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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Bristol China Characteristics

( Originally Published 1913 )

How know a piece of Bristol-made old porcelain ? It is " true " porcelain, it is " hard " ; and it was made between the years 1769 and 1782. It was "always a true, felspathic porcelain, made from the china-clay and china-stone of Cornwall. It is therefore harder and whiter than any other English porcelains," There is " a pronounced imitation of the Meissen styles, both in form and decoration. Like the Plymouth porcelain, the pieces are frequently marked with spiral ridges or unevennesses, due to the thrower's imperfect skill; and the cold, harsh, glittering glaze frequently exhibits inequalities of surface and minute pittings." So says Mr. William Burton, F.C.S.

Further Hints.-" The fractured surface may be described as subconchoidal and somewhat flaky, with a greasy to vitreous lustre. Especially on the larger vases may often be seen, when viewed in a favourable light, certain spiral ridges, the result of the unequal pressure of the ` thrower's' hand." So says Mr. E. Dillon, M.A. " The old-fashioned red Turk's-cap lily is one of the distinguishing features " (of the painting), says Mr. F. R. Ellis, M.A., and refers to " another style of decoration much employed at Bristol, wreaths of green leaves entwined with festoons in gold. Bristol porcelain may be known by several characteristic marks ; one is that the glaze is often pinholed or bubbled, expressions used to signify the tiny holes as if made by the prick of a pin in the surface." It is " often out of the proper shape, and disfigured by fire-flaws, and other imperfections."

" The Bristol ware is exceedingly hard and durable; it is milk-white, with a cold, glittering glaze, and is frequently marked with the wreathing "-the spiral ridges. " It would seem that transfer-printing was tried, but the rarity of examples and the poor quality of such as exist are proof that it was not a success in the true porcelain." So says the Guide to the English pottery and porcelain at the British Museum.

From Professor Church.-Let us listen to the doyen of writers on porcelain, from whom so many writers copy without acknowledging the debt. " Not only do many specimens follow the forms and decorations of Dresden porcelain, but they frequently bear the characteristic Dresden mark, the crossed swords, `in underglaze. The colour of the glaze is very faint on the finest specimens, but on the commoner pieces it has a pale bluish tint. It is thin, slightly vesicular or ` bubbled,' and while smooth it is not very shiny, having, indeed, a rich' creamy' surface. It must not be assumed that all Bristol porcelain was identical in composition.

Again, and further.

" Bristol china is particularly scarce, especially the marked specimens of the finest quality," says Mr. J. F. Blacker. "On comparing a specimen of 'Dresden' or ` Oriental' with ` Bristol,' it will be observed that whilst in the two former the body and the glaze are distinct creations, the Bristol glaze has so close. an affinity for the porcelain body that it entered into combination with it, and did not cover it with an independent glassy surface. This was due, no doubt, to raw glazing; that is, the raw ware was dipped into the glaze, and then fixed at one operation. . . . First note the decoration. The favourite form was green festoons of leaves, sometimes surrounding classical heads, or medallions in which a vase is often minutely painted. Another form was the group of flowers. Next note the gold on the rims ; this was nearly always scalloped. The paste has a series of spiral ridges, wreathings or whorls which can be detected when wheelturned pieces are held up sideways to the light. Instead of the paste lying quite flat, these twisting whorls stand out so clearly as to be easily seen. The very high temperature necessary to fire this hard paste made sundry defects-twists, bends, fire-flaws-in the early pieces especially, and also produced occasional accidental additions to the glaze, owing to bits of the seggar "-the surrounding shield-" breaking off during the burning process. The glaze of Bristol china is full of minute holes visible under a magnifying glass; the glaze combined with the paste, and numberless bubbles formed and burst, leaving tiny marks."

Examining Two Pieces. I take down from my wall a frame which encloses a Bristol biscuit flowerplaque. I look at the back of it, there are two large fire-cracks. Now from a cabinet I take a Bristol basin and two tea-cups. They are edged with chocolate colour, in the Dresden style, but the mark is BI, not the Dresden cross-swords, nor the X. The green festoons hang by loops, apparently, from the chocolatehued rim. The festoons are entirely green, even the rose in them. It is not a Billingsley rose-it is a bulbous rose, of the Lowestoft type. There are other (green) flowers, the passion-flower, the bindweed, and the fruit of the deadly nightshade. The shape of the porcelain is much out of the true. The inside of the basin is brown-spotted, with specks and fragments of fire-clay fallen on the glaze. Holding it between my eye and the light, I perceive the wreathings ; they are lines or ridges which begin at the bottom of the basin and go diagonally round and round it to its brim, at an angle of about thirty-five degrees. I can l eel them. The shape of the ring-rim at the base resembles " Worcester." The handles of the tea-cups are not at all simple in shape, but Dresden-like. The glaze is a cold, bluish white ; there are pits, specks, and lumps (all very small, of course) almost all over it. By all these traces may Bristol porcelain be known.

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