OLD ENGLISH PORCELAINS
There are so many different kinds of old porcelains that only a
cursory consideration could be given to each. Furthermore, I find that
this ware exists in very small quantities in this country.
An occasional fine piece may reward the collector's search, however,
so perhaps a few paragraphs are necessary to round out this subject of
old china. The statuettes are of interest to the American collector,
and some of the available Chelsea, Derby, and Worcester plates are well
Omitting all matter relative to the history of the various factories
and the methods of manufacture, a few facts may be of interest. Briefly
stated, the chief difference between pottery and porcelain is that,
while pottery is opaque, porcelain is harder, whiter, and more
translucent, and the glaze is usually brighter and harder. Both are often classed
together as china.
The most interesting of the English porcelains were made between
1730 and 1800. The first porcelains were plain white, with slight reliefs;
then blue under glaze painting in Chinese style came into vogue; then
enamel colors in Japanese designs, flaws and blisters being usually
covered by painted flowers and insects. At first the edges were rough and
brown; later they were gilded. This constitutes the first or Oriental
period, though Oriental types of decoration appeared also later.
Then came the so called Meissen style scattered flowers, birds,
insects, and little landscapes, with raised rococo and scrollwork and
applied flowers in full relief.
Finally, the French period developed imitations of Vincennes and
Sevres models fine ground colors, with gilt-edged panels containing birds,
bouquets of flowers, animals, figures, and groups after Watteau,
The gilding is a guide to age. At first there was hardly any; then a
little was used in the Japanese and Meissen patterns; gilt was used
lavishly but well on the pieces after Sevres models. After 1780 it became
cheap and gaudy.
Some transfer printing was used on the later porcelains, especially
on old Worcester services.
A study of these decorations, as well as the paste and glaze, forms
a surer guide to age and maker than do the potters' marks, which were
much faked from the first, poor potters often copying or imitating the
marks of the better factories.
From the beginning statuettes formed an important part of the
porcelain product. These included borrowings from Continental ideas and
figures original in England. The latter were largely copies of contemporary
English paintings and sculptures. About 1780 the statuettes became less
interesting in subject, more formal, and over-elaborate in painting and
gilding. After this some good Japanese figures were made at Derby, but
by 1800 there was a general decadence.
The earliest important factory was at Bow, where some good tableware
was produced. At Chelsea, Derby, Worcester, Plymouth, and Bristol a
great variety of tableware, vases, figures, etc., were made, and there
were porcelain factories at a dozen other places.
It will hardly pay the collector to try to make a specialty of any
of these makes of English porce lains, as he might specialize in
Wedgwood or old blue Staffordshire; there is not enough of it to be had in
this country, and anything like completeness in a collection of English
porcelains would be impossible.
Counterfeiting is occasionally to be met with, and it is especially
easy on account of the lack of a good system of marks. Several of the
more popular kinds of old porcelain have been extensively faked in
England, chiefly by means of the redecoration of plain or poorly decorated
pieces, and by the forging of marks. Some of these bogus pieces have
undoubtedly found their way to this country.
The most valuable porcelains today are the Chelsea and Worcester of
the best period (about 1765-1785); the Derby, Bristol, and Bow rank
next. All kinds are rare here, many shops not showing an). The Derby
tableware is probably the most common.
Any authentic specimen of soft paste English porcelain will command
a good price, while really fine pieces are very valuable. As much as
$10,000 has been paid for a rare Chelsea vase of the fourth period; a
Worcester coffee pot once brought $6,000, and a Bristol cup and saucer
$1000. These are extreme cases, of course, though $100 is not an uncommon
price for a fine statuette. On the other hand, poorer specimens may be
picked up in England for a few shillings, while in this country the
average price for pieces of porcelain tableware is $20 to$40, and $50 to
$100 for statuettes.
SALT GLAZE STONEWARE
THE following brief consideration of salt glaze stoneware is
inserted at this point, quite regardless of chronological order, simply to
round out the general subject of old tableware. Chronologically it should
be placed before the other old china herein described, but in point of
importance it seemed best to tuck it in here.
Among the old pottery and porcelain that have come down to us from
our forefathers will occasionally be found a piece of lightweight ware,
nearly pure white, and often embossed or pierced. It resembles some of
the white ware of Leeds and of Wedgwood, but it is really quite
different, and is older. It is commonly known as salt glaze ware. It is
interesting because it is old and because it marks a distinct period in the
evolution of the potter's art; furthermore, many of the pieces, because
of their lightness and simple delicacy, are beautiful.
In describing salt glaze ware, I cannot do better than quote from
Professor E. A. Barber. He says: "Stoneware is a highly fired, partially
vitrified pottery, composed of plastic clay and sand, covered with an
exceedingly hard saline glaze resembling in texture the granular surface
of an orange skin, produced by throwing into the kiln, when the heat is
most intense, common salt, which vaporizes and settles on the surface
of the ware in minute drops, and being thin and perfectly transparent
does not obliterate the finest scratch. The body of the ware, of a white,
brown, buff, or gray color, is so hard that it will strike fire with
steel, produces a ringing sound when struck, is impervious to water, and
resists the action of acids. The ware is finished at a single firing,
except in those, cases where the decorations are applied over the glaze
in enamel colors."
Salt glaze stoneware was manufactured in Germany, Flanders, England,
and America. In North Germany it was made as early as the sixteenth
century. The early German and Flemish ware took many forms; it is very
rare, and little of it exists in this country outside of museums.
Some of the American-made pottery of the early eighteenth century
was salt glaze ware. At first it was crude and rough-chiefly crocks and
jars. It improved, however, and some good brown and gray ware is to be
It is the English ware, however, that interests the average
collector and that is to be found in the old china-closets of New England and
other parts of the country where people were able to import tableware
during the eighteenth century.
