13 January 2015

Spode and Hot Water

This object looks like a watering can but it is properly called a hot water can and has nothing to do with plants or greenhouses. It is associated with toilet sets or toilet ware.

Nowadays hot water cans are often separated from their original context and their original purpose is forgotten. They are seen perhaps as ornamental items but were vital if you wanted more than an ice-cold wash on a cold winter's morning! This hot water can is transfer printed in blue in a pretty pattern called Aster. This pattern was introduced by Spode in about 1832 and was originally called Chinese Plants. Many of Spode's earliest patterns, of the late 1700s, were strongly influenced by designs from 18th century Chinese porcelain. This influence continued, following the vagaries of fashion, for the rest of the company's life until it closed in 2009.
Hot water can, earthenware, Aster pattern, backstamp c1889
The backstamps on the Aster hot water can tell us it is white earthenware, indicated by the impressed crown. Copeland over the crown tells us that it was made in the period when Spode was owned by the Copeland family. There is also an impressed datemark which is hard to read but I think is for 1889.

So what was the purpose of a hot water can? Imagine the days before a plumbed-in bathroom. If you are well-to-do you have a toilet set in your bedroom. Items varied depending on wealth, personal taste and the date but usually you would have a ewer, basin, chamber pot, slop pail, toothbrush box, soap box and a sponge box (the last 3 items are for some reason often confused today). Some of these items were available in several sizes and other items were available too such as urinals and bedpans.
Catalogue page, hot water can centre, 2 designs of slop pail above & below. Bottom left toothbrush box; 2nd from bottom right a toothbrush vase. c1900
Now imagine the large ewer filled with cold water ready for washing in the morning. A small amount of hot water added to this in the basin would make washing much more pleasant. This freshly boiled hot water was carried up to the bedroom by a servant in a hot water can from the kitchens or sculleries. These sometimes matched the service but the hot water cans were not always ceramic.
Metal hot water cans lined up ready to take to the bedrooms, Erdigg
Spode's ceramic hot water cans were available in many patterns such as the bird design illustrated. It is transfer printed and then hand coloured and has pattern number 2/2164 first recorded in about 1883.

Many toiletware patterns are recorded in the famous Spode pattern books. There is also a separate set of pattern books specifically for toiletware patterns dating from about 1907 to 1938 in the Spode archive. The pattern prefix is T.

On my Spode ABC there are a few more images on the T page under Toiletware - click here.
A glimpse of the Spode Toiletware pattern books with red bindings c1907-1938
Hot water can, earthenware, pattern 2/2164 c1883
Catalogue page (detail) 'Ewers and Bowls' c1867-1881
'Composition of Sets' c1902-1910

02 January 2015

Spode in January

One of a set of 12 tiles for the months of the year
This lovely tile, representing the month of January, was made by the Spode company under the ownership of W T Copeland & Sons in the late 1800s. It is printed and then I think it is lightly coloured in blue by hand. The same design was also produced from the same copper plate but in a version which was beautifully coloured by hand over the print: the head dress in bright yellow, 'doublet' in scarlet and fabulous 'hose' in yellow and pale blue stripes.

At this period, as well as Months of the Year subjects, other designs for tiles were produced which depicted Seasons of the Year, Nursery Rhymes, scenes from Robin Hood, Shakespearean scenes and many more. Tiles were made by the company from the late 1700s until the end of the 20th century but the peak was in the second half of the 1800s. The designs began to be recorded in a separate set of pattern books, known as the Tile Books, from about 1840 rather than dotted amongst the records of tea, dinner, dessert ware, toilet ware and ornamental ware.
A Tile Book I photographed before conservation work in 2006
Designs were also specially commissioned by various customers and for manufacturers of fireplaces. Students of tile history are particularly fortunate to have these records preserved in the Spode archive as well as, unusually, some of the original artwork signed by the artists.

'Left over' tiles used to cover stillages when a clay cellar was converted into wine cellar
The Spode factory is for some reason often forgotten when tiles are being identified. How many say 'Look at the lovely Minton tiles' when looking at old tiles on the wall of a building or beneath their feet? It is not possible always to see the back of the tile to look for a backstamp when it is in situ but as well as the fabulous tiles from Minton, there were other manufacturers who made beautifully designed and high quality tiles. One of these was Spode. In fact when it came to very large tiles, known as slabs, Spode, under the Copeland ownership, was the best.

Next time you see some gorgeous tiles beneath your feet or set into a frieze, consider for a moment, could they be from the Spode factory?

