21 May 2013

Spode, The Art Gallery and Trelissick

Cover of  'The Story of Spode' 1950 
In 1950 Spode, under W. T. Copeland & Sons Ltd, commissioned a book about the firm from G. Bernard Hughes. It was called 'The Story of Spode'. Inside is a black and white image of what I knew as simply the Art Gallery when I worked there. As well as looking at the image here spot the accompanying marketing blurb alongside the photos.
Buildings on the Spode factory site in Stoke were demolished in 1939 to make way for what was initially called 'The Copeland Art Gallery' to display antique Spode and other pots. The gallery looks quite austere but is quite a hit with those of us who love mid-twentieth century design. In reality the contrast between different exotic woods which decorated the walls, panels and 'hidden' cupboards was striking. Eventually the contrast mellowed but a furniture conservator who came to look at some antique pieces for me, when I was Curator of the Spode Museum, was enamoured, and went around identifying all the different types of veneer.

Ronald Copeland, Managing Director and partner in the firm, (known on the factory as Mr Ronald) was like his brother Gresham, (known as Mr Gresham) 'into' antiques, Chinese porcelain and collecting old Spode to help tell the history of the Spode firm and its products. This trait was inherited by their sons Spencer and Robert respectively.
Ronald Copeland in his office at Spode
In the image entitled 'The Ronald Copeland Art Gallery' the pots are displayed in cases flush with the walls. The cases had glass fronts framed in bronze and the design was intended to look like paintings in a gallery, hence the name Art Gallery. (The practicality of opening top-hinged plate glass windows framed in bronze is another story...).

At the time of this photo the antiques - pots, paintings and furniture - were owned variously by the company and individual members of the Copeland family. A change of ownership of the firm and the creation of a museum trust was some way ahead.

Some of the pots from the Art Gallery may have made it into the Spode Museum Trust object collection. Mr Ronald’s items passed to his son, Mr Spencer. He later transferred them to Trelissick in Cornwall, which had been the home in retirement of his parents, through the inheritance of his mother Ida Fenzi.
Ida Copeland 1921
Ida Fenzi was a fascinating woman and you can easily find out more about her by searching the web on Ida Fenzi and/or Ida Copeland.

Michael Copeland, grandson of Mrs Ida Copeland, tells me that she gave Trelissick to the National Trust in her lifetime in 1955 - house, gardens, and estate - expressing the wish for the Trust to allow her and her family after her to occupy the house 'as a home for my descendants'. She died in 1964.

In 2013 William Copeland, son of Mr Spencer, decided not to continue to occupy the main house, and arranged the sale of his father's collection of Spode, and of the contents of the house. The National Trust acquired some items, including the dessert service given by Josiah Spode II to W. T. Copeland on his marriage in 1826. The house is now open to the public.

The collection had become known as the Copeland China Collection. Much was sold at auction by Bonhams in 2013 under the title of 'The Contents of Trelissick House and the Copeland China Collection'.

During my time as curator, the Art Gallery was used to display to some of the museum's huge reserve collection. It was also used during the Trade Shows and other events for lavish corporate dinners.

The colour image here shows detail of case 11 in about 1996, with a range of 'badged' wares (specially commissioned items) including an example of the elegant dessert and tea wares used on RMS Titanic and a plate commissioned by the Society of the Cincinnati.
 Art Gallery, Case 11, Badged Wares 1996
This latter, transfer printed in blue, gilded and hand coloured, can be seen behind and just to the left of the smaller red plate on the left of the image. This is one of 200 made in 1955 and it was a replica of a Chinese porcelain plate of the 18th century. Spode produced a new shape (shape number K951) to match the Chinese shape exactly and used their Fine Stone body (ie Stone china - click here for the entry under S on my Spode ABC). The Spode engraving included, as requested, every 'minor imperfection' of the hand painted original. In fact Robert Copeland told me that the first sample was 'too perfect' and was re-engraved at the request of the society!

Cincinnati plate, 1955
Art Gallery, Case 7, Parian Ware 1996