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Josiah Spode & Sons: Founders of the Spode Dynasty

Josiah Spode

Who were Josiah Spode & Sons?

The elegance of the breakfast set forced itself on Catherine’s notice when they were seated at table… He was enchanted by her approbation of his taste, confessed it to be neat and simple, thought it right to encourage the manufacture of his country; and for his part, to his uncritical palate, the tea was as well flavoured from the clay of Staffordshire, as from that of Dresden  or Save.
Northanger Abbey

Josiah Spode (23 March 1733 – 1797) was an English potter and the founder of the English Spode pottery works which became very famous for the quality of its wares. He is often credited with the establishment of blue underglaze transfer printing in Staffordshire in 1781–84, and with the definition and introduction in c. 1789–91 of the improved formula for bone china (a form of soft-paste porcelain) which thereafter remained the standard for all English wares of this kind.

Josiah Spode was born in a village that is now part of Stoke-on-Trent. Spode was a pauper’s son and also a pauper’s orphan at the age of six. He was apprenticed to potter Thomas Whieldon in November (Martinmas) 1749, and remained with him until at least 1754, the year in which Josiah Wedgwood became Whieldon’s business partner. Wedgwood stayed with Whieldon until 1759. Spode worked alongside Wedgwood and with the celebrated potter Aaron Wood (father of Enoch Wood) under Whieldon’s tuition, and was with Whieldon at the high point of production there.

After John Turner left Stoke for Lane End in 1762, Spode is said to have carried on the factory of William Banks, Turner’s partner, at Stoke for him for some time. There he began to make creamware (blue painted as well as white stoneware) in the manner of John Turner, and continued to perfect his excellent potting technique. He was powerfully influenced by Turner’s work. He also made black ware and maintained a printing press for black transfer printing. He was engaged as master potter, but it is not known if his work there was consecutive or sporadic.

The Spode factory as it appeared in the 1700’s and now; examples of Spode transferware, and the Spode trademark stamp.

Spode rented a factory in Church Street, Stoke-on-Trent in 1767. There he was in financial partnership with William Tomlinson (a solicitor), and in 1772 he took on a pottery at Shelton with Thomas Mountford as his backer. In 1776, he bought the old pottery works at Stoke which had formerly been the property of William Banks (in partnership with Turner), on the same site as the later Spode factory which continued operating into modern times. His business in creamware (a fine cream-coloured earthenware) and in pearlware (a fine white-glazed earthenware), was very successful.

Josiah Spode I is credited with the introduction of underglaze blue transfer printing into Staffordshire in 1781–84. More precisely he was the first to introduce a perfected method to Stoke, (with the help of engraver Thomas Lucas and printer James Richards, formerly of Caughley, Shropshire), using improvements recently developed at nearby Shelton by or for Ralph Baddeley.

Without Spode’s work, we might never have see these famous words…

Spode the elder also, between 1788 and 1793, established and finalized the formula for English bone china, for whereas bone ash had previously been added in other factories to the fabric in proportions of roughly 40%, Spode simplified and greatly improved the recipe.

Spode had various commercial premises in London, originally in Fore Street, Cripplegate. However, the warehouse was finally settled in the former Theatre Royal, no 5 Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which his firm occupied from 1795 to 1848 when the building was pulled down. (This had been the venue of the first performance of the Beggar’s Opera in 1727.)

Josiah I was an accomplished violin player. He became a Freeman of the City of London in 1778 and was a Liveryman of the Spectacle Makers’ Company. Josiah was married to Ellen, who died in 1802 aged 76. They had two sons, Josiah and Samuel, and daughters Anne, Sarah and Ellen. Josiah and Ellen Spode (senior) are buried in Stoke-on-Trent churchyard.

The grave of Josiah Spode and his wife, Ellen.

 

 

Josiah Spode II (1755–1827) succeeded to the business in 1797. He was magnificently prepared for the role, an experienced salesman as well as a potter, having gained an invaluable knowledge of marketing in fashionable London. He was also a flautist, and was father of Josiah III, and grandfather of Josiah IV, a convert to Roman Catholicism, who founded Hawkesyard Priory near Rugeley.

