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English Porcelain



England has a fine ceramic record. In furniture we must yield the palm to France; nothing produced in our country can quite equal the wonderful work of the ebenistes of Versailles under Louis XV. But in porcelain the products of Chelsea, Bow, Worcester and Rockingham, to say nothing of Swansea, Coalport, Derby and Spode, form a body of work equal, taken as a whole, to the achievements of France. This is a high claim to make and may well be contested by some of the more ardent devotees of Sevres, but it is a claim for which strong evidence can be shown. And when the superb pottery of Wedgwood is added to the record in porcelain our total ceramic achievement is seen to be a very distinguished one indeed. Besides, it is not only in the work of the famous factories mentioned that we can take legitimate pride. Many others, such as Mintons, are of first-rate quality, and it is one of the glories of English porcelain that some of the lesser makes also can hold their own in the collector's cabinet.

Not many examples of the early work of the above factories are likely to be picked up, except at a high price. English porcelain has been avidly collected for many years now, not only at home but abroad. Already in the midnineteenth century it was thought worth while for the celebrated firm of Samson in Paris to manufacture careful reproductions of old Chelsea and Worcester. This alone indicates the esteem in which the originals were held, even in the so-called `tasteless' Victorian era.

I possess a good example of `Samson' china which is beginning to be historically interesting as it shows well the quality of some of their work. It is a square-shaped vase of fluted porcelain with fine panels of exotic birds against stylised foliage. Small secondary panels, as well as the cover, are painted with delicate sprays of flowers; the ground of the vase is a beautiful claret colour richly decorated with raised gold rococo scrolls. On the base is a rather too prominent Gold Anchor; too prominent, that is, for the piece to be genuine. But the general effect is very pleasing and is obviously the work of craftsmen who had carefully studied their originals.

(Incidentally, it is worth remembering that the nineteenth century as a whole did not view the art of reproduction with the same righteous indignation of the twentieth. Much of its architecture, painting and even literature was `reproductive,' that is, it sought to carry on the traditions of the past rather than to break new ground.)

Chelsea and Bow, although of supreme historical interest, will not concern us much here since examples are both difficult and extremely expensive to acquire. Many museums contain specimens where they can be studied, and they will always command high `scarcity' prices owing to the short lives of both factories, resulting in comparatively little being produced.

Chelsea was only in operation between about 1745 and 1784, Bow between 1744 and 1776. Much of Chelsea's work was rich and splendid, obviously suggesting the influence of Sevres. A wonderful claret colour was often employed on its vases; this, in conjunction with fine and lavish gilding, emulates without slavishly copying the beautiful rose Pompadour of Sevres. There are some excellent examples of Chelsea in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the vases there alone giving countenance to the claim that English porcelain at its best could equal that of France.

Chelsea figures are of great historical interest and technical perfection while many of its plates have a subtle colouring which is strongly evocative of long summer days in quiet eighteenth-century mansions. They suggest sprigged muslin and chintz-covered chairs, ladies in flowered brocade and home-made cowslip wine.

Perhaps no other porcelain is quite so beautifully charged with the atmosphere of its time as these simple masterpieces. Bow porcelain is very scarce and, owing to its historical importance, specimens are much sought after. It may be questioned whether some of them are, artistically speaking, worth anything like the high figures they fetch. For Bow was, along with Chelsea, the earliest English porcelain factory and some of its pieces have an experimental quality which makes them technically far from perfect. The porcelain itself is sometimes brownish and the potting inferior.

Bow figures, however, have a charming simplicity and the theatrical subjects, such as Kitty Clive and Quinn as Falstaff, are of much interest. The usual ceramic miscellany was also produced; some of the vases and inkstands that have survived show great delicacy and taste. Transfer-printed porcelain was made too, the earliest known in England, and consequently eagerly hunted for by both collectors and museums. The name Bow is derived from Stratford-le-Bow in London where the original patent was taken out by two partners, Frye and Heylin, in 1744. Much speculation has been roused by the fact that one of the ingredients of the porcelain was a material known as `Unaker,' said to be `the produce of the Chirokee nation of America.' Bone ash was apparently employed in the manufacture, but the whole history of Bow is shrouded in obscurity and it, on the whole, is a porcelain which the simple collector will do well to leave to the experts.

