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SWANSEA CHINA - 1814-1823
HISTORY. Ever since 1764 there had been a prosperous little earthenware factory at Swansea and it was to this little plant that L. W. Dillwyn welcomed Billingsley, Walker and the rest of the disconsolate and ill-fated Nantgarw troupe in 1814 immediately after they were obliged to relinquish their first Nantgarw effort. Kilns were built alongside the earlier pottery and work commenced.
The early Swansea china, made on the first arrival of the Billingsley tribe, was the best and was precisely like that of Nantgarw. The great trouble, however, was that about ninety per cent. of it was regularly spoiled in the firing. To overcome this difficulty, Walker modified the composition of the body.
After 1817, when Dillwyn could no longer stand the frightful expense of these wasteful methods and sent the whole Billingsley contingent flying, the china was made of this modified body and the factory was carried on under the direction of Timothy Bevington, one of the shareholders. In 1820 Bevington became owner of the establishment and work was carried on a little longer, but the venture was not profitable and the factory was closed in 1823.
THE BODY. From 1814 to1817, while the Billingsley regime lasted, the body was the same soft paste as used at Nantgarw-granular, exceedingly translucent, and very white, but with a faint greenish tinge when held up against the light. After Billingsley's departure from Swansea, modifications were made in the body in order to render it harder, denser and more durable. The later paste had a yellowish tinge, a more chalky texture, and was less translucent.Some of it, indeed, was opaque.
The GLAZE. The glaze on the earlier Swansea china was the same as the Nantgarw glaze. The glaze on the modified body seems to have been softer and was distinguished by its peculiar dead whiteness.
ARTICLES MADE AND CONTOUR. Tableware, dessert services, tea services and the smaller decorative accessories were the products of the Swansea factory.The contours shewed all the usual Neo-Grec characteristics of the period.
TYPES OF DECORATION. The most characteristic decoration of Swansea china consisted of "Billingsley" flowers, that is to say, flowers painted in the manner affected by Billingsley whose methods were greatly admired by most of the china decorators of his time and were closely imitated. For each flower he laid a flat ground of color and then brushed out the high lights and usually juxtaposed light and dark flowers to intensify the effect. These multi-colored flowers were sometimes small and arranged in bouquets, knots, garlands and festoons. Birds were often employed as decorative themes and, to a certain extent, low reliefs molded in the paste were used in conjunction with colour and gilding for the enrich ment of plate rims. Decorative scrollwork and ribbons, in color or in gold, were likewise made use of. Incidentally, gilding was much more freely employed at Swansea than at Nantgarw. There were also wild roses, wild strawberries, and Henry Morris introduced elaborate fruit compositions. To a small extent figure subjects, with stippled grounds, and monochrome landscapes are to be included in the decorative catalogue. Ground colors were a good deal used, frequently of delicate tones, but besides these there were deep blue, pink yellow, buff or biscuit color and green. Oftentimes marbling or mottling appeared instead of a solid ground color for the borders of plates and dishes, the marbled effect being produced by a network of lines of a deeper shade than the underlying ground color or else by a network of gold lines.Figures were not made at Swansea but modeled flowers in high relief, not seldom in the biscuit were applied to embellish vases and similar objects, in conjunction with color and gilding on their smooth surfaces.
THE MARKS. In all likelihood, much of the earlier china made at Swansea bore the Nantgarw mark. The Swansea marks were the name SWANSEA impressed in the paste or printed in red, DILLWYN & CO., BEVINGTON & Co., and, after 1817, a trident was often impressed in the paste along with the other marks.