18 November 2010

Spode - A Short History

The Spode company produced high quality ceramic products on the same factory site in Stoke-upon-Trent, North Staffordshire, England since it was established by Josiah Spode I in the late 1700s.

Pattern 282 (detail), c1802
Josiah Spode I (1733-1797) established his famous pottery manufactory in Stoke-upon-Trent in about 1770 completing the purchase of the factory in 1776. Prior to this he had had two partnerships. In 1778 his son Josiah Spode II (1755-1827), already trained by his father in the manufacture of pottery, opened premises in Fore Street, Cripplegate in the City of London in order to trade in pottery and was highly successful in sales and marketing. It was compulsory to belong to one of the Guilds to operate a business in London at this time. Such was the newness of the pottery trade there was no relevant guild so Josiah II joined the Guild of Spectacle Makers!

Spode II's business increased substantially after his father's perfection of the technique of underglaze transfer printing using designs hand engraved onto copper plates and then printed onto biscuit earthenware. This was in about 1784 when the principal products were copies of Chinese porcelain decorated with blue and white landscapes. Spode's new designs included the Willow pattern derived from Chinese landscapes and by 1816 the famous Italian pattern. The Spode pieces filled a market need for replacements for the Chinese porcelain which was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain from Canton in China.

Although the Spode company went into administration and closed in 2009 the famous Portmeirion pottery company, also in Stoke-upon-Trent, purchased the Spode brand and produces some of the famous old Spode blue printed patterns including Italian pattern (2010).

From the late 1700s the Spode company also produced much specially commissioned wares such as armorial designs, known as badged ware, which had previously been produced in Chinese porcelain and was also becoming difficult to obtain. (There are 23 badge books in the Spode Archive recording designs for well-to-do customers from 1833 to about 1998).

Also in 1784 William Copeland went to work for Spode II in London becoming an equal partner in 1805 and sole administrator in 1812. His son William Taylor Copeland (Lord Mayor of London 1835-1836) became a partner in 1824 and sole owner in 1833 of both the Stoke and London businesses (initially until 1847 with a partner, Thomas Garrett).

The father and son team of Spode I and II also perfected the recipe for bone china which is thought to have been first produced, after much experimentation, in about 1799. Some pieces are marked Stoke China. It is the Spode recipe which was to become the industry standard. 

The firm remained in the Copeland family until 1966. Various changes of ownership followed until closure in 2009. In 1970 to commemorate the bicentenary of the founding of the company name was changed from W. T. Copeland back to Spode. 

The Spode brand name was used alongside the Copeland name throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, often styled 'Copeland late Spode'. The 'late' means formerly - the Spode brand was so well known that the company always used it whatever the ownership. Above is a mark, known as a backstamp, on the base of cream jug in pattern 3525 made in about 1823. This is just one of many hundreds of different marks used by the Spode company.

My simplified Factory 'Family' tree can be found on my page Who Owned Spode?

References  
1    London - World City 1800 - 1840; 1992; Yale University Press in association with the Museum of London
2   Spode and Copeland Marks and Other Relevant Intelligence; by Robert Copeland; Studio Vista;  ISBN 0‑289‑80172‑9
3   Copyhold Potworks & Housing in the Staffordshire Potteries... by Peter Roden published 2008; ISBN 978-0-9559317-0-3
4  Peter Roden's Journal article (Volume 14 1997) NCS for latest research on Spode's early history