13 May 2015

Spode and Cracked Ice and Prunus

Barrel Scent Jar in Cracked Ice and Prunus pattern c1821
Spode's early 19th century pattern Cracked Ice and Prunus was derived from an 18th century Chinese porcelain design. The design represents the coming of spring. The elements of the design show cherry blossom petals (prunus) falling on to the background of thawing ice.
To the left of the Barrel Scent Jar is a covered dish in Chinese porcelain
The earliest record of the design in the Spode pattern books, in the Spode archive, is pattern number 3667 first recorded in about 1821. The pattern was printed in underglaze blue in an all-over design known as a sheet pattern. It is known on plain shapes and on moulded edge pieces such as Gadroon shape. Early examples can be found in earthenware but the design was also used on stone china which Spode II developed to match Chinese export porcelain. Dinner and some teawares were produced; decorative and unusual shapes are rarely seen at this period in the early 1800s.
Specially commissioned service printed & hand coloured border, central coat of arms for Smallpeace of Whitby, c1830s
The design was popular during the Spode period up to 1833 and was produced later by Copeland & Garrett (the name of the company from 1833-1847).

In the early 1900s the pattern was revived as rim decoration with plain centres, for example on Camilla shape with pattern number 2/6663. It was also combined with various other patterns which were used as the centre design such as Peacock, Trophies, Chinese Figures and Vienna Bird.
Tableware from 1938 earthenware catalogue
Trophies Marble on Gadroon shape 1820s/1830s
The pattern was produced on both bone china and earthenware in the 20th century. There were various other versions with the 'cracks' gilded or the prunus painted. A toilet ware set was produced on the elegant Queen Anne shape. In one form or another it was in almost continuous production through to the 1930s.

The names Marble and Mosaic have also been used for the design and are thought to refer to the use of the background of Cracked Ice without the prunus blossom. A version of Tumbledown Dick pattern uses Marble or Mosaic as the background to the bird and foliage design and a variant of Willis pattern has it as the rim border decoration.
Tumbledown Dick pattern on Marble sheet c1823 (detail)

30 April 2015

Spode, Desserts and Pyramids

Snapshot of the 1996 Spode Museum's dessert cabinet with services from c1800 - c1828
'...a Pyramid of Syllabubs and Jellies'
One of my favourite manuscripts in the Spode archive is the 1820 Shape Book. No matter how many times I look at it there is always something new to discover in this delightful little book. Although specifically dated many shapes recorded in it were definitely in use at an earlier date.

This 1820 book is a technical book which records shapes produced by the Spode factory. These are beautifully handpainted onto the pages but not to scale. The book records the name of an item, the sizes in which it was made, its throwing and its turning measurements. Written as a production record, as well as informing about pottery manufacturing techniques of the early 1800s, it also tells us about social history, design history, original names of items, unexpected parts of teasets, multiple sizes of cups and chamber pots, and long-forgotten objects.

And it helps with research into one of my favourites: food history. After all, no food then no pots...? Dessert wares were particularly fine; produced in the most expensive, fashionable styles; and sold to the wealthiest of customers.

Whilst Curator at the Spode Museum, I came across a page in the Spode 1820 Shape Book entitled 'Pyramids with a Sexagon Pedistall Prest to Suit' (sic).

What on earth is one of these?


The note at the bottom reads '...the 4 lifts at top are thrown together'
On page 97 of the original document the 'Pyramid' is perhaps an item which has not previously been given much thought. At a glance it resembled a jelly mould to me so I sent an image to Peter Brears, who was researching moulded food for the 2006 Leeds Foods Symposium. Peter, a Museum & Historic House Consultant, is a well-respected and well-known Food Historian. He is also expert at cooking the old recipes, humble or grand, studying table settings and providing re-creations for famous houses, museums and occasions.

Ever practical, and generous with his knowledge and research, he kindly corrected me that this was not a jelly mould and went on to explain how this item may be used. He also pointed out 'they're huge!' He drew out a paper plan for me derived from measurements in the shape book. The size is nearly 18" high. The details and the plan from this correspondence are in the Spode archive.

Initially even Peter was unsure how the piece was used and, after drawing the life-size paper model, suggested they were for the dessert table perhaps draped with ivy and flowers. Then by chance, whilst he was researching what went in supper sets (again on my behalf) he noticed the following in Dr William Kitchener's The Cook's Oracle (4th Edition London 1822 pg 485): 'Mille Feuilles or a Pyramid of Paste' which has ½" puff paste cut in discs, from plate size down to the 'size of a shilling'. These were then baked (which would raise their thickness to a couple of inches) and mounted one on another with layers of different jams in between to form a pyramid 'of light brown colour'. This is just the same shape as 'Spode's Pyramids with a Sexagon Pedistall Prest to Suit'.

I was able to read more of the description in an 1825 edition and found The Cook's Oracle details continued that on the top you could place a 'bunch of dried fruit' and 'spin a caramel of Sugar over it'. This entry confirms the use of the pyramid for the decoration of a dessert table. Peter pointed out that Kitchener's book was very popular and its publication date of 1822 ideally coincides with Spode's ceramic version in the 1820 Shape Book.


