ANSWER: Heraldic souvenirs have become very popular with collectors in recent years, and not just those on the other side of the pond. While you may have to look a bit harder for them over here, you will find them, especially because you can purchase them directly from British sellers online.
These heraldic souvenirs became popular as a result of a tremendous expansion in travel during the second half of the 19th century. This occurred partly because of the rise in incomes which allowed more people to afford to travel and the greatly improved technology in rail and steamer transportation. The latter became so affordable that just about anyone could travel around the country. As more people traveled, the demand for attractive mementos skyrocketed.
William Henry Goss was the first manufacturer to produce heraldic souvenirs. In fact, many manufacturers made them over 70 years, much to the joy of traveling Victorians.
Goss met W.F. Copeland, one of the owners of the Copeland Spode China Factory. Copeland hired him as a clerk in his London warehouse in 1852, and the following year Goss moved to the factory headquarters at Stoke in Staffordshire. By 1857 he had become the chief modeler for the company.
It was the modelers who designed the originals or models of all of the various pottery and porcelain objects that Goss manufactured, ranging from simple utilitarian ware like plates to elaborate ornamental ware such as portrait busts. In 1858, Goss left Copeland and soon had established his own company which produced common ceramic objects for the next 20 years, including terra cotta ware and Parian portrait busts.
The innovation that was to make the firm famous came in the early 1880s. Goss produced small replicas of objects associated with particular places and placed on them the local coat of arms. Wealthy families had been ordering hand-decorated sets of china with the family arms on them for quite some time, so armorial ware wasn’t something new. What was so novel about Goss’ pieces was that he made them inexpensively for ordinary people.
Goss was always particular about the design standards of his wares, and he thoroughly researched both the original historical artifact of each model and the coat of arms it was to bear. He used armorial reference books to insure that the crests were authenti. Goss also used his Parian porcelain formula for his crested ware, permitting very elaborate sculptural qualities and also making it possible to keep pieces eggshell thin.
To keep standards high, Goss wanted to have only one object sold as a souvenir for any particular place, and also to sell that object solely in the place whose crest it carried. To insure that there was no "cheating" by retailers, the firm had only one agent in each town and required that the agent sell Goss ware and nothing else. Soon Goss made a variety of objects available to local agents, although for a time the crest still had to be that of the place where they were to be sold. If a person wanted an object with the arms of, say, Chester, he or she had to travel there to purchase it.
The production process was rather straight forward. First, a modeler sculpted the model for each object in clay. Then another worker made a plaster-of-paris mold of it. This process often damaged the original model beyond repair. Yet another worker cast a duplicate of the original mold, and used this piece, called the block, to make the master mold which, in turn, he used to produce working models from which the working molds could be made.
Goss used plaster of paris for molds because it absorbed water fast. A worker would pour clay that had been mixed with water to the consistency of cream, called slip, into a mold. Soon, the slip in contact with the mold would dry, and then he would pour the remainder off, creating a very thin clay piece. Each mold lasted for several hundred castings, although toward the end of its life the detail wouldn’t have been as sharp.
Kiln workers fired the "green" ware at about 1200 degrees Celsius. Then, the piece moved to the glazers who would paint the piece and fire it again at a slightly lower temperature. After this second firing, another employee would apply the printed transfer of a particular coat of arms or other decoration and send the piece to be fired again.
Finally, decorators added the color by hand, and again the piece would be fired for the last time. If the piece were to be gilted, it would undergo one more round of hand-decoration and firing. Despite the complexity of the process, the cost to the purchaser was still modest—about several dollars in today's money).
The heraldic souvenir craze peaked World War I. By the 1920s, these common trinkets were beginning to seem old-fashioned.
Goss’ firm made these souvenirs in a wide variety of shapes, eventually producing hundreds with a myriad of different coats of arms, making the number of possible variations run into the thousands. You could collect these souvenirs for years and still continue to find new and interesting pieces.
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