my booklist.