It is customary to divide the products of Chelsea into `periods' corresponding with the various marks. Five are usually recognised - the Triangle, the Raised Anchor, the Red Anchor, and the Gold Anchor, with 'Chelsea-Derby' as the finale, just prior to the absorption of the factory by Derby.

This is the sole meaning of the last term which seems to puzzle many collectors in the early stages of their adventures. The owner of the Derby factory, which seems to have been in existence almost as early as both Chelsea and Bow, was the celebrated William Duesbury. This great eighteenthcentury figure obtained a controlling interest in several of the contemporary factories, including Derby, Chelsea, Bow and perhaps Longton Hall. Towards the end of the life of the Chelsea works it seems to have been what we should now call a `subsidiary' of Derby until, in 1784, the plant was demolished.

This last period is the 'Chelsea-Derby' era and the pieces show a tendency to follow the designs of Derby rather than to carry on the traditions of the Gold Anchor period. Derby is one of the earliest of all the English factories and, like Worcester, it has survived into the present day. (The modern Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company was only founded in 1876 and is not, strictly speaking, the direct successor of the Derby of Duesbury's time. But the first factory was founded at about the same date as Worcester; the exact year is uncertain.) The Duesbury family remained in control at Derby up to 18 11 when the unfortunate Robert Bloor, who later became insane, took over management. The factory closed in 1848 and a gap then ensued until the present works began.

Early Derby pieces are very valuable, including the figures which show strongly the influence of Dresden; many wonderful vases and plates were also produced with outstanding flower paintings by William Billingsley and others.

Billingsley (I (1760-1828) is a figure of great importance in English porcelain history and his itinerant activities and subsequent misfortunes make his career of pathetic human interest. He is principally famous as a flower painter and it was at Derby, where he was born, that his finest work was done. He revolutionised the whole art of flower painting on porcelain, producing a beautiful three-dimensional effect in the flowers themselves and depicting them in artistically natural sprays. If you can acquire any specimens of Billingsley's work you will be fortunate indeed.

He is also famous as the discoverer of an exquisite new type of porcelain which was only producible at a financial loss. His troubles, culminating in final tragic poverty, were partly due to his faith in this disastrously fascinating material.

From time to time you can find early Derby plates of what is called the `patch' period. This refers to the patches left on the underside of the ware by the pieces of clay which were used for it to rest on during the firing. There are normally three or four of these `patches,' of a brownish and somewhat disfiguring appearance.

I was fortunate to acquire one of these only last year from a market stall in the Midlands for the very modest sum of $7. It is a fine blue and gold specimen, with reserves of painted flowers in the manner of Sevres, and I look on it as one of the loveliest, as well as one of the cheapest plates in my collection.

You may be similarly lucky, but should be warned that a number of imitations of this `patch' ware are in circulation. Be very careful about buying them unless you are quite satisfied they are obviously `period' pieces. By visiting museums and by getting to know a good dealer who will let you feel some specimens of old china you can rapidly acquire the necessary sixth sense to distinguish genuine antique pieces from reproductions.

It is not always easy; some of the copies have been known to deceive `advanced' collectors. But usually there is a coldness, a sort of brassy confidence about the imitation which the original does not have. The original will have a soft warmth, a quietly splendid glow of its own, a lovely honey-like quality in the gilding and a slightly unfamiliar look in the actual painting. For the processes of paint manufacture have changed since the days when antique porcelain was made, and modern colourings are different. Certainly, with these imitations of Derby `patch' ware there is not much fear that the true connoisseur will be deceived. Still, the risk of deception is there and it seems that some of these copies are managing to command very good prices.

Much Derby ware was influenced by the Japanese `brocade' patterns which were such a feature of the `Imari' porcelain. This was prominent during the Bloor period, though Bloor also turned out many beautiful vases showing the influence of Sevres. Some of these are two-handled, in dark blue with tasteful gilding and fine landscape panels. Finally, there is the work of the present Crown Derby Porcelain Company, with its well known, highly detailed dark blue and gold design, relieved with touches of tomatored and green. Fine vases, ewers, plates, etc., are still being produced in this famous pattern which is familiar to all.