A Pyramid of Paste, The Cook's Oracle, 1825
As mentioned the 1820 Shape Book records technical details of items made by the technique of throwing. The words 'Sexagon Pedistall Prest to Suit' (sic) show that the 'pedistall' was made using the technique of pressing clay into a mould. Only the thrown parts of the pyramid are illustrated in the record of the piece in the Shape Book.

I have never seen one of these pyramids, or even bits of one. You can only wonder how many were made and, more crucially, do any survive and would they and their component parts even be recognised? Were they left in beautiful, undecorated, very white and translucent Spode bone china; or decorated more elaborately with handpainted designs and gilding?


From Whiter's book with another centrepiece a 'Beaded Pyramid Stand' on the left
You can see more detail of another Spode dessert pyramid, 'Beaded Pyramid Stand, by clicking Spode Exhibition Online then click 'Browse the book' and 'jump' to page 122. Beaded refers to the decoration on the edges of the various levels of the stand; it is the pillars supporting the levels which were the pieces made by throwing and detailed in the Shape Book.

19th century dessert services from Spode were often spectacular and comprised many, many pieces -  sometimes hundreds - made for rich families. The illustration at the top shows dessert services in the Spode Museum collections on display in the late 1990s. Also shown here is a dessert serving dish from about 1825. Every piece in the set would have had a different butterfly and flower centre all hand painted. Another piece from the set, which is in the V & A collections, can be seen by clicking here. Pattern 4485 illustrated below is a design which features fruit and flowers in different variety and combination on every piece of the service.


Spode serving dish from a large dessert service, Felspar Porcelain, c1825
Jane Austen mentions slightly different dessert pyramids in her novel 'Pride and Prejudice' but nonetheless it is an indication of these display shapes for the dessert table. 

"The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs. Annesley to Miss Darcy had been given, to remind her of her post. There was now employment for the whole party - for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table."


Dessert plate (note the point of the plate faces the diner) pattern 4485 c1828



22 March 2015

Spode's pattern 967... and 1645

Milk jug, bone china, New Oval shape, pattern 967, c1807
Pattern 967 is one of the most famous patterns made by Spode in the early 1800s. It was first introduced in about 1807. It is often described as a pattern in the Imari style. To find out more about Imari style patterns you can go to my Spode ABC and look on the I page.

I was reminded of this pattern on a visit to the lovely Eyam Hall last week. This is the first property ever to be leased by the National Trust from its owners, the Wright family. As the home of the Wright family for eleven generations, visitors can enjoy family portraits, furniture, objets d'art and personal belongings from each generation.

Eyam Hall, Derbyshire, built 1671
So with a well-to-do family occupying the hall it was no surprise to find a high quality Spode tea service from the early 1800s in the Dining Room. I was delighted to spot it. The milk jug above is part of the service which we were kindly allowed to photograph. The service was displayed in a fine glass-fronted cabinet which, as you can see, was not easy to snap with a phone. But the close-ups of the delightful Spode pieces came out well.
Cabinet at Eyam Hall with Spode tea service in pattern 976
This service has the milk jug, sugar box (usually referred to simply as 'milk' and 'sugar' in the Spode archive papers) and teapot in New Oval shape. This is one of my favourite shapes as it has such elegance with its sweeping lines and perfect proportions. Pattern 967, with its Imari colour palette of predominantly cobalt blue, iron red and gold, is enhanced further with the solid gilding of knobs, handles and spout. Accompanying the main pieces of this service are coffee cups and teacups in Bute shape and a small teapot in Ball shape. Ball shape teapots were made in 4 sizes, the largest being just under 5 inches high.
Sugar box & lid, bone china, New Oval shape, pattern 967, c1807
Teapot & lid, bone china, New Oval shape, pattern 967, c1807
Pattern 967 was used to decorate a huge range of wares from tea, dinner and dessert wares to desk sets which included pen trays, inkwells and taper sticks. In the image of the museum case, middle shelf, far left, you can just see a spectacular inkwell embellished with a globe surmounted by a gilded eagle. The globe is decorated in the correct style of the time by Spode's skilful painters. By Hawaii it includes the words 'Owyhee where Captain Cook died'. Cook was killed in 1779 so the globe used by the Spode designers and artists had this significant event marked and was still in use many years later.
Museum case in 2005. Items decorated in pattern 967 & other Imari designs
A revival of the style and this design at Spode in the late 1800s under the Copeland ownership included large ornamental items. As well as the Copeland mark of the time 'Spode 967' was sometimes added perhaps as part of the marketing to tie in with the original design. I have known these later pieces to be found with the Copeland marks ground out to try to pass off as an earlier date but the shape of the piece usually helps to identify the later date of production.
Spode backstamp c1807
There is another pattern which is so similar to pattern 967 that the two are often confused. This other design has pattern number 1645 and was first introduced in about 1811.
Postcard showing pattern 1645, c1811
There are subtle differences - the main one being that 1645 has much less decoration around the base of the design than 967. This is really useful to know if there is no mark on the piece.

The similarity is striking though. So much so that when the Spode company produced a postcard in about the 1980s it illustrated pattern 1645, but labelled it as pattern 967! In the postcard image you can see pattern 1645 on a suite of teawares, in the same shape as mentioned above, except for the teacup which is London shape. Note the pattern is mainly on the inside of this teacup leaving the beautiful white of Spode bone china on the outside with a simple gold line.