Monday, June 9, 2014

And All That Chintz

QUESTION: My grandmother left me quite a few beautiful pieces of china, decorated with floral patterns. What seems like the pattern name appears with the mark on the bottom of the pieces. Names like Summertime, Royalty, Florida, and such are common among them. Can you tell me anything about this china? I really like its bright, happy decoration and would like to collect more of it.

ANSWER: The pieces that you have, which are actually pottery not china, are known as chintz. Made from earthenware, they’ve become one of today’s most popular collectibles.

Chintz dates back to the 18th century when English merchants imported exotic fabrics with elaborate floral patterns from India. By the early 19th century, Staffordshire potteries began to emulate these patterns on the decorations of their wares, using large flowers and exotic birds. By the 1820s many potteries in the Staffordshire area manufactured chintz for everyday use. Although they produced many Victorian patterns, today's collectors prefer the chintz made from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The four major companies making chintz back then—Grimwades Royal Winton, James Kent, Crown Ducal, and Lord Nelson—needed a product that was cheap to produce so that their chief market, the English middle class, could afford it. Since they made chintz from earthenware and decorated it with lithograph transfers, it filled the need nicely. All together, there are over 200 different patterns of chintz.

The decoration of chintz required an amazing amount of handwork and skill since women transferred the designs by hand from lithographs on to the individual pieces. The process, which was similar to applying a  decal, required meticulous cutting and matching to ensure that the junctures of each piece were practically invisible. Other workers gilded each piece by hand before firing.

During the 1930s, the companies producing chintz, in ever-increasing competition, introduced fresh new patterns and shapes at the British Industries Fair. In order to come up with these new patterns, some  reversed the foreground and background colors. One of the leading manufacturers, Grimwades Royal Winton, changed their Welbeck with yellow background into Hazel with black ground and their Spring background into white. Companies often often named their patterns for the flowers in them and incorporated them into the backstamp or mark.

When World War II broke out, the British Government forbade all unnecessary manufacturing, so chintz production halted. After the war, people became starved for color and the chintz produced in the 1950s had a different look, with flowers larger and farther apart. Makers also changed background colors to  black, burgundy and navy.

But in the late 1950s tastes changed, and housewives’ preferences turned to modern Scandinavian design in furniture and accessories. The fussy chintz patterns clashed with the new decorating tastes, and most chintz production came to an end. It wasn't until the 1990s that interest in cozy, comfortable chintz returned.

Of all the chintz manufacturers, collectors deem Grimwades the “Cadillac of Chintz.” It produced over 60 different patterns from 1929 through the early 1960s.

In 1885 Leonard Grimwades founded the pottery with his brother at Winton Pottery, Stoke-on-Trent. They started production in a simple shed and expanded rapidly, taking over the Stoke Pottery in 1900. They introduced the first modern chintz pattern, called Marguerite, in 1928. In 1932, they came out with their Summertime pattern which immediately became immensely popular. Grimwades applied this pattern to many different articles, including clocks, invalid feeders, and jardinieres, and shipped large quantities of it to the U.S. The company awarded Wright, Tyndale and Van Roden Inc., a luxury store in Philadelphia, exclusive rights to Floral Feast, Somerset and Summertime. However, many of these pieces bear only the store’s stamp. The cup and saucer in your photo bears this pattern. Throughout its history, Grimwades produced nine chintz patterns, more than any other company.

In 1915, Albert Goodwin Richardson bought the Gordon Pottery in Tunistall, England and renamed it the A.G. Richardson Ltd. He wanted to produce good quality earthenware under the name Crown Ducal. In 1919 he sold his interest to Harry Taylor who owned a lithograph company. Crown Ducal wares also appealed to Americans during the late1920s through the 1950s.

Richardson developed a deep ivory glaze base color in 1931, and a number of chintz patterns employed it, including Pansy, Peony, Primrose, and Priscilla. In 1980, the Wedgewood Group purchased the  company and renamed it Unicorn Pottery.

James Kent took over the Old Foley Pottery at Longton. in 1897 and renamed it James Kent Ltd. to produce earthenware for the English middle class. He first produced the chintz pattern DuBarry in 1934, and it remained in production until 1980. The most popular Kent pattern is Hydrangea with a white background. The quality of James Kent wares is inferior to Grimwades, and prices are somewhat lower.  M.R. Hadida Fine Bone China Ltd. Bought the company in the 1980s.

Another factory turning out great quantities of chintz was Elijah Cotton's Lord Nelson ware. The firm Elijah Cotton Ltd. operated at the Nelson Pottery in Hanley from 1889, making mostly kitchen and hospital ware. Their chintz earthenware is chunky in shape and poorly decorated. To avoid having to hire skilled decorators, they purposely didn’t decorate the spouts and handles of their teapots and jugs. Black Beauty and Green Tulip are their most popular patterns.

Today’s collectors include tea and coffee pots, whole tea sets, bud vases, and serving pieces in their collections. Some focus their collections on a single pattern while others mix and match designs. Still others collect only tea cups in as many patterns as possible.

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