These are apparently specially prized by wealthy gipsies and I was astonished to learn from the manager of a highclass modern china store that he had recently sold a set, costing over $300, to some Romany caravan-dwellers in the district. `Crown Derby' seems to possess a particular fascination for them and many splendid specimens are in their possession, very carefully preserved.

Worcester, of equal antiquity with Derby, is in many ways the most interesting of all English porcelains. It interests the millionaire who can afford $9,000 to $12,000 for a fine pair of its vases or for a garniture de cheminee. It interests museums owing to its supremely important historical position and its technical accomplishments. It interests the private collector of limited means because good examples of its later work are quite within his resources.

Founded in 1751 by a group of business men under the leadership of Dr John Wall, it has survived into the present day, with various changes of ownership and management, in its original town of Worcester. The marks used during the various periods of its existence are numerous and the imitations many, especially of its most famous pattern, the `scale blue and exotic birds.' Hundreds of vases and plates are decorated with this which have never been within many miles of Worcester itself.

On originals of the `Dr Wall period' (1751-1783), as it is now always called, this `scale blue and birds' pattern is of a wonderful purity and intensity of colouring. The inspiration seems to be derived from 5evres, but somehow the ideas have been acclimatised and the birds, though such as are never found in any aviary, have acquired an English rather than a French air. They are of fantastic appearance, with gorgeous plumage. In many cases they have long tails and are looking over their shoulders in that curiously indignant fashion which their prototype, the Golden Pheasant, so often does in real life.

With their red and yellow and sometimes mauve tints they are presented proudly against a background of cool green foliage, but with a part of the porcelain left in its natural colour. (This, incidentally, is a feature of most good porcelain in all countries. The translucent material is itself very lovely and it is right that some of it should be left visible. Inferior quality china almost always tends to cover the entire surface with decoration, thus obscuring its true nature.)

The general ground colour of `scale blue and birds' is a dark blue, diapered into `scales,' and there is some richly delicate gilding. A set of plates of this beautiful design, together with a pair of vases, makes a most handsome adornment to any room. Early examples of vases are enormously expensive, those from the Dr Wall period fetching upwards of $9,000 a pair. Later examples are however to be obtained at more moderate figures. Some excellent reproductions have also been made, including those of Samson and some by other English firms than Worcester, which are well within ordinary reach.

During the early nineteenth century Worcester passed under the control of two important managements, Flight, Barr and Barr (1813-40 and Chamberlains (1840 onwards).

Their names are used to denote the products of their respective periods. Some magnificent two-handled urnshaped vases, superbly painted with large flowers, are a characteristic of their time. They can, though with increasing rarity, be encountered in the better dealers' shops. Later Worcester, especially from about 1851, is quite common and often sells cheaply enough at the sales. A biscuit-coloured ground, not by any means to everyone's taste, with somewhat insipid floral decoration, is a frequent feature of this latter ware. (So much of this is about that some people seem to think of it as `typical Worcester colouring;' fortunately this is not so.) The great factory of Worcester is still in production. Recent specimens, which can be bought in most good modern china shops, show that a high degree of traditional skill and taste can even now be obtained in English porcelain. Very beautifully painted cups and plates, with a bold design of fruit, apples, peaches, blackberries, etc., are being made today; fine plates with ornamental gilding too, though they are inevitably expensive. There is also a cheaper ware, gilded all over, which is extremely good value at the modest prices charged.

The wise porcelain collector will not entirely neglect modern ware. After all, history - in porcelain as in other things - is a continuous stream, and with a distinguished works like Worcester, modern examples will one day themselves be antiques of value.

Worcester exercises a fascination of its own and many fine private collections, consisting of nothing else, have been made, both in England and abroad. Anyone of modest means who wishes to specialise might consider beginning on a collection of Worcester made during the last hundred years, Victorian, Edwardian and modern. Such a collection need not be expensive for there is much of it available, including some truly lovely Edwardian pieces, and profusion always means reasonable prices. Building it would be of fascinating interest to the collector and it would quite surely appreciate in value with the passing of the years.

