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Unmarked "Old Worcester" China
( Originally Published 1913 )
To be able to recognise unmarked " Old Worcester " china is essential, if one is to pick up " Old Worcester " china cheaply nowadays. The " Dr. Wall period " extended from 1751 to 1783, though Dr. Wall himself died in 1776 ; the letter W, the open or filled-in crescent, and the " square mark " or imitation Chinese seal-mark, are the principal marks of the " Dr. Wall period." But how shall one know Worcester porcelain made at that period when it is markless ?
Prices of Finds. If a collector does know unmarked " Old Worcester " when he sees and touches it, he can buy it wonderfully cheaply now and again. The largest article in the page illustration is a Worcester cidermug or a christening-mug, decorated with gold lines and a fine cursive letter L in gold; it was picked up for two shillings. To the left of it is a dainty blue-and-white cream-jug that was picked up for sixpence. At the extreme right is a cup which, with its saucer (both in perfect condition), was bought for half-a-crown. The other piece is a blue-printed cream-jug, which cost five shillings. Had these pieces been marked, the small dealers and little brokers from whom they were bought would have put high prices on them, for no marks are so well known among small dealers and little brokers as the Worcester W and the crescent. The collector, however, knows, and the principal dealers and connoisseurs at the auction of his collection will know, that unmarked " Worcester " is " Worcester " all the same. And the appreciating value of any " Old Worcester " is now so evident that to purchase it cheaply is a capital investment indeed.
The Signs of Unmarked " Worcester."-You may know this fine old ware as it waits for the knowing eye, anonymous on a dark shelf or amidst a heterogeneous heap of old crockery, by the look and the feel of it, the bases of it, the handles of it, the upper rim of it, the glaze of the base inside the rim, the pitting under the glaze, and the blue of the enamel painting or printing. Let us consider these indices one by one.
The Look and Feel of It. It looks handy and workmanlike; it looks milk-white, most of it, though some of it is rather creamily white ; it often looks discoloured-brown-spotted, brown-smeared-inside the ring at the base, or upon the rim of the base, where no glaze was brushed on, or where the base (and consequently the glaze) was ground away to make the article stand quite flatly. It feels rich and opulent, a little fulsome and fleshy, so to speak; it feels soft, as if you could squeeze it almost ; it does not feel very cold ; it feels smooth everywhere ; it feels pretty thick, but it does not feel very heavy. And it feels soapy, it feels like soap-stone, it feels like wax-candle a little.
The Bases of It. Look at the three bases shown in the illustration. " Old Worcester " never had a quite flat base-a plane base, so to speak. Always there is an outer rim, always there is a rim-ring, broad or narrow, in which the article stands ; always there is a sunk inner space, usually circular of course, inside the ring-rim-a space of the base which is not base, because it does not touch the table on which the article stands. The rim-rings are cardinal points to study. The mug has a broad, flat rim-ring, you notice; so had the sauce-boats, mustard-pots, butter-dishes, and other pieces of which the containing lines formed something like a right angle at the base ; the older the piece of this particular kind the broader the rim ; in some pieces the rim is over half-an-inch wide. Under tea-pots, basins, cups, saucers, and the smaller pieces generally, the rim-ring, if cut in section, would show the shape of a blunt-edged wedge-a wedge of which the edge had been ground flat enough for standing purposes ; you see two examples of that in the righthand bases in the picture.
The Handles of It. You see two handles in the picture, at the extreme left and at the extreme right. The handles are slim, rounded inside and flattish outside, and the outer surface is double ; a depression runs right along it, like a vale between two hillocks" fluted " is another term for it. The handles are simple in shape, and little ornamented, as a rule: Often, however, the handle is quite round and plain, not showing any depression at all. Occasionally the sunken or " fluted" part is at each edge of the handle, not in its outer curve. Bold projection and a certain sweep of the curve are also characteristic.
The Upper Rim of It. In most " Old Worcester " cups and mugs an outward curving upper rim or edge is manifest. Run the ball of the thumb upward from the base outside, and you will detect this feature; draw the finger up inside, and you will feel the corresponding curve. This feature was part of that exquisite adaptation to its uses which was the rule in " Old Worcester " ; the outer and inner curves at the upper rim fit the under and upper lips of the drinking mouth.
The Glaze on the Base inside the Rim. " Old Worcester " china was not dipped into glaze ; the glaze was put on with a brush. Either the amount put on the base was insufficient, or the firing affected it, for hardly ever does the glaze at the base come quite up to the inner edge of the basal ring-rim.
The Pitting under the Glaze. If you " flash " " Old Worcester," so that light will shine on its glaze, you can see a certain minute pitting-almost a diaperingwhich the firing caused in the paste ; it somewhat resembles the pin-holes in Oriental china.
The Blue of It. The blue pigment used for painting or printing at the old Worcester china works differed from all others in being slightly a blackish blue, not black enough to destroy the cobalt tint, but black enough to tinge it a little, causing it somewhat to remind one of the water-colour pigment called Prussian blue.
Means of Detection. Note that these indices also serve to detect imitation blue and white " Worcester." Collectors should beware of a certain fine blue and white ware which has recently been put on the market.
In form, colour, and blue decoration it closely resembles " Doctor Wall " blue and white, and not all of it is marked with a big B and G monogram underneath. It is very misleading to a beginner. But, held up to the light, it is seen to be not translucentit is earthenware, not china. " Old Worcester " was porcelain always. " Old Caughley " was sometimes earthenware, and there is need to warn the reader on that score, too.