All there in blue and white
by Rebecca Wallis

Plate, lead-glazed earthenware, underglaze blue printed 'Willow' pattern, probably Staffordshire, dated 1818
For many, the blue and white Willow pattern is the most iconic of all British ceramic designs. Its scene of temple, willow tree, bridge and boat was inspired by Chinese porcelain but the story of the tragic lovers it supposedly depicts was actually invented in the mid-19th century by the British ceramics industry as a clever marketing tool.

Rice plate, earthenware, underglaze blue printed 'Makassar' pattern, J.& M. P. Bell & Co. Ltd., Glasgow, c1890 
The combination of cobalt blue decoration and a white ground is one of the most familiar and distinctive visual effects in ceramics. Originating in Iran and perfected in China, blue and white ceramics have been made for over 800 years. Exported from China in vast quantities from the 14th century, first to the Middle East and later to Europe, they were highly prized and widely imitated.

In Britain, blue and white decoration is most strongly associated with printing on ceramics, a technique pioneered in the 1750s and brought to a mass market by 1800. Printing allowed the increased production of ceramics with high-quality and technically-precise decoration. The ready assimilation of designs from other print media enabled a rapid response to contemporary society and culture, and a wide reach.

Dish, earthenware, underglaze blue printed pattern, Staffordshire, England, c1820

The display Blue and White: British Printed Ceramics showcases the wide variety of designs, including the ever popular Willow pattern, from the 1750s to the present day: designs inspired by landscapes, flora and fauna, history and global trade. The continuity of themes from historic to contemporary production demonstrates the enduring appeal and relevance of blue and white.

Plate, 'Foot and Mouth no. 5', Paul Scott, England, 2001, reworked 2012 
Generously supported by The Headley Trust, the display includes loans from The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, The Spode MuseumTrust and private lenders. Also featured are ceramics from The Wedgwood Collection, on show at the V&A for the first time since the Collection was saved by the Art Fund with major support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, private donations and a public appeal.

Rebecca Wallis is Curator of Western 19th century ceramics & glass at the V&A.

Blue and White: British Printed Ceramics is on at the V & A until 3 January 2016.

Spode's Incense Burners
from Pam Woolliscroft

Following on from Ben Miller's sweet smell of success with reference to Wedgwood, below, I thought it might be interesting to discover more about ceramics and smells!

I have written about 'Spode and Incense Burners' on my Spode History blog. The function of an incense burner was to gently perfume a room. You can find my article about items made by Spode in the early 1800s for this specific use by clicking here.

Here is an image of one of the many styles of incense burner produced by Spode. It is called a 'Beaded Upright Scollopd Incense Burner'. Made from very beautiful, translucent and very white Spode bone china it dates from about 1824. It could be decorated in different ways. Patterns are recorded in the Pattern Books now in the Spode archive. 

This is decorated with a version of a pattern with a charming, if bewildering name, 'Tumbledown Dick'. This version of the pattern is in cobalt blue and gold - two of the most expensive ceramic raw materials - helping to confirm that these specialist items were for the well-to-do. More can be found out about this popular pattern here on the T page of my Spode ABC.
Spode incense burner from the V & A collections
Other manufacturers made incense burners too and many were of similar styles and patterns. Spode called this shape a 'Dolphin Tripod' and you can see 2 versions of it on my blog but this one is from Wedgwood. Click here for another version in black basalt.
Wedgwood incense burner from the V & A collections
If you have an incense burner in your collection let us have some details and an image to add to this page. Please use the contact form in the first instance.
The Sweet Smell of Success
from Ben Miller of the Wedgwood Museum
A selection of 18th century Wedgwood perfume bottles
© Wedgwood Museum Trust
Both ceramics and perfume production can be traced back to the ancient world. Much like the supply of fashionable ceramics the history of perfume has been inextricably linked with the discovery of new and exotic materials, the refinement of manufacturing techniques and the demands of the customer. 

Wedgwood’s production of scent bottles mirrors the familiar supply and demand of fashionable tastes, of which royalty were often the patrons.

It was perhaps the French aristocracy that most popularised the use of perfume throughout 18th century Europe. Figures such as Marie Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour spent vast amounts of money on sourcing the raw materials (violet, rose powder, jasmine, orange flowers and tuberoses) in order to produce their favourite scent.

