Monday, June 17, 2013

Romance on the Dining Table

QUESTION: I have some dishes that belonged to my grandmother. I believe they’re over 100 years old. Each has a scene in the center in light blue on a white background. From research I’ve done, I know they’re called Staffordshire, but I still haven’t been able to find much about them. Could you tell me something about them, especially the decorative scenes?

ANSWER: Wedgwood & Co., Unicorn & Pinnox,Works, Staffordshire Potteries, not to be confused with Josiah Wedgwood & Sons, made your dishes. They specialized in making earthenware and stoneware pieces for everyday table use from 1860 to1965. Your particular dishes date somewhere from 1860 to 1890. 

Many people think Staffordshire is a company, but it’s actually a geographical region encompassing 12 shires in England. Many English potters established themselves there because they found the clays  superior to those found elsewhere in England. In fact, potters have been at work there since the days of the Roman occupation.

In the late 18th century there were as many as 80 different manufacturers in the ;Staffordshire district. By 1802, the number had increased to 149. No single company is responsible for manufacturing Staffordshire dishes. Each potter produced his own wares employing a different border from the others.   These border could have medallions, scrolls, lace, shells, flowers, or trees.

Staffordshire potters made their wares from white earthenware pottery found nearby. Workers applied decoration using a method called transfer printing, developed around 1755. They accomplished this inexpensive method by engraving a design onto a copper plate, which they then inked with special ceramic paint and applied to thin paper. Pressing the paper onto the surface left ink behind.

After inking each piece, another worker placed the object into a low-temperature kiln to fix the pattern. The printing could be done either under or over the glaze on a ceramic piece, but since the ink tended to wear off on overprinted pieces, potteries switched to glazing the inked surface after the initial firing.

Scenic views of the Orient and of romantic European destinations with castles and towns became popular. The inspiration for these came from classical literature which was popular at the time. The most valuable plates,. however, are those with American scenes, produced between1800 and 1848. Enterprising English potters arranged with artists traveling in America to sketch the sites for their ware. Leading Staffordshire potters like Adams, Clews, Meigh, Ridgway, Stevens, and Wood, plus those from  hundreds of small companies created American views.

The firms manufacturing these wares included Ridgway, Johnson Brothers, Spode and Wedgwood along with many others. Josiah Wedgwood eventually used the transfer process to decorate his familiar ivory Creamware.

Stamps on the back of each piece often indicated the pattern with or without the maker's trademark. Since several companies employed the same patterns, identifying some pieces can be difficult. At first potters used deep cobalt blue and white designs to simulate wares made in China. These remain sentimental favorites in the United States and England. As technology improved, the shade lightened. By 1850, potteries began using other colors, such as pink, red, black, green, brown and purple.

Most transferware patterns sought by collectors today are two-tone. Blue and white, red and white, and brown and white are the most common combinations. Transferware has become increasingly pricey in the last 10 years, mostly due to articles about using it for decoration to liven up today’s bland home interiors. 

No comments: