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PLYMOUTH CHINA - 1768-1770
HISTORY. The hard paste porcelain factory was established by William Cookworthy at Plymouth in 1768. Cookworthy was a plymouth chemist who for years had been deeply interested in the subject of porcelain manufacture. He was persuaded that the materials requisite for making true hard paste porcelain, similar in the nature of its body to the porcelain of China or the hard paste porcelain of Dresden, could be found in England. He furthermore believed that those materials existed in abundant quantity in Cornwall. For a number of years he experimented with Cornish kaolin and felspar, or china clay and china stone, as they are usually called, and after discovering the most satisfactory sorts and the proper proportions for the composition, he established the Plymouth china factory with the aid and backing of Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc (afterwards Lord Camelford), having first secured a patent granting him exclusive right to the use of his composition for a term of years.
Cookworthy was sixty-three years old when he obtained his patent and founded the factory and he utterly lacked all experience in directing the mechanical processes and the details of management. The obstacles to be overcome were too great to admit of even moderate success for the venture and, in 1770, the Plymouth factory was abandoned and the business transferred to Bristol where Richard Champion, a young, capable and energetic man developed the enterprise into the famous Bristol china works.
THE BODY. The body of the Plymouth china was a true hard paste, the first that had been made in England. It was extremely hard, and was pure white and translucent, possessing all the qualities that good hard paste porcelain should have.
THE GLAZE. The glaze of the Plymouth china was often very imperfect, a circumstance due to imperfect firing.It was frequently thick and uneven in patches and apt to be full of bubbles. In many cases it had a distinctly greyish tone from the smoke. This smoke stain was technically an imperfection, of course, but as a matter of fact it not seldom added to the charm of the china.
ARTICLES MADE AND CONTOUR. Much of the product consisted of the smaller sorts of tableware and tea services, although a number of excellent figures and groups and some admirable vases were also made. The shapes were more or less of a moderate Rococo fashion although a number of Chinese for,also were employed.
TYPES OF DECORATION Modelling or molding in low relief in the form of scrolls and leaf motifs formed part of the decorative system; also the modelling of shell-shaped salt-cellars, figures and other items in fuller relief or in the round contributed its share. A number of pieces appear in the white. Many pieces were decorated altogether in underglaze blue, but the blue was rather blackish where it had been thickly applied and was also apt to be streaky. The polychrome pieces shew brilliant and beautiful coloring , and the enamel-painted decoration is always in the form of sprays of flowers and detached birds and butterflies. Ground colors were not used until after the business had been transferred to Bristol.
THE MARKS. When the pieces are marked they bear the alchemical symbol for tin which looks like a combination of the two Arabic numerals, 2 and 4. On the blue and white pieces the mark is in underglaze blue; on the polychrome pieces it is in red or reddish brown. On a few of the pieces where there is much gilding, the mark is in gold but it is not unlikely that some of these pieces may have been made at the Bristol factory.