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Pratt Ware and Pot Lids
ONE OF THE oldest Staffordshire pottery works was that of Felix Pratt at Fenton, which was in operation continuously from 1775 to 1885 - Of the many different kinds of pottery made by Pratt and his successors two types are especially popular with present-day collectors. The attractive and colorful cream-tinted earthenware jugs and mugs with relief decoration have long been known as Pratt ware, although they were also made elsewhere in Staffordshire, as well as at Leeds, Castleford, and several other potteries. The distinguishing features of this early Pratt ware is the modeled relief decoration and the zigzag and acanthus-leaf borders. The relief designs were painted under the glaze, and brilliant orange, green, cobalt blue, black or brown, and sometimes purple is characteristic of the ware. In its deep, strong, and vibrant color it resembles the finest old Italian majolica. The subject matter on these jugs includes scenes of the sea, hunting scenes, busts of national heroes, genre scenes, and caricatures of the headdresses of the period.
The largest class of subject matter is that which relates to the sailor or the naval hero. The well-known "Sailor's Farewell" and "Return" has the scene of the sailor saying farewell to his sweetheart in a medallion on one side and the return scene on the other. The borders are of zigzag and acanthus leaves. A jug of this type is one of the few pieces known marked "Pratt." The same subject appears on other jugs with varying borders and details. There are also many jugs with portraits of naval heroes. One jug has a relief bust of Admiral Nelson on one side and Captain Berry on the other, and the names of both men inscribed on the neck of the jug. Another jug has a portrait of Duncan with two ships in full sail and his name inscribed, and on the other side a scene of two gleaners in the field. A jug marked "Lord Jervis" has a bust of Jervis rising from the sea holding a trumpet, and the incident refers to the defeat of the Spanish fleet. Another jug shows the Duke of Cumberland on horseback, with Hercules and the Hydra in the panel on the other side. The "Wellington-Hill" jug shows busts of Wellington and General Hill together with flags. There is also a band of silver luster. Another Wellington jug is of later date and celebrates the victory at Waterloo. There is an interesting jug with equestrian figures of the Duke of York in one panel and Coburg in the other. There is also a fluted pear-shaped pitcher with relief portraits of Lafayette and Louis XVI. It is 6 inches in height and has a neckband of ribbon and vines in relief. Relief portrait busts were also made on plates and on plaques to hang on the wall. Plaques were made of Admiral Duncan, Lord Howe, and others.
One of the best Pratt ware jugs is called "Farmer and Fox." It shows the farmer and fox in one medallion and in the other the farmer's wife with dogs. The "Miser and Spendthrift" jug has a bust under the lip marked "Shakespear the Poet." The "Parson and Clerk" jug shows the parson in black with church warden and pipe in one panel, and the clerk in red coat and yellow breeches with a drunken peasant at the table in the panel on the other side. The jug is 8 inches in height. The "Debtor and Creditor" jug has the subject matter in panels and a border of silver luster and is 5 inches in height. A jug with zigzag and acanthus-leaf borders shows a scene of the "Sportsman" with dogs and hares. A jug with children at play in heart-shaped panels is quaint and charming. The scenes are known as "Sportive Innocence" and "Mischevious Sport." The jug is 7 1/4 inches high and the original dates about 1795. The same jugs are found in 6-inch and 4 3/4-inch heights. The average height of Pratt jugs is 5 or 6 inches. Another jug with acanthus-leaf borders is inscribed "Success to the Trade." The group of jugs with caricatures of headdresses is especially attractive. These designs are also found on flasks and teapoys. Similar designs as well as other portraits are found on plates and mugs. One mug with figures in relief is called "Midnight Conversation." Teapoys with classic scenes in relief and acanthus-leaf borders dividing the space into panels are often found with pewter tops.
The same type of ware with similar modeling and color was made in figure form. Two figures under an umbrella and called the "Umbrella Courtship" are attributed to Pratt. The "Sailor on Chest" is classed as a figure. It is a jug of a sailor astride a chest and has a kinship to the Toby jug. The inscription reads: "Hollo, Brother Briton Whoever Thou be Sit down on That chest of Hard dollars by me and drink a health to all sealors Bold." The relief decoration on these articles of Pratt ware either was shaped in separate molds and applied or may have been a part of the general casting process. Although this type of pottery is generally called Pratt ware, it was also made by John Barker of Fenton. Barker, who had been an apprentice of Whieldon's, established his own pottery in 1750 and was a working contemporary of Felix Pratt. In England, Pratt ware is also known as Barker ware. The same type of ware was also made at other potteries in Staffordshire and at Leeds and Castleford, as well as in Sunderland and at the Herculaneum Pottery in Liverpool. Since the ware is seldom marked it is difficult to identify the maker, but some pieces have been found marked "Pratt" and others marked "Herculaneum." Those made in Sunderland have pink luster combined with the designs. The earliest jugs made by Felix Pratt or John Barker are on lightweight cream-color pottery with a bluish glaze. The colors are pure and clear and the relief designs clean cut. Color is the most important factor. These early pieces are comparatively scarce and high in price even though they may be classed as cottage-type pottery.
