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A fresh interest has recently been taken in the productions of the old English potteries, and choice examples are fetching higher prices than they have ever done before. Collectors are beginning to turn a fresh attention to the beautiful openwork, creamy ware made in Leeds in the latter part of the eighteenth century, under the auspices, first of all, of Mr. Green, then, later on, of a firm composed of his own people and, finally, of a Mr. Hartley in conjunction with them, the pottery continuing in existence down to 1820. Nothing more delightful was ever turned out in any English pottery. The fruitbaskets and dishes, especially those which had beautiful openwork cutting, were remarkable for their grace and shape, and their charm of quiet, creamy colour.
Sometimes they have been confused with very similar baskets and dishes made by Wedgwood, and it is not easy, from a description, to distinguish between the two; but Leeds ware was glazed with a glaze which has a distinct green tinge about it, and when it is thick or in small lumps about the foot of the piece, or at its base, the greenish tinge can be quickly distinguished. Moreover, it is exceedingly light in weight, and a connoisseur will detect it almost by such means alone. It was not only made in the soft, creamy earthenware that had no decoration upon it, but it was made with a transfer decoration, both in black and in colour.
There are also pieces decorated by hand with charming borders, sometimes inscribed-having, perchance, reference to Nelson or to Wilkes, or to the actual family for which the pieces were made and sometimes with dates, ranging from about 1792 down to about 1812
Amongst the most beautiful pieces were the baskets made to receive roasted chestnuts, which in the eighteenth century were much more frequently served at table than they are in the present day. Amongst the very rarest are the water cisterns. These are sometimes the subject of inquiry.Is it possible, it is asked, that these can be actually intended for water ? Are they, by any chance, tea-urns, or for chocolate ? The explanation is quite an easy one, however, because, in the days when the factory was at work, the water of Leeds was by no means satisfactory and the wealthier of the inhabitants used to import water specially for tea from Helbeck, and these cisterns, in the old catalogues of the Leeds ware, are specifically called " Helbeck water cisterns."Leeds ware was particularly concerned with table decoration, both for dinner and for tea. There are charming teapots, sometimes with twisted ribbon handles ; kettles of a similar kind, and the stands upon which they were placed so arranged as to receive a nightlight or a lamp; and there were cups and saucers and the other adjuncts for the tea-table, or Tea-board service, as the Leeds catalogue termed them.
Then, for the more important meal, Leeds ware potteries especially catered, and some of the most notable pieces were the centre pieces for sweetmeats or fruit ; and those with hanging baskets attached to the branches are particularly desirable acquisitions, when perfect fetching very large sums. They generally have terminal figures, but sometimes there are three figures on the top, known Jolly Boys of Leeds."
Then there are beautiful candlesticks, openwork baskets, with or without covers, for holding the fruit, melon-holders, pots with covers and stands for sugar, sometimes made in the shape of a melon, and at other times circular or oval, while, if they happen to possess their original ladles, they are of exceptional value.
The Tea-board services sometimes included a long, shallow, oval dish with its cover, which was intended for Yorkshire scones or girdle cakes, and which is quite a delightful piece; and light was afforded on the meal not only by the candlesticks,but by some very sumptuous vases which the pottery turned out, in which the top ornament could be reversed, revealing a candlestick in which a small candle could be placed. Then there are drug jars to be obtained, on which, in pleasing lettering, the name of the drug is represented ; there are loving-cups with two handles, some of which commemorate the notable people of Leeds or of the nation ; and there are those very pretty tulip or crocus vases, which are like five fingers coming out of a centre, and in which it was a favourite thing in the eighteenth century to plant small bulbs, different in colour, and so have a charming group of flowers for the table.
There are small jugs to be obtained, taller ones for hot milk, coffee and chocolate pots, cruet frames of many sorts with their cruets, stands for soy-somewhat different to those used for cruetsurns which must have been intended for chocolate, and different kinds of vases-circular ones for holding a large quantity of flowers, and very small ones that would hold a single bloom. Besides all these, there are numerous shapes of plates, almost all with beautiful perforated borders and sometimes with a fan-shaped decoration in the centre ; and there are smaller ones, such as shells and shell-shaped dishes, for holding sweetmeats ; and single cruets, such as single peppers or mustards that were never intended to stand in any cruet at all, but by themselves on the table.
Fortunately we know a great deal about the history of the Leeds pottery. There was a rare book issued concerning it in 1892, and there are some of the old catalogues still remaining with drawings, especially one which came out in 1794, and which alludes to the compotieyes and salad dishes, or ragout dishes, and the terrines (as the word is spelled), dishes and soup plates, butter tubs, candlesticks, chestnut baskets, and even to such things as inkstands and shaving-basins, eye-cups, radish-dishes, wafer-boxes and sandboxes, water cups and ice-bowls, and two pots specially prepared for pot-pourri.
All these things are still to be obtained occasionally, and in a dark oak cupboard or against velvet few things are more delightful than a collection of creamy Leeds ware. In using the pieces on the table it must not be forgotten that they were not intended to stand on the white linen tablecloth now in use. That spoils their effect. They were made to stand on the polished surface of oak or mahogany tables, or even more often on those bright red and blue tablecloths that are occasionally to be seen in the form of napkins or small cloths, and which had bright chequer patterns, more like a tartan, upon them. On these the Leeds ware sets forth its triumphant charm of colour.