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Lowestoft The Porcelains Salt Glaze
(Part 1 Of 3)



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 is historic.

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 remains.

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 controversy.

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 follows:

"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 English trade.

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.


[Continue To Part 2 Of Article]




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