The Pratt pottery works continued operations for many years and in the middle 19th century, under the name of F.& R. Pratt & Company. (1847- 1885), they came into prominence for the excellence of their colored underglaze printing, notably on pot lids and tea ware. Pot lids, originally made as covers for pots holding bear's grease, later fish paste and potted meats, are popular with present-day collectors. With English collectors they hold a place equal to the American collector's craze for pressed glass, and there are check lists and price lists giving up-to-the-minute data for pot-lid collectors. The largest number of pot lids are round in shape but many are oval and some have squared corners. The scenes are painted in deep blues, reds, and buff. The design was printed in four colors: buff, blue, pink or red, and the outline color. Then the glaze was applied and the pot fired again. Lids with gold were fired a third time.
Pot-lid collectors are chiefly interested in subjects which include historic incidents in the life of Victorian times, landscapes, portraits, public buildings, special events such as coronations, and military and naval scenes of the Crimean War. There are also views of the great exhibitions in London, Dublin, Paris, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Portraits include Victoria and Albert, Edward VII and Alexandra, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Napoleon. A series of scenes has subject matter connected with personal adornment and another series (probably on pots to hold fish) has scenes of the shrimping industry at Pegwell Bay. There is also a group of pot lids with American views, including Washington crossing the Delaware; the State House, Philadelphia; Independence Hall interior; the Administration Building, World's Fair, Chicago; and the Prince of Wales at the Tomb of Washington. The earliest subjects are those including bears and were probably made for pots holding bear's grease. These include the Bear Pit, Bear Hunting, Bear, Lion and Cock, Bears on Rocks, Bears Reading Newspaper, Bears with Valentines, and others. Other scenes show dogs, deer, pheasant shooting, a bullfight, and a boar fight. Sentimental pictures include "Our Pets," "Good Dog," "Gay Dog," "Cottage Children," "Village Wedding," "Grace Before Meals," "The Dentist," and "Blind Fiddler." There are also groups of pot lids with the seasons and floral designs and one with copies of great paintings such as the "Blue Boy." The pictures were often taken from paintings by such artists as Landseer, Gainsborough, Sir David Wilkie, W. Mulready, and C. R. Leslie and from the popular artist of the Baxter prints as well as the water-color drawings of Jesse Austin. Jesse Austin not only made the sketches but also superintended the engraving department at Pratt Pottery except for one year, 1858, when he worked at Cauldon Works in Stoke. Austin went to work for Pratt in 1843 or 1845, and many of the pot lids have his signature, including some of the early bear lids. Other lids were marked with a registration mark, and some are marked "Jesse Austin and Felix Edwards Pratt, Fenton, Staffs 1846."
Pot lids were also made by Brown, Westhead, Moore & Company, Cauldon Works; by T. J. & J. Mayer; and by Ridgway. The following well-known manufacturers used pots with colored scenes on their lids: John Burgess & Son, Crosse & Blackwell, Robert Feast, Totwell & Son, Morrell, John Gosnell & Son, and E. Lazenby & Son. Pot lids have been reproduced from old copper plates which are still in existence. However, the copies which were made between 1880 and 1924 are distinguishable by their light colors. The old pot lids have beautiful deep blues and reds. Hairline work, or "crazing," is often found on old lids and the pottery is heavy, while new lids "ring."
Underglaze-painted scenes are also found on vases, boxes, mugs, loving cups, plaques, trinket sets, teapots, and tea ware. F. & R. Pratt & Company made tea ware pieces for the great exhibition in 1851 for which they won a medal. These exhibition pieces have scenes of Roman ruins, with green and gold borders, and are marked "Pratt Fenton." Other plates have landscapes and embossed borders and gold filigree borders. F. & R. Pratt &c Company was patronized by Prince Albert. Much of their dessert ware was also made for the United States. The works of F. & R. Pratt continued in operation until 1885, making various kinds of pottery including Etruscan ware.