Within Georgian England it was primarily the apothecaries who sold perfume. Jewellers and trinket shops also sold perfume and a wide range of perfume containers. Indeed, the museum's archive show' that a number of individuals and retailers in London purchased perfume (smelling) bottles alongside products such as beads, cameos, arsenic pots, and eardrop dispensers from Wedgwood.

Josiah Wedgwood's first mention of 'smelling bottles' came in April 1788 when writing to his son Josiah II.  He remarked 'The smelling bottles with the stadholder & the princess are very good & pretty things, particularly that with the festoon border of which pattern I would have the rest made.'  Shape-book One contains illustrations of a number of jasper perfume bottle designs. The bottles were produced with a threaded neck and were designed to take a cork stopper and metal screw top. On display in the Wedgwood museum gallery are seven jasper bottles and one cut glass with inset jasper cameo. The subjects for the relief decoration consist of a number of classical subjects as well as portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte.

I believe that the production of scent bottles, in particular those made of jasper, is comparable to Josiah's business savvy move to create Queen’s ware.  Josiah's identification of both the increasingly fashionable use of perfume among the aristocracy of Europe combined with the realisation of his  successful jasper body, much adored by aristocracy, highlights the fact that he had his finger well and truly on the pulse of 18th century culture.

A Case of Mistaken Identity
from Joe Perry, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

They say don't judge a book by its cover, and that appearances can be deceiving. But when you have nothing else to go on, it can be difficult to interpret an object in any other way.
Take this tile. It’s clearly a ceramic object and the expert may recognise it’s made from stonepaste. This body, consisting chiefly of crushed quartz with glass and small amounts of clay, creates a white-firing ceramic and is indicative of an Islamic pottery tradition. This conclusion is backed up by the style of decoration and the use of Arabic script.

And what of this decoration? Inside a floral border the tile bears two columns of Arabic inscription below an arch in which various implements are depicted, including a pair of scissors and a comb. Assuming we are unable to read the Arabic inscription, as was the case when this object arrived at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, what do we make of this object?

If you're thinking, "Evidently the price list of a barber", you're wrong! But don't be upset, this is exactly what curators thought when the tile was acquired by the museum in 1950. The tile was misunderstood for decades until a visiting scholar finally interpreted the Arabic inscription.

This is actually a funerary tile, taken from the tombstone of a barber from a graveyard in Tehran. The tombstone was erected by the brother of Muhammed Haja Tuba who died in A.H. 1018 (the year in the Hijri calendar is equivalent to 1609 AD).

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery has a significant and representative collection of Islamic Ceramics with a number of particularly important pieces. This tile will soon be on loan to Birmingham Museum & ArtGallery as part of the exhibition, Qalam: the art of beautiful writing.


A Meissen Cup
from Rebecca Klarner

The factory of Meissen in Germany was the first European factory to unravel the secret of 'white gold' – porcelain. Porcelain had been imported from China from the middle of the 16th century and was sold for extremely high prices. In 1710 the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger was finally successful in his experiments and the first porcelain was produced in Meissen. Böttger basically was a prisoner of Augustus the Strong – Elector of Saxony and King of Poland – who took him into 'protective custody' to find out for him how to make porcelain and gold.

This cup and saucer can be dated by their design to the 1720s or 1730s. The whole of Europe was fascinated by everything foreign and exotic and goods from East Asia were extremely popular but also extremely expensive. You can see this perfectly well in this example: one of the handles broke off, but instead of simply buying a new cup it was meticulously, and surely not cheaply, repaired with an ormolu handle.

This little set – made for drinking hot chocolate which was, together with coffee and tea, one of the new, fashionable and exotic drinks – shows Chinese people and Chinese life through the eyes of a European. Johann Gregorius Höroldt is probably the most famous painter having ever worked for the Meissen factory. He started working for Meissen in 1720 and the one design he is still most famous for are his so-called 'Höroldt-Chinese people' which we also find on this chocolate set. Of course Höroldt cannot possibly have personally painted all of those thousands of Chinese scenes on Meissen pieces, but almost all of the designs can be directly ascribed to him. He had never been to China but he drew his 'Chinese' scenes on large sheets of paper which were then used for years by him and other painters in the factory. Pinpricks on some of the drawings show that they were actually used in the workshops. Coal dust was powdered through these little holes so that the outlines of the designs showed on the porcelain.

A merchant named Georg Wilhelm Schulz bought these drawings shortly after 1900 and he had a small number of the 132 sheets - which were unknown until then - published in 1922. Since then this collection of drawings was called the Schulz-Codex and it was only fully published for the first time in 2010.


