30 August 2016

Spode and Kate Bruce

Kate Bruce 
Kate Bruce was a paintress employed by Spode for a long time. My research has found she started during the period when the company was known as Copeland & Garrett (1833-1847) and continued on during the ownership of W. T. Copeland from 1847 and was still working in the early 1900s.

Like most employees of the Spode company little information exists about individuals whether the famous 'premier' artists and designers who were men, apprentice boy painters training to work in the style of the premier artists or women working as anonymous paintresses.

There are pieces painted by Kate Bruce in the Spode museum object collection and they are not uncommon amongst private collectors either. A quick search on the web and you can find her signed pieces for sale. She seems to have been prolific! Pieces are known to be painted by her because, very, very unusually for a woman at Spode, she was allowed to sign her work. Most of what she painted uses designs of small cornflowers.

Soup bowl/bouillon cup & saucer from Worthpoint
Backstamp on soup cup & saucer, company marks (blurred) & pattern number R2079
A report of a Royal Visit to the factory on January 6th 1897 by the 'Princess of Wales and other members of the Trentham party' (Trentham was the seat of the Duke of Sutherland and is not far from Stoke) says that:

'...The royal visitors were met at the showroom entrance by Mr. R. P. Copeland, the head of the firm, and Mr. W. F. M Copeland. They were first shown some artists engaged in decorating articles of pottery, one being the venerable and respected Mrs. Bruce, who after 53 years of service with the firm, still skilfully handles the camel-hair pencil and was engaged in applying a cornflower to some plates...' Pencil is the pottery industry's term for a paintbrush.
Dessert plate, bone china, Gadroon shape painted by Kate from Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
It would seem from the above report that Kate began work at the factory in 1844. Conversations with Robert Copeland led me to believe she may have been a favourite of the Copeland family and this is why she was allowed to sign her work as well as demonstrate her skills before royalty and other important visitors to the factory.

Although unusual for a woman to sign work at Spode it was not unusual to work for the company for many years, well past what would now be thought of as retirement age.

Sometimes together with her name on the pieces will be her age and an example is known (from a private collection) with the inscription 'painted by Mrs Bruce aged 74 1900'. This, together with the inscription on the piece above would make her date of birth 1826/7 and, if the royal visit report is correct, starting to work for the company at about the age of 18 although I would expect earlier, for she would have had to complete a seven-year apprenticeship either at Spode or another manufacturer.

Mrs Bruce featured in at W. T. Copeland souvenir booklet c1902

02 August 2016

Spode and Showing Off

One of the important parts of the Spode business, not often mentioned, is that of the showroom. It was no use making beautiful things to sell if there was nowhere to display the wares to prospective customers.
3 of the 9 sizes of 'Beaded New Shape Jar', bone china, pattern 1166 c1808
From its earliest days the Spode company had a showroom both at the factory in Stoke and, after 1778, also in London. Eventually the company had showrooms not just in the UK but all over the world...
Spode's first London showroom was in Fore Street
Whilst Spode I remained in Stoke running the business at the factory end, Spode II left with his wife and little children, to set up the London business in Fore Street in 1778. The property included a showroom and accommodation and this is where the sales and marketing part of the business began. Sadly Spode II's young wife died in 1782 and was buried in St Giles Church, Cripplegate which you can see in the picture of Fore Street.
The London showroom, Portugal Street
In 1794 the London business moved premises to Portugal Street. At the front of this converted theatre are interesting bits and pieces to do with the running of a pottery warehouse. I found that in the 18th century the word warehouse was regarded as more dignified word for shop; and Spode II's warehouse would have included an elegant showroom, storage for stock and again accommodation.

Look at the Portugal Street image and note the barrels in which ware was packed in straw for transport from the Stoke factory to London and then on all over the world to Spode's customers.

To the right a workman carries a large foot bath through the door. A wagon is parked below a hoist and workmen on the left struggle with a willow crate where pottery is again packed in straw. Cratemaking was a specialist trade. You can see some images of crates here>.
Wedgwood & Byerley warehouse, London c1809
The inside of the Spode warehouse may well have looked something like the interior of Wedgwood's London warehouse. All sorts of well-to-do customers would visit the London showrooms. Find out about HM Queen Charlotte's visit to Spode's in 1817 here>.

Back in Stoke, in 1806, the Spode manufactory was visited by HRH the Prince of Wales, (later to become Prince Regent and, later still, HM King George IV). On this exciting occasion Spode II was appointed 'Potter & English Porcelain Manufacturer to His Royal Highness'.
Universal Magazine report of Royal visit to the factory 1806
Later Spode II became Potter to the King
The factory showroom is described as 'a room of 117 feet in length... fitted up with a splendid assemblage of goods'. In an ode written in the early 1800s in praise of Henry Daniel, an expert in ceramic decoration, there are the lines which mention 'a small but neat showroom'. In the 'pattern room' wares are displayed 'suspended on lathy strings... some on steppy shelves' which conjures up a wonderful image of quite a modern sounding display of wares.
Cups suspended on 'lathy strings' (somewhere) in 2013
Why mention this? Because Henry Daniel and Spode II worked closely together. Daniel was responsible for decorating Spode's ware from about 1805 until 1822 and the fascinating thing is that Daniel's business operated on the same site as the Spode factory. Amongst other things he rented his workshops from Spode II. So, put simply, Spode II was responsible for making his pots to a high standard and then the responsibility for painting the pieces to the Spode order went to Henry Daniel, such as in pattern 1166 shown at the top of this post.

