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Lowestoft Ware

Almost every amateur collection of English porcelain, whether large or small, contains some pieces which the owner calls "Lowestoft Ware." There are fine tall mugs or punch bowls, charmingly decorated in wreaths of flowers, generally of a pink hue, and always including roses, or there are portions of tea-services, notably canisters, stranger-dishes, or cups and saucers, ornamented with monograms, crests or coats of arms, and having simple, graceful borders.

One is told, as a rule, that ware decorated with the pink rose was painted at Lowestoft, and one is generally informed either that there was a factory at Lowestoft for the production of this ware, or, perhaps, by another collector, that plain Oriental china was imported into England in large quantities, and decorated at Lowestoft for different persons, with their crest, monogram, or arms.

It does not seem to strike the amateur collector that there are no tea services to be found of the plain ware before the decoration was put on at Lowestoft, such as there certainly would be if quantities of this Oriental ware came into England and were sent to Lowestoft to be decorated. Moreover, a careful examination of the ware in question shows that it so closely resembles Oriental china that it must certainly have been made in the East, and in such case, why not decorated in the place in which it was made ?

The doubts thrown upon the story led for a while to the impression that perhaps there was no factory at all at Lowestoft, and that all that had been declared by Chaffers and other writers to be Lowestoft decorated ware was Oriental; but in December, Zgoa, the question was cleared up, and it is now generally accepted that the armorial china, vast quantities of which were brought over to England by officials of the East India Company, was not only made, but also decorated in the East.

It is almost sure that the drawings of the arms or the monograms were prepared in England, and were handed to the Eastern artists for them to copy: generally the copies are accurate. Sometimes there are curious little errors, such as only an Eastern artist would make, but the ware was not English, nor was the decoration done in this country.

In Lowestoft there was, however, a factory. An account of this factory in 1757 was given in the "History of Lowestoft," which was published in 1790. The works gave employment to some sixty or seventy men, and they were sufficiently important to render necessary an agency and warehouse in London, but in 1803 the pottery was closed down, and later on the premises were used as a malting house by Messrs. Morse, of the Crown Brewery, and it was when they altered one of their kilns that fragments of china, plaster moulds, and various other things were found, which cleared up the whole question as to the Lowestoft factory.

There has been for a long time, in the collection of a Mr. Seago, a series of pieces of Lowestoft ware, things which he had bought from Robert Browne, great-grandson of the original potter in the place, and these pieces eventually passed into the collection of Mr. Frederick Crisp, who illustrated most of them in a privately prepared catalogue, and who, a year later, issued another privately printed book,with illustrations of the factory, and of all the various moulds which had been found on this site. We do, therefore, know for certain something about the Lowestoft ware.

It was, as a rule, blue and white, but there were some pieces decorated with flowers, even including the well-known roses, and with armorial bearings, although very different in such detail from the pieces of Oriental ware so decorated which for a long time masqueraded under the name of Lowestoft. The ware was not specially beautiful, nor particularly interesting. It was a local china, very popular in the immediate district. Several pieces had views of Lowestoft Church upon them. Others such inscriptions as " A Trifle from Lowestoft," or " A Present from Lowestoft," and one quite notable mug, bears the arms of the Blacksmiths' Company.

There were certainly some tea canisters, some sprinkler dishes, and some tea-pots, and the shape of both the tea canisters and the tea-pots was undoubtedly derived from Oriental ware, but the one unusual feature of Lowestoft ware was that the factory produced a series of what were called " birth tablets," circular pieces of ware, measuring from two and a half inches diameter up to five inches in diameter, recording the birth of local people, and several of these with the names of such persons as Samuel Wright, Robert Rope, Mary Ward, Sarah Mason, Jonathan Downing, and others, are illustrated in Mr. Crisp's volume. The spelling is erratic and eccentric, the lettering always clear, but not very good, and the pieces were issued in 1772, 1775, 1788, 1793 and 1796, and other years. They constitute the really remarkable pieces made at Lowestoft, and collectors are very eager to get hold of them.

It is also a curious feature of that ware that on many pieces are initials, and even dates. For instance, on the bottom of the Blacksmiths' mug appears the inscription " James and Sarah Hacon, 1775" on a round flat bottle are the initials," LB.," and the date 1778. On the bottom of one of the mugs is the name Hughes, with the date September 4th, 1766, and on one of the tea-pots are the initials of the same man, with the date 1761.;Another tea-pot is inscribed " Elizabeth Johnson, February 5th, z768," and a waterbottle, "Maria Ann Hoyler, 1770" while the teapot with Lowestoft Church on it has the initials " S.C.,"which stand for " Sarah Crisp," and it bears the date 1767. A cup and saucer are inscribed " Maria Crowfoot, 1778" and another one has no name upon it, but bears the date January 27th, 1796, so that, from these dates, we know the period in which the Lowestoft factory executed its best pieces, and we also gather the impression that it was very much of a family affair, and that tea-pots and birth tablets, cups and saucers and mugs, were made for local people, or for those who were more or less connected in intimate relationship with the proprietor of the factory, or with the potters who worked in it. All that gives to genuine Lowestoft ware a special and unusual interest.

Mr. Crisp purchased what he could from the various dealers, as well as from Mr. Seago, but he was convinced that there were more pieces in existence, and it is important to discover some of these missing pieces. Probably there are houses round about Lowestoft that still cherish, without knowing very much about them, examples of thiS soft paste porcelain from a pottery which had a very small production, and such pieces of ware collectors would be glad to acquire.

The discovery in 1902 was extremely important, because it cleared up all sorts of theories and ideas,and enabled the historian of English ware to have a definite series of data upon which to base the information he possessed concerning this littleknown pottery.

It also proved that Chaffers, in his standard book, had jumped to conclusions that were not well founded, and that his statements needed the correction which Litchfield, in his later edition, gave.