When Josiah II married the niece of John Barker, a manufacturing potter of Fenton, in 1775 at Stoke on Trent, his father, Josiah the elder took this opportunity to establish the regular London business. Between 1775 and 1782, when his wife died in London, Josiah the younger moved between Longton and Cripplegate, London, where he was doubtless manager of the Fore Street warehouse under the guidance of William Copeland, his father’s friend and London partner. He came into power as head of the business after his father’s sudden death in 1797. He was active in the North Staffordshire Pitt Club and entered politics. He became Captain of the ‘Pottery Troop’ Cavalry Division affiliated to the Staffordshire Yeomanry, at its foundation in 1798 until its disbandment in 1805. He was granted arms in 1804. In 1811, with James Caldwell of Linley Wood, he successfully opposed a move by government to impose taxation on the work of the Potteries.

Spode’s famous Blue Italian pattern, which is still in production.

Josiah Spode’s (I) second son, Samuel Spode, for whom Josiah I erected the Foley factory at Lane End, produced salt-glazed wares up to the end of the eighteenth century. There were also daughters, including Elizabeth, who is mentioned in her parents’ wills. Samuel’s son Samuel emigrated to Tasmania and afterwards to Queensland, where his descendants held positions in government.

The Spode name is now owned by the Portmeirion pottery company, which produces many of the former Spode patterns.


If you love the elegance of the Georgian’s blue and white chinaware, you might like to have a look at our Netherfield Collection. The Netherfield Collection teacup, saucer and plate set can be seen here.  

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Josiah Wedgewood and the Birth of English Pottery

 

The elegance of the breakfast set forced itself on Catherine’s notice when they were seated at table; and, luckily, it had been the general’s choice. He was enchanted by her approbation of his taste, confessed it to be neat and simple, thought it right to encourage the manufacture of his country; and for his part, to his uncritical palate, the tea was as well flavoured from the clay of Staffordshire, as from that of Dresden or Sêvre. But this was quite an old set, purchased two years ago. The manufacture was much improved since that time; he had seen some beautiful specimens when last in town, and had he not been perfectly without vanity of that kind, might have been tempted to order a new set. He trusted, however, that an opportunity might ere long occur of selecting one — though not for himself. Catherine was probably the only one of the party who did not understand him.
Northanger Abbey

It is often remarked that Jane Austen made no reference to current events in her work; and yet, it seems that the quote above must refer to the many improvements in English pottery introduced by Josiah Wedgwood and his descendants. Let us examine the many advances Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) brought to English pottery in Staffordshire.


Wedgwood introduced a superior inexpensive clear-glazed creamware pottery in 1764. The excellence of his product soon attracted a wide market for Wedgwood pottery. When George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, ordered a tea set Wedgwood rechristened creamware as Queen’s ware in the first celebrity marketing campaign.

The next improvement introduced by Wedgwood was a canal passing by his pottery which connected the Trent and Mersey Rivers. This Grand Trunk Canal facilitated inexpensive and low breakage shipment of his pottery from Staffordshire, with its clay deposits, to the London market. With the help of Wedgwood’s friend Thomas Bentley, the bill authorizing the canal passed Parliament in 1766. The canal reached completion in 1777.

A London Wedgwood showroom was first opened in early 1768 at the corner of Great Newport Street and Saint Martin’s Lane, which stood near the Thames docks to allow easy transfer of the pottery. The suave Bentley was soon placed in charge of the showroom. Mrs. Byerley, the wife of Wedgwood’s nephew, wrote that Newport Street was so crowded that there was “no getting to the door [of the Wedgwood shop] for coaches.” The Wedgwood London showrooms were a huge success. By 1773, the stock Wedgwood offered had reached such diversity of style and forms that a catalog was offered. The showroom moved to York Street in Saint James’s Square in Westminster in 1774, to follow the westward expansion of fashionable Mayfair.


Wedgwood developed yet another new ceramic by 1768 know as black basalt. The pieces were decorated with matte fired colors to resemble the height of current taste embodied in the engravings of Sir William Hamilton’s collection of red-figure Greek vases that had been depicted in the 1766-7 publication Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honourable Wm. Hamilton. Wedgwood basaltware would soon grace the Neo-classical library designed by Robert Adam for Bowood House, and Neo-classical rooms in Kenwood House and Derby House.

Wedgwood also worked with manufacturer and engineer Matthew Boulton to bring automation to his factories to increase production. The innovative Boulton had bankrolled James Watt’s development of the steam engine.