You can see more about tiles by going to my Spode ABC and look under T.

15 December 2014

Spode and Christmas Patterns

Catalogue page, Christmas Tree pattern, 1983 (colour not true in printed catalogue)
Spode's iconic Christmas Tree pattern was introduced in 1938 for the American market. At first it was expected it would be produced just for 1938 but proved so spectacularly popular that it has been in production ever since. After the company and its factory closed in 2009 Christmas Tree is one of the patterns now produced by Portmeirion Group who bought the Spode brand.

Plate, Christmas Tree pattern (detail), 1986
This 1930s design is the most famous Christmas design from Spode but there were many more produced before and since. You can find out more about these designs, Christmas history and find lots of images by visiting my dedicated Spode & Christmas page - just click here.

And what about the Christmas tree tradition itself? Click Spode Christmas Designs and a Bit of Christmas History to find out about where the tradition of decorated indoor trees came from - here's a clue probably not from Prince Albert.

Plate, Christmas Tree pattern, backstamps, 1940/1941

04 December 2014

Spode and 101 Ceramic Highlights

It is about a year since the book '101 Ceramic Highlights' was published by the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Every time I revisit the book I learn something new, whether leafing through the pages to look at the beautiful photographs by Matthew Coupe, or reading in more depth the fascinating history of the museum and how its collections came about. Miranda Goodby, Claire Blakey and Joseph Perry did a wonderful job selecting, researching and writing about just 101 objects from this remarkable and huge collection, giving a great snapshot of what stories it can tell... and tempting you to a visit to see the galleries.
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent houses the world's greatest collection of Staffordshire ceramics and no wonder it is described by Sir Timothy Sainsbury, in the forward of this book, as 'a remarkably fine collection of ceramics.'

I was delighted to find several Spode connections, not just objects made at the factory under various ownerships, but also a surprising connection to one of the Copelands. The Copeland family owned the company longer than anyone else... find out more about ownership on my Who Owned Spode? page.

So here are some of these Spode connections with a little detail based on the book and with my comments. For full information - buy the book - you know you want to!

Jingdezhen and Spode Plates: these 2 plates clearly show the strong Chinese influences on Spode production. In the late 1700s and early 1800s Spode made pieces to match and/or extend existing Chinese porcelain dinner services owned by the well-to-do at a time when it became more and more difficult to obtain porcelain from China. These designs gradually infiltrated Spode's production of both traditional and new designs. The Chinese style was constantly reworked and revived at Spode during 220 years of production; right up to the early 2000s when, ironically, the company began to have their product made in China...

Chinese Porcelain plate, 22.6cm c1720-1730
Spode bone china plate, pattern 2638, 21cm c1818
Copeland & Garrett Classical Vase: the Spode company was purchased by William Taylor Copeland in 1833 and operated under the partnership Copeland & Garrett until 1847.

This vase is a close copy of the Greek Column-crater vases produced in Attica around 460BC. These vase designs inspired neo-classical designs in the 18th century by ceramic manufacturers such as Spode, and famously Wedgwood, who interpreted them in different ways. Classical design began to go out of favour in the early 19th century before then undergoing a popular revival. In November 1846 the Art Union discussed the revival '...the art has been taken up by Messrs Copeland & Garrett'.
Large vase, pattern 6579, 38.1cm high, 1841-1847

Backstamp on large vase
Jingdezhen Dishes: this pair of Chinese porcelain dishes are connected to Spode not by their manufacture but by their owner Ronald Copeland - click his name to find a little more about him on the C page of my Spode ABC. Born into the Copeland family, who owned the Spode company from 1833 to the mid-1960s, he joined the firm in 1902 and was associated with it until his death in 1958. An accomplished businessman he was also a discerning collector.

He gave a collection of 68 porcelain objects to the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in 1942 including this pair of dishes. Until recently, in fact almost until now (!), these were thought to be from the period 1723-1735; and then decorated 1920-1929. Further study since the book was published suggests that opinions have changed and the general consensus is that both body and decoration date to the 20th century. Here we have an example of ongoing and fascinating research into this rather overlooked period of early 20th century Chinese ceramics.
'The absolute finesse and beauty of the drawing and colouring'  Ronald Copeland
The strikingly coloured reverse of the Chinese dish, 17.5cm diam
Michael Cardew Cup & Saucer: I was delighted to see that the Michael Cardew's work was also in the book and you can see more about his time at Spode on this blog by clicking here where you will also find a link to a short film of him potting.

Michael Cardew at Spode 1938


Michael Cardew from the Aberystwyth University collection