BECAUSE of the unique place which Lowestoft held in the old days, it
is of greater interest to the average American collector than almost
any other ware except Wedgwood and Staffordshire; and that in spite of
the low place that English connoisseurs, and even some American writers,
have given it. What we call Lowestoft the ware here is not Lowestoft
at all, and although it is much finer than the real Lowestoft, it has
been frowned upon, simply because it has been misnamed.
As a matter of fact, this Lowestoft for I shall persist in calling
it by the name which it has long honored is well worth collecting and
preserving, because it is beautiful, because it is unique, because it is
not common and yet not out of the average collector's reach, because it
There has always been more or less mystery connected with the origin
of Lowestoft, and to this mystery the ware owes not a little of its
charm. The mystery has now been partially solved, but the charm
In order that we may know the facts about Lowestoft, it may be worth
while to speak of the "Lowestoft controversy."
How the ware ever came to be called Lowestoft is not known, as it
bears no greater likeness to the real Lowestoft than to Chelsea, Bristol,
and other porcelains. For many years, however, its origin was
attributed to the town of Lowestoft.
There are those who have said that china was never made in Lowestoft
at all. This assertion is as little founded on fact as the belief that
all this ware was made there, for old china-molds and fragments of both
decorated and undecorated porcelain have been found there by
excavators, and the facts have been proved in other ways.
The town of Lowestoft is located on the east coast of Suffolk,
England, opposite Rotterdam, and not near any good deposits of clay or coal.
The chief business of the place in the eighteenth century was trade,
largely with Holland. This fact has a close bearing on the
There have been four or five different views held in this controversy,
and it is probable that all are partially correct. In other words,
there are five more or less distinct kinds of Lowestoft: first, china made
and decorated in Lowestoft; second, ware made in China and decorated in
Lowestoft, and possibly in other English towns; third, a sort of
imitation made in Holland and decorated in Lowestoft; fourth, ware made and
decorated in China, and imported to Holland and England by the Dutch
East India Company; fifth, the same ware brought direct from China to
Boston, Salem, and other American ports of entry.
Of the first group practically no examples are to be found in this
country. It was never made in great quantities, and some of it was not
above the commonplace. The story of the real Lowestoft, however, is not
without interest, and a consideration of the other types would hardly
be complete without it.
It is only recently that Lowestoft collecting has aroused much
interest in England. The only reference to the ware in Albert Jacquemart's
"History of Ceramic Art," published in London in 1873, is as
"Lowestoft. In 1756 Hewlin Luson founded here the fabrication of
various potteries, which afterward passed into the hands of several
undertakers" -whatever that may mean.
Clay was discovered in that year by Luson, who found that it made a
quality of china somewhat finer than Delft. Later the ware was
developed along the lines of minuteness and intricacy of pattern and beauty of
finish. The figures included wreaths, festoons, and groups of flowers,
delicate in proportion and color, the rose predominating. The patterns
were not unlike those of the Chinese Lowestoft. The colors were not
burned in, and in most specimens the pattern is badly worn. Punch-bowls
and tea and chocolate sets were the staple products.
At first the patterns were all in blue, but after about 1790 other
colors were used. The body was what is known as soft paste, being creamy
in tint, with a thick bluish glaze. This has usually been considered
the most important fact of all, as it has been supposed that the clay at
Lowestoft was of such a nature that no hard paste could have been made
there, and it was said that the hard-paste Lowestoft was never the real
Lowestoft. As a matter of fact, however, some of the real Lowestoft
must have been made in porcelain, for it is now claimed that a number of
pieces in collections which have been classified as Bow and Worcester
are undoubtedly of Lowe stoft make. The designs of the Bow and Worcester
factories were copied, and as the British Museum classifies Lowestoft as porcelain and not pottery, the paste must have been of a hard nature, although softer than the best porcelain.
We need not let ourselves become confused on this point, however,
for even if hard-paste porcelain was made in Lowestoft, there is probably
none of it in this country. Professor Edwin AtLee Barber, of the
Pennsylvania Museum, closes a monograph on the subject as follows: "It may be
safely assumed, therefore, that every piece of hard-paste porcelain in
this country which has heretofore been supposed to have been made at
Lowestoft is of Chinese origin, having been brought here either by
sailing-vessels directly from China, or shipped to Europe by the East India
Company and brought to America by some voyager."
The first potters at Lowestoft were probably Dutch. Luson failed,
and the business was continued by Messrs. Gillingwater, Browne, Alfred,
and Rickman, who made several grades of ware. In 1770 the firm became
Browne & Co. They employed some famous decorators, including Thomas Rose
and Robert Allen. The works closed for good in i802, owing to a
combination of business troubles.
This ware is now being sought with moderate enthusiasm in England.
There is no regular potter's mark or system of marks. A few of the
earlier pieces bear three parallel blue lines, and some that were copies of
the Worcester pieces have the Worcester factory mark, the open
crescent. Occasionally the letters T and L are found on the foot rims of
pieces, also numbers up to 24, and private workmen's signs. These have but
little significance for the collector, however.
The other four groups. of Lowestoft are of greater interest to the
American collector, though they cannot often be distinguished from each
other. Pieces of Dutch origin probably do not figure prominently, and
nearly all of our Lowestoft in America is undoubtedly Chinese. Some of
it was sent to England and decorated there, but it is very probable that
not a little was brought directly from China. The amount to be found in
such seaboard towns as Salem lends color to this theory. The fact that
the style of decoration was partly English, and included flowers that
never grew in China, need not cause bewilderment, for it is known that
in many cases the Chinese copied patterns from English models for the
An interesting fact in this connection was found in a large platter
bearing a coat of arms in its center. In place of different colors in
the spaces in the crest, the words "red," "black," "green," were written
out, so closely did the Chinese copy what was sent to them!
There are a few pieces of Lowestoft in this country that are known
to have come direct from Canton, including the famous Lowestoft bowl of
the East India Company, at Salem, bearing the mark "Canton, 1786." It
is probable that most of our old Lowestoft, whether it came by way of
Holland or England, or came direct, was not only made but decorated in
China, from English models.
Since, therefore, we have practically only one kind in America, why
not call it simply Lowestoft, and let our good British cousins rage?
Why give it an ambiguous name like Canton, or Oriental, or East India, or
be so painfully exact as to use the terms Canton Lowestoft or
Chinese-Lowestoft? The name Lowestoft may have been based on a misapprehension,
but it has become historic, and to change it savors too much of the
unromantic iconoclasm of spelling reform.
What if our Lowestoft never saw the town of that name? So much the
worse for the town. And to call it an Occidental-Oriental mongrel is a
libel. It is really a beautiful blend.