After 5,000 attempts, Wedgwood developed his greatest creation—Jasperware–in 1775. A cameo patterned pottery with the translucence and tonal qualities of porcelain that was inspired by a fine example of Roman cameo glass owned by Sir William Hamilton. The vase would subsequently be purchased by the Duchess of Portland, a famous collector, and become known as the Portland Vase.

Artists employed by Wedgwood Potteries produced many famous design motifs. John Flaxman produced his most famous Wedgwood design “Dancing Hours” in 1778. In 1780, artist George Stubbs, known for his remarkable renderings of horses, created the “Fall of Phaeton.” Lady Elizabeth Templeton designed a jasperware coffee service for the Wedgwood Potteries in 1787. Lady Diana Beauclerk designed many cupid motifs for Wedgwood. General Tilney refers to Dresden teacups in the quote that began this article. It was under the commission of Augustus the Strong in the city of Dresden that the secret of hard paste porcelain, previously only know to Chinese and Japanese craftsmen, was actually discovered in Europe. The first European porcelain-producing factory, however, was actually begun fifteen miles away in the city of Meissen, in 1710. The clay deposits in the Meissen area were one of the keys to the successful production of the porcelain. But by the mid-1700’s, the new technique was being copied in England and France.


The Sevres Porcelain Factory, originally founded in 1738 at Chateau de Vincennes, became a royal monopoly under the regime of Louis XV around 1759. Sevres Porcelain was known for its gilding over a colored body. The company foundered during the French Revolution. The factory came under the management of the French Revolutionary government in 1798. Under Napoleon, a new administrator was appointed to head the Sevres Porcelain Factory in 1800–Alexander Brongniart, a scientist skilled in chemistry, botany, zoology, and geology. Though he had no experience in the making of porcelain, Brongniar brought strong leadership and new direction to the factory. The Sevres Porcelain Factory became even more successful.


Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795 just before Jane Austen wrote her first draft of Northanger Abbey. The numerous innovations and new developments in his field make Josiah Wedgwood the most important potter of any day, little lone Jane Austen’s lifetime. His showrooms on York Street continued to be successful after his death. The London print maker Ackermann produced a print of the popular showroom in 1809; and ladies often rendezvoused at the Wedgwood showrooms throughout the Regency. Jane Austen advised her niece not to write of anything of which she did not have personal knowledge; so we can assume Jane Austen found Wedgwood pottery “neat and simple.”

Sharon Wagoner is Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!

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Meissen’s White Gold

Many of the object d’art familiar to Jane Austen (and used extensively as set pieces in the many adaptations of her works) are based on the pieces produced by the famous Meissen Porcelain factory in the mid 1700’s. The company became known for their exquisite china patterns, including the Blue Onion pattern, still in production today, clocks, vases, figurines and just about any other decorative item which could be made of porcelain. Among the first to discover the secret of China’s “White Gold”, craftsmen in the artist town of Meissen protected and improved the recipe long before Josiah Wedgewood or Josiah Spode set up their showrooms in London or artisans in Sevres could create their first vase.

The Chinese had mastered the production of porcelain long before the west became aware of it, and by the seventeenth century oriental porcelain had become a valuable export commodity in the China trade. Mostly provided by the Dutch East India Company, porcelain from China and Japan represented wealth, importance, and refined taste in Europe, while local attempts to produce porcelain, such as the brief experiment that produced “Medici porcelain” had met with failure.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century Johann Friedrich Böttger pretended he had solved the dream of the alchemists, to produce gold from worthless materials. When the Elector of Saxony Augustus the Strong heard of it, he kept him in protective custody and requested him to produce gold. For years Johann Friedrich Böttger was unsuccessful in this effort. At the same time, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, a mathematician and scientist, experimented with the manufacture of glass, trying to make porcelain as well. Tschirnhaus supervised Böttger and by 1707 Böttger reluctantly started to help in the experiments by Tschirnhaus. When Tschirnhaus suddenly died, the recipe apparently was handed over to Böttger, who within one week announced to the Elector that he could make porcelain. Böttger refined the formula and with some Dutch co-workers, experienced in firing and painting tiles, the stage was set for the manufacturing of porcelain. In 1709, the Elector established the first Meissen manufactory, placed Böttger’s laboratory at Albrechtsburg castle in Meissen and production started officially in 1710.

