Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

English Porcelain And Pottery (Part 1 Of 3)

[Part 1]  [Part 2]  [Part 3] 

English porcelain is, with the exception of Plymouth, all of soft-paste, and it is important for the collector to learn to recognize this feature. Like so many difficult things, it cannot be done at once; some are able to recognize it quickly and almost by intuition, but for most it is a matter of patience and experience.

Of the factories operating before 1785, Chelsea and Worcester were the most consistent in their use of marks but quite a large proportion of their output, like that of the other makers, is unmarked. Some of the factories copied the crossed swords of Dresden, and some copied each other. After 1785, the position grew better, but there were still more unmarked pieces than marked.

One feature of decorating should be mentioned: the practice of factories selling their ware, white and glazed, to men with decorating establishments of their own. This was not at all uncommon in the early days of porcelain-making, and the name of James Giles is among the best known of those doing this type of work. William Duesbury, later owner of the Derby factory and purchaser of both Chelsea and Bow, began his career similarly. There was a further outburst of activity of this nature early in the nineteenth century, when Nantgarw porcelain was painted in London by Randall and Robins. Men who worked in this way are known as `outside decorators', because their workshops were unconnected with a particular factory.


A few cream jugs with the word `Chelsea', a triangle and the date 1745 incised in the clay under the base before it was fired have been preserved. They prove that the works was in being by that year, and it has been argued that because the jugs are so well finished whoever made them had practised his skill for some time prior. A number of other pieces also marked with a scratched triangle are known, and to about the same early date belongs a mark in underglaze blue in the form of a trident intersecting a crown. Most of these wares were unpainted but glazed, and some show that French porcelain of the period was probably their inspiration as regards both the modelling and the glassy body.

From 1749, the factory was managed by Nicholas Sprimont, originally a silversmith from Liege, and under his direction it reached great heights. The most important period lasted from 1752 until 1758, and includes three sales by auction of which the catalogues of two have survived. By means of these, many of the articles then made have been identified, and a clear idea gained of the diversity of pieces current. The most significant are the figures, many after Dresden but many original, and having ample individuality in modelling and colouring. By this time, most of the wares were painted at the factory, and the work of several artists with recognizably personal styles has been recorded. From the mark that was used this is known as the Red Anchor period, and W. B. Honey suggested that Chelsea was then responsible for `perhaps the most beautiful porcelain material ever made'.

The following Gold Anchor period saw a trend to more ambitious pieces; large figures and groups, vases and costly table services, decorated in brilliant colourings and often heavily gilt. The factory eventually ceased to pay and was sold in 1769. Bought by William Duesbury of Derby, it continued manufacturing until 1784, but the wares were not to be compared with those of former days.

One speciality of Chelsea deserves a mention: the so-called `Toys', or miniature pieces in the form of seals, scent-bottles, snuff boxes, etc., which were made in large numbers and remain as popular today as they were in the 1760's. Of these, a few miniature figures bear the anchor in red but none of the other trifles has any mark. A scent-bottle, in the British Museum, is dated 1759.


In 1744 a patent was taken out by Thomas Frye and a partner for a method of making porcelain using a clay imported from America. Four years later, Frye alone took out another patent in which bone-ash was included as a further ingredient. It is known that a man named George Arnold financed the company until his death in 1751, but little is certain yet about the type of ware produced before that date. Visual identification can be confirmed with reasonable certainty; Bow was the first factory to incorporate bone-ash in the paste used, and its presence can be proved by simple chemical analysis. In 1753 the firm opened a warehouse in Cornhill, in the City of London, and employed an ex-navy man, John Bowcock, as clerk; some of Bowcock's account books and papers have been preserved, although others have since been lost, and they add a little to the meagre history known at present.

Bow made many figures, but only rarely do they approach the standards of modelling and painting of Chelsea. Contemporary accounts reveal that they concentrated on tableware, and much of this, decorated in underglaze blue, has survived. Many of the earlier pieces were sold uncoloured, and those that were painted often show decoration in the current Chinese and Japanese styles. Many of the figures are after Dresden models, but a number are original; mugs were a popular production and on many of them the handle terminates in the shape of a heart where it is joined to the body. The factory closed in 1776 after one of the later owners had died and the other had gone bankrupt, and like Chelsea it was bought by Duesbury of Derby. Many of the figures can be recognized by the use of a vivid purple-red colour used often to outline the scrolling on bases, and by an opaque blue enamel used for clothing, etc. The edges of plates and other pieces sometimes show small areas of brown staining where the glaze is thin or absent. There was no definite mark used on the factory's wares, but a number of different ones were used by painters. Most of the pieces are unmarked.


It has been suggested that the Derby factory was making porcelain as early as 1745, but the earliest actual evidence is a number of white cream jugs inscribed with the name of the town and the date 1750. William Duesbury, who had been a painter of figures bought in the white, became proprietor at some date before 1760, and Derby ware began to be advertised as `the second Dresden'. Duesbury bought up the Longton Hall factory and also those at Bow and Chelsea; all three of which he closed eventually and concentrated his energies on Derby. On his death in 1786 he was succeeded by his son, and after some further changes the factory was bought by Robert Bloor and closed finally in 1848.

The earliest pieces are unmarked and not easy to recognize; the figures have unglazed bases with the glaze shrinking away from the edge, and a funnel-shaped hole in the centre. Later wares include a large number of figures, usually made in pairs, of which the characteristic feature is the presence under the base of three or four dirty patches, each about half an inch in diameter, where the piece stood on flat pads of clay in the kiln. Although these patch-marks appear occasionally on the products of other factories, their presence is consistent with Derby and they are rarely missing. A further feature that distinguishes most of these figures is the use of an opaque turquoise green paint in the decoration; a green that is often stained brown.

Shortly after 1770 groups and figures were made and sold unglazed, as biscuit. These were very highly finished, for there would be no glaze or colour to hide defects, and were sold at higher prices than their painted counterparts. Most of the figures made at this time were marked with a number under the base, which corresponds with published lists giving the title and selling price.

The following period, from 1784 to 1811, is known as CrownDerby, when the wares bore a mark incorporating a crown. Fine tablewares were then a speciality, and many had elaborate coloured and gilt borders surrounding a carefully painted landscape scene. A number of painters were employed, each specializing in his own subject.

Between 1811 and the closing of the factory much tableware was painted vividly in pseudo-Japanese patterns, but some of the earlier styles were continued.