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IN SPITE OF the popularity of Leeds ware and the aura that surrounds it, most people are unfamiliar with the great variety of types made by Leeds Pottery. To some, Leeds means blue or green shell- or featheredge ware with a flower painted under the glaze in characteristic blues, greens, and yellows; to others it means the Willow pattern; while to others Leeds means only the rare and expensive hand-painted pieces with names and dates. Indeed Leeds Pottery made all of these wares, and to tell the story of Leeds is to give a picture of the pottery industry in England from 1760 to 1820. The wares made at Leeds followed the styles and patterns of the pottery industry in general, and the factory made almost all of the wares currently popular. However Leeds Pottery pieces were better than average and their wares even rivaled some of Wedgwood's pottery. Leeds Pottery was also successful commercially and carried on a flourishing trade with America. Although the Leeds factory first established by the Green brothers may have made a more primitive pottery, the ware we know today as Leeds is a decorated creamware. It is thin and delicate in texture, with a heavy glaze which has a greenish cast. The variations in the different types of Leeds ware are in the decoration rather than in the pottery itself.
Although Leeds pottery does vary in weight and texture, some of the finest early pieces have sheen, are soft to the touch and creamy white in color, and have the exquisite shape of old Chinese pottery. The methods of decoration include painting, both under and overglaze; piercing; transfer printing; applied molded decoration; dipped decoration; and luster. The pieces with underglaze painting are heavier and darker in color, while those with the hand-painted names and dates have an eggshell texture and color. Leeds also made black basalt ware which did not have a soft paste base.
The earliest type that we associate with the Leeds Pottery is that decorated with hand-painted oriental scenes and Chinese figures or primitive houses, in red, green, and black. Tea sets were painted with this sort of decoration up until 1800 or 1815. Sometimes a rose or some other flower is used together with an oriental figure.
The teapots, jugs, and loving cups with painted names, dates, and verses, together with flowers and feather or rococo scroll decoration, were made before and after 1775. This is the rarest and most expensive Leeds pottery. The name and date or verse are usually painted in front under the spout of the tea or coffeepot or jug and on the sides of the mugs and loving cups. The inscription is in black surrounded by a feather and scroll decoration in black and red and the flowers are in orange-red, lilac, yellow, and green. Sometimes a Chinese decoration is combined with the names and dates. One such coffeepot has the name "Ann Laws 1769" together with Chinese scenery, and another pot has a Chinese figure and a red rose and the inscription "William DWE 1774." These names, dates, and designs were put on at the order of the customer and usually celebrated a marriage or some other aniversary. The verses used were typical of the times and were the same as those used by Bristol, Liverpool, and other potteries at about the same dates.
Typical verses found on Leeds ware are: Let Virtue be one's Guide. LB. Let love abide, Till death divide. When this you see remember me tho many miles we distant be. Beauty and riches will faid and fly away, But true love and virtue never will decay. Friendship without interest, Love without deceit. Love Unites Us.
Other verses have patriotic inscriptions such as "Britannia for Ever," and the farmer's jug has the inscription "God speed the Plough," while the drinker's mug has the familiar "One pott more and then." The religious inscription was also popular: Be present at our table Lord: Be here and everywhere adored, Thy creatures bless and grant that we May feast in Paradise with thee.
At a little later date Leeds Pottery made tea sets for the Dutch market with male and female portraits and an orange tree, or Dutch landscapes with the inscription "P.V.O.R."
Certain characteristics distinguish these Leeds pieces with inscriptions from those of other potteries and also serve as a means of identifying all of the early pieces of creamware made by Leeds Pottery. Identical shapes were made by other potters both in England and on the Continent, for the shapes were characteristic of the date, but Leeds Pottery can be identified by the blue-greenish color of the heavy glaze and by the typical beadwork border or beaded rim. The double twisted handle that ends in a molded flower and leaf where the handle is attached to the body is also characteristic, but the Leeds Pottery catalogue also shows several other types of handles, such as twisted-rope and hound handles. The molded rose knob is frequently found on Leeds Pottery teaware, but a plain round or teardrop knob was also used. The feather and scroll decoration in black and red is, however, typically Leeds, while the rococo scrolls and lacework borders are used by other potters as well. The large red or lilac rose alone or with tulips, fuchsias, and other flowers is another characteristic of the Leeds Pottery of this date. Leeds Pottery also made cups and saucers with blue and white chintz flowers painted under the glaze similar to those made by Caughley and Worcester. The cups were small and without handles.
Transfer printing as a means of decoration was also employed at an early date by Leeds Pottery. The transfer in black, red, or purple is the earliest, but multicolors in brilliant enamel are also found. The blue transfer came later. Early transfer patterns include the rare Exotic Birds printed by Sadler for Leeds Pottery. A similar transfer was also printed for Wedgwood. Other transfer patterns on Leeds pottery include a pastoral scene with shepherd and shepherdess and a garden tea-party scene, which was usually printed in black transfer but is also found in brilliant colors. The plates on this teaware have a featheredge and floral sprays almost identical with Wedgwood transfer pieces. Transfer prints also include a view of Kirkstall Abbey; a portrait of John Wesley; the Death of General Wolfe; a Masonic pattern; figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity; a ship; and a scene with mother and child.
Transfers were also made at a later date for the Dutch market. These often read, "For Liberty and Fatherland." In 1810 a Jubilee plate was made to celebrate the anniversary of George III. In 1820 Leeds Pottery made a plate for the coronation of George IV, which was decorated with a crown, a rose, a thistle, and a shamrock.