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Old Blue Staffordshire
( Article orginally published June 1957 )
To many, Staffordshire pottery means Old Blue Staffordshire decorated with scenes or buildings surrounded by a border olf shells, flowers or some other design. It should be remembered, however, that the greater amount of English porcelain and pottery was made in Staffordshire, England.
Staffordshire is a district - a county if you will - about ten miles long by about five miles wide, located halfway between Liverpool and London. Through it flows the River Trent. It contains the five towns - Stoke-on-Trent, Burslem, Longton, Hanley and Tunstall - made familiar to us by the early novels of Arnold Bennett. In England, this district is spoken of as "The Potteries" and a great many of those living there today have been potters for generations, their great great grandfathers having worked for one of the well-known potters of their day.
In this district lived and worked the Wedgwoods, the Spodes, Enoch Wood and his son, Thomas Whieldon, Thomas Astbury, Thomas Minton, James and Ralph Clews, the Ridgways, Joseph Stubbs, the Stevensons, and many others whose productions are eagerly collected today.
Burslem, one of the Five Towns, was a center for the pottery industry from an early time, and was noted for its deposits of clay by 1686.
In 1755 John Sadler and his partner, Guy Green, of Liverpool invented the art of transfer printing on pottery and porcelain from copper plates. In this process a metal plate is etched or engraved in the usual way, although somewhat deeper than far ordinary plate printing since the action of the fire reduces the strength of the colors used. The copperplate is then heated and the desired color, mixed with a special printer's oil, is rubbed over its surface. A print is then taken on transfer paper, (which has been treated with a preparation of soap and water) by means of an ordinary hand press. Several thicknosses of flannel are used to absorb any extra moisture from the paper. The print is then arranged on the piece of pottery to be decorated and the color forced onto the plate by rubbing with a special brush. The women who do this work are called "Transferrers." After some hours the piece is immersed in water to remove the paper. The ware is allowed to dry for several days and then fired over or under glaze as desired.
In 1806 many of the Staffordshire potteries failed because of the depression due to Napoleon's boycott of English goods. After the War of 1812, these potters of Staffordshire sought to increase their exportations to America by appealing to the patriotism of the Americans. They did this by portraying on their ware pictures of prominent men, of public buildings, of important events, and by scenery. Their effort met with great success.
Famous artists and illustrations and photographs in published books supplied them with their subjects for decoration. Michele Felice Corne's famous naval paintings were reproduced as well as his "Landing of the Pilgrims." William Guy Wall of Dublin came to America in 1818 and painted scenes in water colors of the Hudson River. Many of these were transferred to Staffordshire by Andrew Stevenson and the Clews. Views of the American countryside by John Warner Barber of Connecticut were reproduced by Wood, Ridgway and R. Stevenson. Other outstanding artists whose work was portrayed on this ware were Charles Burton and Abel Bowen of New York, Col. John Trumbull of Connecticut, Benj. West of Pennsylvania and London and a great many more.
The early pieces of this type of Staffordshire were printed in a rich dark blue color apparently with good reason: it was decorative, it kept its color when fired at a high temperature, and it covered the blemishes. It is believed that the period of greatest production for this historical ware in the dark blue was during the years 1818 and 1830. Between 1830 and 1850 other colors appeared - light blue, green, brown, etc. Importation appears to have ended shortly after 1850.
Simeon Shaw in his "Histories Of the Staffordshire Potteries and Rise and Progress of the Manufacture of Pottery and Porcelain" (1829) says, that in 1829 there were some fifty thousand people employed in the potteries of the Staffordshire District.
Borders on, Staffordshire ware are the chief means of identifying particular examples since the various potters used the same border over and over, especially on those pieces destined for the American market. Occasionally a potter pirated a border design of another but this was rare. Since there were so many potteries competing for the profitable American trade, the description of borders used is much too long far an article such as this. Far anyone making a study of this subject in detail, "American Historical Views on Staffordshire China" by Ellouise Baker Larsen is a must.
Today the potters of 1818 to 1830 would be amazed at the value placed on their productions in the Old Blue with American Historical scenes but often these platters and plates have preserved for us historical pictures that might otherwise have been lost.