|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
( Originally Published 1963 )
JASPER and BASALT are very special kinds of stoneware indeed. These finegrained, smooth, unglazed wares were originated by Josiah Wedgwood and introduced by him in 1774. Both are still being made, the jasper in greater quantity than basalt. The latter is a black stoneware mainly used for decorative pieces. Candlesticks, ewers, plaques, and medallions are stunning when made of basalt, and pots for tea, coffee, and chocolate are handsome.
Jasper, a hard stoneware with a mat surface, is always decorated with cameo designs in relief. It combines two colors, one of which is the white decoration. If three or more colors appear in a piece, you can be sure it is very old and very rare. The best-known jasper has a medium blue (often called Wedgwood blue) ground with white relief ornament. However, a dark blue, lavender, sage-green, olive-green, lilac, and yellow were made in Josiah Wedgwood's days. The yellow is extremely rare now.
Jasperware was both ornamental and useful. Shoe buckles, beads, and jewelry were common during the eighteenth century. So were plaques and medallions to hang on the wall and cameos to be mounted in bracelets, lockets, and other jewelry. The medallions frequently displayed portraits of famous persons, including long-dead emperors, kings, and queens and current heroeseven Napoleon, who was so hated by the British. Candlesticks, inkstands, and vases of jasperware always have been popular and are extremely decorative.
Wedgwood himself considered the perfecting of jasper one of his most important achievements. That he was right is proved by its enduring popularity and the eagerness with which even contemporary jasper is purchased. However, his introduction of creamware was perhaps more important to many more people.
The eighteenth century would be notable in the field of pottery if only for the many types of earthenware and stoneware it added to commerce. Overshadowing that achievement, however, was the first successful attempt by a Westerner to produce porcelain, which had been unknown in Europe and England until pieces were brought back from China in the 1500's. Both European and English potters greatly admired the fine, white porcelain from China, and well they might, for the Chinese were the greatest potters the world has ever known. It took many years of struggle and experimenting before Western potters were able to produce a comparable porcelain. The first halfway successful attempt was made in Florence, Italy, between 1575 and 1588. However, it was about 1708 before a true hard-paste porcelain was produced by Johann Friedrich Bottger at the Meissen factory near Dresden, Germany. Perhaps because he was the first, Germany became as outstanding for porcelain as England always had been for the coarser kinds of pottery.
PORCELAIN is classified as either hard-paste or soft-paste. In either case it consists of the body, made of a mixture of clay and other ingredients (often referred to as the paste), and the glaze, which forms the vitreous surface and fuses with the body so that the two become indistinguishable. The principal ingredient of hard-paste porcelain is a clay known as kaolin, which is combined with a siliceous material (in China this was petuntse). The glaze is a similar material.
Soft-paste porcelain is not really soft. It too is hard, white, translucent, and vitreous, but both the materials and methods of production differ from those for hard-paste. It is almost impossible to tell offhand whether porcelain is soft-paste or hard-paste. However, if soft-paste porcelain becomes chipped, it usually shows a granular surface.
BONE CHINA falls between hardpaste and soft-paste porcelains. Some class it as soft-paste. There are conflicting claims for the credit of introducing bone china. Experiments based on adding bone ash to known formulas for porcelain were undertaken before 1750 and continued at several potteries. One of the first to work with bone ash was William Cookworthy who was connected with three or more potteries. It was at least 1800 before bone china was marketed and perhaps the first potter to do so was Josiah Spode. Although the Wedgwood potteries never produced porcelain in an amount comparable to their other products, Josiah Wedgwood II introduced bone china in 1812. Excellent as Wedgwood's bone china was, the state of business after the years of war with Napoleon forced its discontinuance in 1815 and production was not revived until the 1870's.
Unlike earthenwares and stonewares, of which numerous kinds were made, there are only three basic types of porcelain-hard-paste, soft-paste, and bone china. Variations in these basic kinds have come about because such a great many factories were engaged in producing porcelain. Thus, the shape of a porcelain piece and the decoration help to establish where and approximately when it was made. From the time porcelain was originally produced in Germany, it was prized for tableware, figures and groups, and ornamental pieces.
