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BRISTOL CHINA - 1770-1781
HISTORY. In 1770, when Cookworthy joined forces with Richard Champion and transferred the Plymouth factory to Bristol, the business was established in a building on Castle Green. From 1770 to 1773 this business was carried on under the firm name of Wm. Cookworthy & Co. In 1773 Champion bought Cookworthy's interest and patent rights and the firm then became Richard Champion & Company.
Champion was a merchant in the American trade and also an ardent supporter of Burke, and when the troubles incident to the American Revolution arose he sustained serious losses. In 1775, with Burke's support, he tried to obtain an extension of Cookworthy's patent, but the most he could secure was the sole right to use the china stone and china clay in making porcelain; others might employ the same materials so long as they did not manufacture porcelain within the time limit of the patent. Even though aided by Burke and other powerful friends in Parliament, litigation cost Champion dear for Josiah Wedgwood and the Staffordshire potters created a strong opposition to the renewal of the patent in any form. These charges and the losses occasioned by the war with the Colonies crippled Champion financially and he sought to extend the capital of the business but the times were not favorable.
A London warehouse, at 17 Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, was opened in 1776 and the best period of the enterprise seems to have been from 1776 to 1778, but at the end of that time Champion entertained the thought of selling the factory and his patent rights. A sale was effected in 1781 to a company of seven Staffordshire potters and Champion retired from the field of manufacture, going not long after to South Carolina where he died in 1791. The Bristol works were closed and the new company trans`erred the scene of their activity first to Tunstall and then to New Hall, at Shelton.
THE BODY. The paste was white, intensely hard, dense of texture, and translucent. In hardness and infusibility the Bristol body excels both Chinese and Dresden porcelain. Bristol china sometimes shews "wreathing," slight spiral ridges running round the piece from bottom to top, caused by imperfect manipulation in "throwing" and molding the clay on the potter's wheel. When fractured or chipped the surface is more or less conchoidal with a waxy lustre.
THE GLAZE. The imperfections of the Plymouth glaze have already been noted. At Bristol the difficulties were overcome and an evenly distributed, clear, brilliant glaze was perfected. The simpler ware was glazed and fired at one operation, in the Chinese manner; the more elaborate pieces were first fired to a partial biscuit state, then dipped in the glaze and fully fired.
ARTICLES MADE AND CONTOUR. There were two grades of ware made at the Bristol factory-the "Cottage China" and the finer and more elaborate pieces. The cot tage china included the ordinary "useful" tableware and a few small figures that were not carefully modelled. The shapes and decoration of the cottage china were simple. The finer tableware and the vases, jars and beakers were admittedly inspired by the Dresden manner. Figures, and groups, excellently modeled, were made both glazed and in biscuit, and there were also in biscuit portrait medallions and plaques with armorial bearings, often surrounded by the most delicately fashioned wreaths of flowers. The fine tableware and tea and coffee equipages never displayed the exaggerated Rococo shapes of Dresden but rather tended to conservative Chinese shapes and the more sober forms of Neo-Classic derivation. The catalogue of the 1780 sale of Bristol china notes "elegant patterns in Desert Services, Tea and Coffee Equipages, Cabinet and Caudle cups," and the contours of many of these articles distinctly bear the Neo-Classic impress.
TYPES OF DECORATION. The cottage china was simply decorated, generally with multi-colored sprigs and sprays of flowers or with festooned ribbon borders. Very little of it was decorated with underglaze blue.Gilding was not used, and the glaze was applied before firing, in the usual Chinese manner.In the general output and finer sorts of Bristol china, ribbing, fluting, the embossed pine-cone or scale pattern, scrolls and other molded low reliefs were employed, and some of the vases display considerable ornament molded in high relief and applied. A brilliant on-glaze blue ground was used with reserved panels for multi-colored flowers and birds, but the on-glaze blue usually has a mottled, smeary appearance. Yellow and various other ground colors were more successful. Festoons and wreaths of green leaves afforded a characteristic motif and these wreaths sometimes enclosed medallions with a chocolate ground on which appeared Classic figures in grisaille. The Bristol gilding was rich , and often beautifully effective. The finer glazed figures were well decorated in enamel colors. The most successful and satisfying of the Bristol decorations were generally the multi-colored flowers, grouped in compositions, scattered, or disposed in garlands and festoons with or without ribbons. Champion was peculiarly successful with the green that appears in laurel leaves and festoons.
THE MARKS. While the factory belonged to Cookworthy & Co. the mark seems to have been the alchemist symbol for tin, the same as the Plymouth mark, painted in gold. The regular Bristol mark after Cookworthy's withdrawal, was a cross, incised in the paste, painted in blue underglaze or, more usually on-glaze, or in gold. The mark "B" was also used. When numerals occur they are the decorator's mark. The Dresden mark in underglaze blue was sometimes employed.