The ode goes on to describe the Spode wares further:

'Numerous Tea Sets spread the bench below;
The centre table forms still richer glow,
While spangling orders all the ground bestrew;
With mathematic marks each piece is grac'd'

The 'mathematic marks' refer to the pattern numbers applied to the wares. This unique number identified the pattern and enabled orders to be repeated successfully. Sometimes the Spode name accompanied it, other times just the number was applied; often there would be a workman's mark or cipher too.
'Mathematic mark', now referred to as a pattern number, 889 c1806
Pattern number 2169 and workman's mark c1815
Coffee cup, bone china, pattern 2169 c1815
The advent of photography in the late 19th century, and an interest in this new-fangled technique by members of the Copeland family, led to various aspects of the factory being photographed and later published in a souvenir booklet of 1902.
The showroom at the Spode factory 1902
In the image of the showroom at the Spode factory in 1902 are many very grand pieces made under the Copeland ownership - elaborate vases, fine dessert wares and parian figures. Some of these pieces are in the Spode museum's object collection.
Monumental urn, cover & stand. Spot it at the back of the showroom on the high shelf.
In the same but palm-bedecked showroom, you can see a gentleman believed to Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner with his entourage and, I think, a Copeland or two as well as the monumental urn again.
Wealthy customers from all over the world came to visit the showroom in Stoke
The Spode company, under all its various ownerships, exported all over the world. The rich and famous would come to visit the showrooms and tour the factory. As well as royalty this included included celebrities such as the author Charles Dickens. You can find out much more about his visit to the Spode factory here>.
Detail of Dickens on a Spode commemorative plate 1970
The style of the factory showroom changed with the fashions and from high Victorian moved to stylish minimalist 20th century versions. But sometimes the company seemed to lose its nerve with the minimalist style, in both brochures and showroom, as some of the following images show. This was often driven by marketing needs.
Naran pattern in a Chinese-influenced setting in the Earthenware Brochure 1938
Blue printed ware fitting the revival for traditional pine furniture perfectly in the 1990s

25 May 2016

Spode and a Dessert Plate

Dessert plate, painted by Charles Ferdinand Hürten
I have written about the famous Copeland artist and designer, Charles Ferdinand Hürten, elsewhere on this blog. Recently I was sent images of this stunning dessert plate from a private collection. It is a lovely piece in every way so gets a blogpost of its own.

This is one plate, about 9 inches in diameter, probably from a large and elaborate dessert service which may have comprised hundreds of pieces which would also have included serving and centre pieces. Each item in the service almost certainly featured a different painting of flowers by Hürten. It was made around 1887.
Difficult to read backstamp: Spode at the top and Copeland at the bottom
Apart from the company of manufacture (Spode under the Copelands), and the artist who painted the centre, all the other people who worked on this piece remain anonymous.

How many times this was fired in the different types of bottle ovens at Spode cannot be known exactly but at least 6.
The shape of the piece is recorded in the Spode archive as 'Madrid shape, fully pierced'. Pierced ware was cut by hand, after the piece was made from the clay, but before it was fired and was still the right softness to be cut without crumbling. The hand pierced borders would have been vulnerable throughout the whole of the manufacturing process.

The quality of Spode's bone china really shines through with this technique. It combines strength with delicacy.

The pierced border itself is very attractive but it is elaborated with touches of handpainted colour combined with the white of the bone china left undecorated. It is also gilded to a very high standard using the techniques of raised gold and chasing.

Gold* is usually applied last to a piece of ware which is then fired for the final time. After firing the gold is dull so is brought up by sanding. At some factories, like Spode, the gold was then burnished using tools tipped with bloodstones and agates of different shapes to reach the different awkward places on a pot such as round a handle. Remarkable patterns and effects could be achieved.
Spode oil lamp, decorated with gold treated in different ways c1815
Burnishing brought out the beautiful glow of the gold. This work was carried out by the burnishers, usually women.
Burnishing 1902 (Note the open flame gas light)
The raised work and the chasing was done by the artists or gilders, usually men. Occasionally at Spode some gilders were sometimes allowed to sign their work. The spots are applied by hand on a raised paste - click the 'raised gold' link above for more explanation.
Detail of the raised gold with the shiny pattern produced by chasing
The chasing pattern was produced by drawing the design with a pointed agate stone. On this piece it is tiny angled lines. Robert Copeland describes it as a 'very sophisticated form of burnishing in which the agate burnishes lines to form a shiny design on the matt gold'.
The real star of this piece though is the design of poppies in the centre of the plate painted by Hürten. So here are a few more of the lovely images of this amazing plate.

*Gold - real gold was used. At Spode there was a gold safe. Up to the 1960s gold preparation was undertaken by one of the Directors of the firm in a room adjoining the Master's Office which is where the safe was kept. Here there were also the scales for weighing gold out and a pestle and mortar for grinding gold - the latter is in the Spode Museum object collection. There would be tight control of gold on the factory and facilities to reclaim gold when things didn't go right. Various members of the Copeland family were members of The Goldsmiths' Company and W. T. Copeland was Prime Warden.