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Staffordshire; Whieldon's Tortoise-Shell Ware

Among the Staffordshire wares that preceded the popular blue and white transfer dishes of the early nineteenth century, was a multi-colored one known as tortoise-shell. Its originator was Thomas Whieldon, a contemporary of Josiah Wedgwood and next in importance to that great potter.

Whieldon achieved this tortoise-shell effect by using a cream-colored body as the base over which blurred patches of color were dusted. These were chiefly browns, ranging from very dark to straw-color, with greens and blues some times added for variety. Over all was a transparent lead glaze which gave a delicate sheen to the ware.

Pieces made were teapots, coffee pots, cream pitchers, sugar bowls, salt dishes, cups and saucers, bowls, mugs, dessert services and decorative bowls. This ware became nearly, if not quite, as popular as his "collyflower," perfected just a little earlier. American colonists were buying it by 1760, and it was standard stock with importers until the American Revolution temporarily checked shipments of British goods.

In Staffordshire, other potters copied Whieldon's tortoise-shell, just as they did his cauliflower ware, and included it in their standard products. There seems to have been no hard feelings about this borrowing of another man's invention. Like a recipe in cooking, the results varied at the hands of less skilled or less experienced potters. With the exception of Wedgwood, Whieldon made the best tortoise-shell dishes and the competition of his fellow potters did not worry him. As for Josiah Wedgwood, he and Whieldon were partners at the time cauliflower and tortoise wares were originated. Consequently, the tortoiseshell dishes made at their two potteries after the brief partnership ended were superior to all others.

Among dishes shipped to America, teapots, sugar bowls and creamers were apparently more numerous than other pieces, since they are not too scarce today. Whieldon never marked his wares, so far as is known, but his tortoise-shell can be recognized by the clearance and sparkle of the glaze. Wedgwood made less of this ware, being more interested in perfecting and producing his queen's ware, and consistently marked his pieces except for some early ones.

Whieldon's teapots were usually small, like others of that century when tea was a very costly item. Almost spherical in shape, they had raised scroll decorations on handles and spouts. There was also a design of either raised flower and foliage or of a Chinese human figure. A small rosette of conventionalized leaves generally made the handle of the lid. The raised decoration was accomplished by using molds with incised designs.,/p>

Tortoise-shell should not be confused with agate-ware. The latter was made of clays of several colors, including some stained blue by adding cobalt, which were thoroughly kneaded until a resemblance to natural agate was attained.

During the time that Whieldon and Wedgwood were partners (1754-1759), there was an agreement that each man should carry on his experiments separately and not be obliged to exchange information. The two men must, however, have pooled their knowledge in the development of one ware. That was the "collyflower," as it was popularly called in its day. Whieldon had taken the ordinary white bisque, experimented with colors in lead glaze, modeled dishes in the forms of fruits and vegetables, and so produced excellent likenesses of melons, pineapples, and cabbages. Wedgwood perfected the color tone and, between them, a new ware was launched to compete with the popular blue and white.

Called "collyflower" ware, though no actual representation of that vegetable ever appeared, it took its name from the color of the leaf, a deep green. Pieces made included such hollow forms as teapots, coffee pots, milk pitchers, sugar bowls, and mugs, as well as salt dishes, mustard pots, and leaf-shaped plates. For covered dishes, the melon shape was probably the favorite . This example has the clear yellow of the fruit; the plate beneath is leafshaped and in the green from which the ware takes its name. It was made by Wedgwood, about 1770. Advertisements in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston papers, between 1760 and 1775, telling of china "just imported" from England, made frequent references to "collyflower" ware and indicate that it had an appreciative public in the colonies as well as in England.

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