As early as 1660 the process of salt-glazing was introduced into
England, superseding the dull leadglaze. It was a coarse brown ware that
was first finished by this method. Early in the eighteenth century a
gray ware was produced, and some of this found its way to this country.
There were round jugs and cylindrical drinking-mugs, with stamped and
scratched decorations, and sometimes blue enamel ornaments. It was known
as Fulham stoneware. A red brown stoneware, also, was manufactured at
Nottingham at this time.
What we know as salt glaze, however, was made chiefly at
Staffordshire during the eighteenth century. It was a stoneware with a white, or
nearly white, body, thin and graceful in form, highly fired, semi
translucent, and with a very hard saline glaze. To Professor A. H. Church
should be credited the division into periods which follows.
White salt-glaze was made as early as 1685, but prior to 1720 it was
coarse in form, with drab, buff, or white body, and with crude
ornamentation, applied or impressed on turned vessels. The name "crouch ware"
is sometimes applied to this.
The second period is marked by the introduction of flint into the
body, and a resulting improvement in the sharpness of the ornament. The
transition from the crude, discolored ware to the crisp white saltglaze
took place about 1720, and the patterns developed along original lines.
The process of manufacture also changed. Some of the pieces were shaped
by pressing the clay into metal dies; others were cast in a liquid form
in molds of terra-cotta or baked clay. Handles, feet, etc., were molded
separately. By this method fine, sharp embossed effects were possible.
No color was used, however, until the third period.
The third period, from 1740 to 1760, is marked by the introduction
of colors, though some plain white ware was also made. Patterns were at
first scratched in the surface of the clay, and blue pigment rubbed in
before firing. Painting on the surface in enamel colors followed. A few
of the later pieces were given tinted grounds. After 1755 transfer
printing was sometimes employed. During this period the process of
manufacture continued to improve. About 1750 plaster of Paris came to be used
for the molds, and this resulted in greater ease, cheapness, and
rapidity of manufacture. It also made possible the production of larger
pieces, and entire dinner-services were made in salt glaze.
During the fourth period, from 1760 to 1780, less color was used for
ornamentation, and the ware became much cheaper and more common. Some
of it began to show deterioration in workmanship. The prevalent
ornamentation was pierced and basket work, in connection with embossing, and
without color. The greater portion of this ware was made at
Staffordshire, though it was turned out to a limited extent at Liverpool, Jackfield,
Leeds, and elsewhere. This ware differed further from that of the
second period, in that the earlier paste was-softer, and more creamy or
About 1780, after the introduction of the porcelains, cream ware,
and the finer earthenwares of Wedgwood, salt glaze declined in favor, and
by 1800 its manufacture had practically ceased.
It may be well to mention, in passing, a salt glaze ware made at
Lambeth during the last half of the eighteenth century. This was chiefly a
reddish brown above and buff in the lower part. Though the Lambeth jugs
are deservedly famous, this ware is much less common than the white
The American collector will hardly find it worth his while to seek
for pieces of the first period. They are not only crude but rare. The
second period, however, offers a fruitful field, for though pieces of
this period are not common in this country, they are fine examples of the
potter's art, and there are surely some to be had.
During this second period numerous potteries in and about
Staffordshire were manufacturing saltglaze ware in considerable quantities, and
not a little of it was exported to this country. There were plates,
platters, trays, and other dishes in conventional forms, ornamented in
relief with shell and floral patterns, scrolls, etc., in medallions,
borders, and all over. The plates with raised border patterns are perhaps the
most common. They are original in design, clean-cut, and avoid
meaningless extravagances in form or decoration.
Perhaps the most interesting pieces were the teapots, tea-caddies,
and many-sided vessels in various forms. Teapots in the shape of hearts,
houses, ships, and animals are to be seen occasionally, very quaint and
fascinating. Bottles, vases, jars, etc., were also made.
A few figures and statuettes were manufactured in salt glaze, though
these purely ornamental pieces are very rare. They were mostly animals
and bucolic figures, often copied from Chinese porcelain models, but
inferior to the porcelain in sharpness and accuracy of detail.
Apparently not as much of the colored ware of the third period found
its way into this country, as it seldom figures in salt glaze
collections. Some of it was excellent in form and ornament. Sharp designs,
thinness of ware, and other excellences are best seen on decorated sauce
boats, teapots, and pickle or sweetmeat dishes. These were perhaps the
finest salt glaze made, but they are extremely scarce today, and few
collectors would be willing to pay the prices demanded in England for fine
Most of the ware in this country belongs to the fourth period, and
while some of the later pieces show evidences of deterioration in
workmanship, most of it is well worth collecting. Plates, fruitdishes, etc.,
in pierced, embossed, and basket patterns are the easiest to find.
Unlike most tableware, very little of the salt glaze bears the
potter's mark, and consequently it is not often possible to tell where or by
whom a piece was made. Its age can be determined only by its character.
Manufacturers' marks were occasionally used toward the end of the
century, and a few of the molds or blocks bear the marks of the cutters, one
of the most successful of whom was Aaron Wood of Staffordshire.
Salt glaze ware has been largely counterfeited in England, where the
bogus pieces have been made by the same process as the old ware. It is
not as fine in workmanship, however, and usually presents some
evidences of its newness. In this country there has been a rather moderate
demand for salt-glaze ware, and consequently little temptation to
counterfeit. The American collector is fairly safe.
There has been but little traffic in salt glaze ware among American
dealers, but good examples are held at fairly high prices. In general,
the old teapots, etc., of the second period are worth up to $200 or
$400 apiece, and the old plates $100 or $200. The plates of the fourth
period are worth from $80 to $120, according to pattern, workmanship, and
condition; the late fruit-dishes and other ornamental pieces are worth
from $100 to $150.