It is not possible here to treat of all the famous English porcelain firms. But the collector will find that there are many beautiful pieces constantly turning up which bear names ignored by most of the reference books. He will find information enough about Rockingham, Liverpool, Swansea, Coalport and Spode. He will read of Minton, Mason, Longton Hall and Nantgarw.

What he may not find, however, is any reference to, for instance, `Cauldon Ware' or the work of Booths or any of the later manufacturers. Yet I saw two really beautiful vases recently at a house sale which were simply marked `Cauldon Ware.' I presume them to have come from Ridgways, since their works were established at `Cauldon Place,' but there was no other indication of their place of origin. They were of excellent quality, the gilding being quite distinguished, with landscape panels of real charm. Rightly, there was some brisk bidding for them and they were finally knocked down to a dealer at a good price.

Again, I saw a splendid set of Booths plates, in the manner of Worcester, going at a recent sale, and these too achieved good prices. The floriated gilding and the bird painting were of high quality and the whole set made a most attractive purchase.

I mention these things because this is the type of porcelain (late Victorian and Edwardian) which can most readily be met with at a reasonable figure at house and auction sales.

It is beginning to command higher prices than before, but it is still well within modest reach. I think that anyone who wishes to see around him, in a year or so, a substantial collection of porcelain and is now starting from scratch would do best to concentrate on good quality Victoriana and Edwardiana.

This would be better than attempting the impossible (on a small budget, anyway) with Old Derby or Chelsea or Sevres. You can have a roomful of lovely Edwardiana for the price of a single expensive pair of vases from one of the famous old factories. No doubt there would be the great satisfaction of owning those two vases; also the realisation that they could always be sold for a high figure, and probably at a profit.

But if you have to save up for them and then exhaust all the money you can possibly spare for perhaps a year on a couple of vases, you are going to miss a great deal of the pleasure of antique-hunting during that time. In fact, to do this is hardly collecting at all. Still, you may decide that Quality is invariably to be preferred to Quantity and act accordingly. In these hard days, however, you cannot, unless you are really rich, have it both ways.

Among the many makes of English china which are highly prized, Lowestoft takes a high place. And as there may be odd pieces of it still lurking about undiscovered it is worth keeping an open eye for it. Lowestoft was an eighteenth-century foundation and lasted from 1757 to 1802. It was soft paste china and had no consistent mark, though underglaze blue numerals in the footring are occasionally found. If, however, you should at any time find pieces marked `A Trifle From Lowestoft' do not think they are merely sea-side souvenirs on the level of `A Present From Blackpool' or the like, but buy them at once. For if they are soft paste they are sure to be genuine Old Lowestoft, and you will have acquired something of considerable value. They were, certainly, in the first place merely seaside souvenirs, but they are now much sought after and command good prices.

A very beautiful porcelain is Coalport, which began at Caughley in the eighteenth century, and is also known in its early examples as Coalbrookdale. Among other claims to fame it originated the English Willow Pattern, obviously influenced by Chinese methods but in itself a genuine homemade design. It tells the well-known story of two lovers changed into birds to escape pursuit. Coalport later embarked on some very fine copies of Sevres, Dresden and Chelsea, also making use of Billingsley's ideas in the period when it was managed by John Rose. Collectors can occasionally find examples of its celebrated rose Pompadour colouring which was made in imitation of Sevres and reached a high degree of excellence. Plates with this lovely ground colour can sometimes be picked up for $9 to $12. They are exquisitely painted with flowers in the reserves and with fine raised gold ornamentation. They seem to be commoner in Staffordshire itself whither the Coalport works moved and where, at Stoke-on-Trent, it finally closed as recently as 1959. Another feature of Coalport is the use of `applied decoration,' especially applied flowers, to the body of its vases. Fine specimens are moderately common and can be obtained in good condition for around $go a pair, smaller ones naturally fetching less.

A mark on Coalport which has confused many people who are just starting to collect is `Coalport A.D. 1750,' which appears on the base of much of its later work. This has nothing whatever to do with the date of the piece but is merely a trade mark with the generally accepted date of the foundation of the original firm.

