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Lowestoft The Porcelains Salt Glaze
(Part 3 Of 3)



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 worth owning.

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, Boucher, etc.

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 found.

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 reddish.

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 salt glaze.

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 specimens.

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.


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