The Meissen factory near Dresden, where hard-paste porcelain was first made in Europe, has continued to be important up to modern days. It is the best-known of the several potteries in and near Dresden, but all of them helped to make Dresden one of several notable centers in Germany for porcelain manufacture. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries other factories were located in Berlin, Nymphenburg, Frankenthal, Furstenberg, Ludwigsburg, and Ansbach. Vienna was another important center. Many of the porcelain factories in Germany as well as in other European countries were under the patronage or protection of royalty.
The French, like the English, were making a soft-paste porcelain long before a hard-paste one. Sevres is the name usually mentioned in a hushed voice, but it is not the oldest pottery in France nor was it the first to produce porcelain. Sevres's first great accomplishment was modeled flowers, which were used to decorate clocks, candlesticks, vases, and the like. They are considered as fine as those made earlier by Meissen. Saint-Cloud and Chantilly are older names in French pottery and porcelain, and Strasbourg and Limoges are other important ones. All French porcelain is noted for its artistic painting and decoration.
Naples, Venice, and Florence were the important centers of porcelain manufacture in Italy. The most revered name is that of Capo-di-Monte, a factory established near Naples in 1743. Any pieces of Capo-di-Monte found today probably were made during the nineteenth century at another factory that purchased the original Capo-diMonte molds.
In England, porcelain was produced in factories established on the outskirts of London at Bow and Chelsea-Derby in the nineteenth century. The Spode pottery, which was producing earthenware during the 1700's, began to make porcelain about 1800, and various other potteries in Staffordshire, including Wedgwood, also added porcelain to their earthenware and stoneware lines. The Worcester Royal Porcelain Company in Worcestershire, which was established in 1748, has been making porcelain for more than 200 years. Leeds, at least briefly, became as famous for porcelain as for its creamware. Experts say the most perfect porcelain ever produced in England came from Swansea in Wales between 1814 and 1820. Later, the men responsible for it joined the Coalport potteries, where much fine china still is being manufactured.
By the early 1800's, pottery of all kinds, chiefly earthenware and porcelain, was being beautifully made not only in quantity but in diversity. Although factories became firmly established in the United States during the nineteenth century, most china was still imported. Almost all of it had something to recommend it, and tracing its origin can be a fascinating game. Besides, unless you know where and approximately when pottery or porcelain was made, it will be impossible to decide whether or not you are selling it advantageously.
After the War of 1812, English potters actually studied the American market, and an amazing percentage of their output was decorated with scenes, portraits, and themes based on places, events, and people in this country. Almost as important was the china brought to America from China. More than a dozen different kinds that were popular during the Victorian era are likely to be found anywhere in this country today.
CANTON is one of the most coveted wares. It was brought to the United States continuously from the 1780's on, after this country commenced trade with China, and between 1800 and 1860 clipper ships carried a great deal of it to East Coast seaports. Canton China was unmarked at first, but after 1890 the United States tariff laws required that all ware intended for sale in this country be stamped with its place of origin.
Canton china is primarily blue and white, although the shade of the blue used for decoration varied considerably. Motifs, typically Chinese, included a teahouse, a bridge, willow trees, a flight of birds, and a landscape background (the popular Willow pattern, which includes some of these motifs, is the creation of English potters).
Cantonware approaches stoneware, since it is heavier and thicker than fine Chinese porcelain. Therefore it became the everyday china of families who owned it, but the twentieth century has brought it out of the kitchen. It was made in dinner sets, tea sets, and serving dishes for the table, as well as water bottles, ginger jars, and other pieces that were chiefly ornamental here. The finest-quality Canton is found in old pieces that have clear, sharp decoration against a blue-gray background. After 1850, the designs were likely to be blurred and the blue not so attractive. There is a lot of Cantonware in the United States, some of it undoubtedly not recognized for what it is. Although not really scarce, Canton is prized and many persons who have inherited a few pieces of it search for others to fill out their sets.
Thus, there is a market for both early and late pieces.