A bearded man from Cologne
from Rebecca Klarner, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

This smiling face has travelled quite a long way. It was made in the first half of the 16th century in Cologne in Germany and came to England with many others of its kind.

These vessels are called Bartmannkrug, which translates as 'beard man jug'. They were made in vast numbers in Cologne and the nearby Frechen to satisfy the high demand especially from England and Holland. But excavations show that these bearded men actually travelled all over the world, either carrying goods, or waiting for their purpose to carry goods.

This smiling fellow eventually made its way to the collection of the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent where it can be found amongst other German stoneware. Its big belly gives it quite an impressive size of 38.5 cm in height and also more than enough space to accommodate decoration. In this case it sports three big oval medallions: the centre medallion shows (on a shield) a knight on horseback drawing his sword. The shield is decorated with other heraldic symbols such as helmets, horses, and aigrettes. The two other medallions to the left and the right show the same crowned coat-of-arms. This coat-of-arms is not completely unravelled yet. It is quite elaborate with many different heraldic elements, but parts of it seem to point in the direction of the duchy of Cleves-Jülich-Berg. The other components of the coat-of-arms are still to be identified and due to our bearded man’s long and exhausting journey and the
resulting wear and tear they are not very easy to decipher.

So if you should happen to be an expert in German heraldry and can give any more information please feel free to contact the ceramics department of the museum. You can use the Contact Us tab at the top of this page.

But why a big bearded man as decoration? Why not something that is a bit more let's say eye-pleasing? The answer is, we don't know the answer or rather it seems to have been forgotten. There are several theories. One links it to the mythical 'Wild Man' creature that can be found in Northern European folklore from the 14th century and is later used in various contexts. Other opinions say that this ornamentation had a purely decorative character as mask decorations were widely used in Renaissance times in various contexts.

However, we also find pieces that have individualised features to portray people and also pieces that have christomorphic features. Also examples of female 'bartmann jugs' are known - without a beard though.
Another name for these vessels was 'Bellarmines', referring to the Italian Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Cardinal Bellarmine appears to have been very unpopular with the English, and also the (Protestant) Dutch, most likely because of the role he played in the Counter-Reformation. Connecting his name with a vessel like this could either be simply to ridicule him and his appearance or could be due to his anti-alcoholic stance.


'Staffordshire porcelain'?
from Joe Perry, Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Porcelain – not just for pretty things…

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, 'Staffordshire porcelain'? A quick search on the internet brings up what most of us imagine. Finely made tea sets, sometimes elaborately decorated, sometimes elegant in their simplicity, dainty porcelain figures, graceful and iconic in form. All of these objects have their place and significance in ceramic history.

But porcelain is not just for pretty things…

Rubber Glove Formers
© Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
A.G. Hackney & Co. Ltd, 1983 Burslem,
Stoke-on-Trent.Accession Number: 1984.P.37 

These rubber glove formers are an important reminder of the other side of the pottery industry, the side preoccupied with the manufacture of ceramics for use in industry and manufacture. Porcelain is hard wearing, able to withstand extreme temperature changes and has high chemical resistance. 

Formers like these are mounted onto racks and dipped in liquid latex. This coating can then be sprayed with cotton (if you want a soft, fluffy lining) and vulcanised at 100 °C. This ensures the rubber remains strong and flexible. Once cooled and dried, the gloves can be turned out are ready to be worn! You can see the process for yourself by clicking on the YouTube video below.

A.G. Hackney & Co Ltd operated from 1938 to 2008 manufacturing porcelains for use in the electrical and radio industries as well as formers for latex processes. Other formers include swim caps, beach balls, football bladders, baby bottle teats and balloon shapes. These formers were gifted to the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery by the manufacturer in 1984.


Spot the differences...
from Pam Woolliscroft
with thanks to members' collections

A series of early 19th century teapots in similar style from different manufacturers aiming at the same customers.

Wedgwood teapot from the V & A, c1810
Museum no. 2375&A-1901
The lid knob or knop is sometimes described as an alligator but the Spode archive reveals it to be a 'crocodial'. And both the V & A and the Wedgwood Museum describe it as crocodile.

Each museum dates their item slightly differently showing that it is not always easy to date pieces.
Spode 'crocodial' teapot, Spode Museum, c1805
Collection no. WTC 3017
Also available in white!
Wedgwood teapot from the Wedgwood Museum c1800

Accession No. 10703