14 March 2012

Spode and Botanical Designs

A floral design, pattern 3127, (detail) c1821
Thank you to the Cheshire Gardens Trust who made me so welcome at their meeting in February 2012 where I gave my talk Pots of Orchids. Initially given as part of the James Bateman bicentenary at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in 2011 it was lovely to revisit this subject with a group of plantsmen and women with a keen interest not only in gardening but also in garden history. They were a great audience. For the handling session after the talk we had suggested bringing pots of any make and date with plants as decoration. They surpassed themselves with the variety which graced the table and managed to provide nearly 200 years of potting history with some imaginative items from dainty Edwardian teacups to toiletware; early Spode pieces to art pottery.
Cruikshank cartoon - cockroaches not orchids!

Pots of Orchids: The Spode Bateman Connection looks at links between the Spode company, its lovely botanical designs, in particular orchids, and my finding of fragments of an important botanical publication of huge physical proportions at Spode. The book, now in the Spode archive (collection no. SMT 2000.318), is the Orchidaceae of Mexico & Guatemala (published 1837-1843) by James Bateman who created Biddulph Grange Garden. It contains beautiful, huge, hand coloured lithographs of orchid species and also has a humorous side with little engravings and cartoons one of which by George Cruikshank show the hazards of receiving a consignment of orchids from a far-off land gathered by intrepid plant hunters. Photos from the copy in the Spode archive taken before conservation can be seen at Staffordshire Past Track. Type orchidaceae into the search box from the link.

In 2013 I gave this talk to the Transferware Collectors Club in Boston, MA. You can find my article based on the tlak by clicking here and scrolling down to Woolliscroft.

Orchid designs were produced by Spode using the illustrations from this important and mammoth (27" X 20") book as well as botanical subjects from other publications. If you want to learn more please see my series of articles published 2005/6 in the RHS Orchid Review.

Dessert plate, Cyclamen coum, c1815
Curtis's Botanical Magazine, plate 4, 1787
The Spode factory produced many designs with a floral theme over the years. Amongst these are designs which feature some true botanical subjects with roots, corms, seeds and wilting leaves. These were not to everyone's taste and most customers seemed to prefer stylised floral patterns - particularly pink roses!

Whatever period the botanical designs were produced they were always rather special and often specially commissioned too. I looked at the subject some years ago with particular reference to Curtis's Botanical Magazine first published in 1787. I was commissioned by the modern version of the magazine from Kew to write about it and this can be found in Flora Ceramica Volume 19, Issue 3, pages 183–213, 2002.

A Spode dessert plate c1815 illustrated here features Cyclamen coum from illustration 4 in Curtis's Botanical Magazine of 1787. This version of the pattern has a leaf background, known as Thyme sheet. Every piece in a service featured a different botanical subject taken from the magazine. Another plate shown is decorated with Spring Crocus with the common name for the plant printed on the back along with an impressed Spode backstamp. Its source from the magazine, illustration 45, is also shown. These plates were produced on earthenware and were printed and then hand coloured.
Curtis's Botanical Magazine, plate 45, 1787
Dessert plate, Spring Crocus, c1815
Other botanical services were produced on bone china and were fully handpainted with the plant name, sometimes in Latin, painted on the reverse. A shaped dish from a supper set is shown here with Ivy Leaved Geranium painted onto the back. Like the dessert services each piece of the supper set featured a different flower and each named is handpainted in script on the back. It is shown here alongside illustration 20 of 1787 from the magazine. The supper set probably dates from c1815.

It is interesting that there is often a connection between potters and plantsmen. W T Copeland, owner of the Spode factory, was one of the very few subscribers to the rare Bateman's orchid book. I was informed by a member of the Cheshire Gardens Trust (thank you!) that one was reported for sale recently. It was fascinating to see the mention of an inscription inside featuring the name Josiah Spode (possibly Josiah Spode IV 1823-1893). This Josiah Spode was a direct descendant of the founder Josiah Spode I but had no connection with the running of the Spode company.  I wonder what his interest in these specialist and at the time newly discovered plants was that prompted him to own or be given such an expensive book?

A pattern featuring orchids and other botanical subjects with the Spode brand in 2012 comes from Portmeirion and is called Stafford Flowers. A clever design looking very traditional it was first introduced in the modern era in 1986. It uses a mid-19th century shape and takes it inspiration for its surface pattern from a service produced in the early 1800s. The basis of the design uses flowers from the Curtis's Botanical Magazine which are in the Spode archive. Each piece has 2 different flowers on it - the coffee pot features an orchid!
Stafford Flowers, 1986

There is a famous Spode blue and white pattern called Botanical but the source for the flowers is not yet discovered. There is also a blue and white pattern called Geranium and a few years ago I discovered that the source for its central design is from Curtis's Botanical Magazine. It is taken from illustration 261 first published in 1794 of an Erodium incarnatum or Flesh coloured cranesbill. Use the links from these two pattern names highlighted here to view images on the excellent Spode Exhibition Online.