There are many magnificent vases scattered throughout the country which have at various times been assumed to be Sevres, or Dresden. Only recent investigation has shown them to be, in fact, Coalport, and this in itself is surely a high testimony to the high quality of much of their work. A somewhat unfashionable (at present) porcelain is Davenport. Here again is an opportunity for anyone who is indifferent to fashion to begin a collection of it while it is still fairly easy to get examples. Much quite gorgeous ware in the `Imari' tradition was produced by Davenport in the middle of last century, showing clearly also the influence of Derby which was itself producing `brocaded' patterns. The gilding on much Davenport china is very beautiful and excellent small plates can be sometimes bought for as little as $2 each.

Rockingham is another factory which began in the eighteenth century and it continued up to 1842. Its mark may be either the name `Brameld,' who assumed control in 1806, or a Griffin, with the words `Rockingham Works Brameld' below. The Griffin was the crest of the Marquis of Rockingham who contributed some funds towards maintaining the firm at a difficult time. Later Rockingham ware, from about 1820 to 1842, is very gorgeous, and to anyone with a passion for rococo decoration, quite irresistible. Many people find it too elaborately florid, but its richly arranged birds and flowers and its pretty nostalgic landscapes exude an air of Early Victorian comfort and peace which has an individual charm.

Very beautiful tea services were produced by Rockingham. Their delightful apple-green cups and saucers with their delicate gilding can command considerable prices, six pounds each being not at all uncommon. Splendid `view' plates can also be found, adorned with views of castles and country houses; they make most attractive wall decorations.

A porcelain which has gone up tremendously in value of recent years is Swansea. If you can get any good specimens of it you will be lucky indeed.

Swansea owed its development to Billingsley; his ambition was to make there a porcelain which would equal the finest products of Sevres. This aim was very nearly achieved and perhaps the most curious recognition of this is the fact that fakes of Swansea were actually made in France! The celebrated `duck egg' greenish porcelain of Swansea is perhaps the most original in texture, but the later glassy paste which was evolved is also extremely beautiful. Prices for it have been very high just lately, a dinner service, for instance, fetching as much as $4500. Obviously, if you can obtain anything from Swansea, or from Nantgarw where Billingsley aiso worked, you should do so.

Spode porcelain is highly esteemed by many collectors, as much for its historical importance as for its artistic excellence. The first Josiah Spode (1733-1797) began by making earthenware, and he did some valuable work in improving the standard of transfer-printing. His son, Josiah Spode the Second, succeeded him, and, taking up porcelain, he developed a recipe for using calcinated bone as an ingredient which led to the introduction of `bone china.' In fact, this important step was the foundation of the formula which is still used in modern porcelain and would alone assure Spode's name an honourable position in the history of his art.

But Spode was much more than a technical innovator. His delightful orientalised patterns have a charm entirely their own; the later Sevres and Dresden inspired pieces are also splendid works in their own right.

There are some specially lovely Chinese patterns associated with Spode. One, which occurs on plates and dishes that still crop up at sales, is a charming composition of a figure with a pole, pushing a Venetian-looking boat along, while to the right of the picture is a most engaging Chinese Palace with a set of curious Western battlements. The whole suggests the Chinoiserie of the Gothic Revival, with a flavour of the Brighton Pavilion added on, which is quite irresistible.

Spode also produced very rich `brocaded' patterns in red, blue and gold, with an admixture of green. There are some magnificent potpourri jars of this colouring which are as splendid as their Oriental originals, possibly even more so.

The gilding and other colouring on Spode porcelain are very lavish, in some cases overpowering. In other examples, however, especially some of the delicately conceived plates, the use of pigment is quite restrained.

The celebrated `peacock' pattern has gilded peacocks on a dark red ground and again suggests Oriental sumptuousness. But the best known of all Spode patterns is not Oriental in inspiration at all. This is the fine 1 166' pattern (Spode designs are numbered) which is a charming composition of roses against a blue ground, the whole superbly enriched with gold. To some collectors this lovely design is the most endearing of all English china patterns. It would certainly be difficult to find anything more generally acceptable to those who like natural motifs richly treated. It suggests the magnificence of Sevres and yet has the flavour of an English garden and an English home.