Category Archives: Collecting Pottery and Porcelain

English Pottery – an Overview

English Pottery - an Overview for Collectors

Teapot, Wedgewood, Porcelain, c. 1880-1890, P3

Pottery was made in all parts of England throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and much is still being made by the so-called studio potters. Among the more important later centers that have been identified with certainty, are: London (known as Metropolitan Ware); Wrotham, Kent; and Stafford­shire, where the names of Toft, Simpson and Malkin are the best known. A further technique, known as sgraffito and con­sisting of decoration incised through a coating of light-coloured slip to a dark body, was practised in north Devonshire and other places.

John Astbury and Thomas Whieldon of Staffordshire were the foremost potters in the middle of the eighteenth century, and their output comprised wares of all the types that were then known. In particular, Whieldon's name is linked with wares with pale-colored transparent glazes including early versions of the famous Toby Jug, and similar types were made by Ralph Wood and his son, also named Ralph. Astbury is noted for pieces made from red clay, either engine-turned on a lathe or with white clay ornaments in relief. These two men led the way to the perfecting of lead-glazed pottery, a step which was the achievement of Josiah Wedgwood. Wedgwood was a good practical potter. He had been for a few years in partnership with Whieldon, but was a better business man, and his cream-coloured lead-glazed earthenware, known from 1765 as Queen's Ware, was so successful that it com­peted with porcelain, and was imitated not only by other English makers but also all over the continent of Europe. The closest imitator in England was the factory at Leeds, Yorkshire, which approached the high quality of Wedgwood's products, but often used original patterns. Much of Wedgwood's creamware was decorated by his own men in Staffordshire, or at a workshop he had for a time in London at Chelsea, but a quantity was sent to Liverpool to be ornamented by a newly invented process. This was by means of engravings printed on paper and trans­ferred to the china article; quick, cheap and effective, it was typical of Wedgwood to test the possibilities of something as novel and promising. For the collector it is reassuring to know that the majority of Wedgwood ware is marked.

Early in the nineteenth century came the introductions of pieces decorated with lustre, both silver- and copper-coloured, and there was a great variety among the finished products. Silver lustre on a canary-yellow ground is the rarest, but silver in con­junction with underglaze blue, especially if the latter is a sporting subject, is sought after and expensive. Whole tea sets were made at one period, each piece covered completely with a thin film of silver lustre, and they were a passable imitation of the real thing for those who could not afford to buy the genuine metal. Copper-lustred pieces have been made since about 1800 and production has been continuous for some 150 years; which explains why so many 'early nineteenth-century' specimens are obtainable.

Although creamware continued to be made, white-glazed pottery was developed from 1780 to compete with porcelain and was produced in great quantities by many makers. At first it had decoration printed solely in underglaze blue, but later developments included a wide range of colours. Whole services were made, and Spode, Wedgwood and Davenport (all of Staffordshire) were among the more prominent of the hundreds of names associated with it. The earlier blue-printed ware is very well finished and some of the patterns are most attractive; a few, including the willow-pattern, are still being made.

One of the most popular introductions of the first half of the nineteenth century was ironstone china, said to contain ironstone slag in its composition and certainly very strong. The heavy ware, almost unbreakable, was both cheap and showy. It was made in the form of domestic pieces with pseudo-oriental decoration in vivid blues and reds, and many of the big dinner-services are still being used. Sets of jugs, with handles in the shape of dragons, were made also and are not uncommon.

A style of decoration that is occasionally seen, particularly on jugs and tankards, is known as mocha, from a resemblance to a type of quartz of that name, and has brown moss-like blotches on it. The stains were made with the aid of tobacco-juice and hops, and doubtless gave pleasure to the potters making it.

Children were catered to from about 1830 with small plates printed with moral rhymes and other suitable subjects. Many were made in Staffordshire, but some came from Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham.

Enoch Wood and John Walton were prominent among makers of figurines, many of them of small size and colored in opaque enamels with green predominating. Many of Walton's bear an impressed stamp with the name of the maker. Later pieces, introduced in about 1850, are the well-known Staffordshire chimneypiece ornaments in the form of portrait-figurines, often unrecognizable without the name painted on the front of the base, ranging from politicians to murderers.

Much of the nineteenth-century ware was marked by the makers, but often only with initials which do not help the collec­tor very much. Printed pieces usually have the name of the pattern.