The first type of porcelain produced by Böttger was a refined and extremely hard red stoneware known in Germany as Böttgersteinzeug. It retained very crisp definition in its mold-cast applied details, on bodies that could be polished to a gloss before firing. Models were derived from Baroque silver shapes and Chinese ceramic examples. Meissen’s production of a hard paste white porcelain that could be glazed and painted soon followed, and wares were put on the market in 1713.

An example of Böttgersteinzeug pottery

Böttger’s experimental wares rapidly gained quality but never achieved successful painted and fired decor. The first successful ornaments were gold decorations applied upon the fired body and finely engraved before they received a second firing at a lower temperature. Multicolor enamelled painting was introduced by Johann Gregorius Höroldt in 1723, with an increasingly broad palette of colors that marked the beginning of the classic phase of Meissen porcelain. His enamel paints are still the basis for ceramic paints today. Initially paintings often imitated oriental patterns. The signature underglaze “Meissen Blue” was introduced by Friedrich August Köttig. Soon minutely detailed landscapes and port scenes, animals, flowers, galante courtly scenes and chinoiseries— fanciful Chinese-inspired decorations— were to be found on Meissen porcelain. The Kakiemon vases and tea wares of kilns in Arita, Japan were imitated as Indianische Blume (“Flowers of the Indies”). Paintings by Watteau were copied. Wares were also sold in solid glazed colors, to be enamelled in private workshops (Hausmalerei) and independently retailed. The support of Augustus’ patronage attracted to Meissen some of the finest painters and modelers of Europe as staff artists.

The Albrechtsburg was utilized to protect the secrets of the manufacture of the white gold. As a further precaution, very few workers knew the special secret (arcanum) of how to make porcelain, and then perhaps only part of the process. Thus, for a few years, Meissen retained its monopoly on the production of hard-paste porcelain in Europe. By 1717, however, a competing production was set up at Vienna, as Samuel Stöltzel sold the secret recipe, which involved the use of kaolin, also known as china clay. By 1760 about thirty porcelain manufacturers were operating in Europe, most of them, however, producing frit based soft-paste porcelain.

In order to identify the original Meissen products, Meissen developed markings that initially were painted on, but were soon fired in underglaze blue. Early markings such as AR (Augustus Rex, the monogram of the King), K.P.M. (Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur), M.P.M. (Meissener Porzellan-Manufaktur), and K.P.F. (“Königliche Porzellan-Fabrik) were eventually replaced by the crossed swords logo. Introduced in 1720, it was used consistently after 1731 by official decree. Variations in the “crossed swords” logo allow approximate dating of the wares.

Augustus II charged first Johann Jakob Irminger with the design of new vessels. In 1720 Johann Gregorius Höroldt became the director and introduced brilliant colors which made Meissen porcelain famous. The next sculptor, Johann Jakob Kirchner, was the first to make large-scale statues and figurines, especially of Baroque saints. His assistant was Johann Joachim Kaendler; in 1733 Kirchner resigned, and Kaendler took over as chief “modelmaster”. He became the most famous of the Meissen sculptors. Under his direction Meissen produced the series of small figurines, often depicting scenes of gallantry, which brought out the best of the new material. His menagerie of large-scale animals, left in the white, are some of the high points of European porcelain manufacture. His work resulted in the production of exquisite figurines in the rococo style that influenced porcelain making in all of Europe. Supported by assistants like Johann Friedrich Eberlein and Peter Reinecke, he worked until his death in 1775.

In 1756, during the Seven Years’ War, Prussian troops occupied Meissen, giving Frederick II of Prussia the opportunity to relocate some of the artisans to establish the Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur Berlin. With the changing tastes of the neoclassical period and the rise of Sèvres porcelain in the 1760s, Meissen had to readjust its production, and in the reorganization from 1763, C.W.E. Dietrich of the Dresden Academy became artistic director and Michel- Victor Acier from France became the modelmaster. The practice of impressing numerals that correspond to moulds in the inventory books began in 1763. Sèvres styles and ventures into Neoclassicism, such as matte bisque wares that had the effect of white marble, marked the manufactory’s output under Count Camillo Marcolini, from 1774.

In the nineteenth century Ernst August Leuteritz modernized many of the rococo figurines, and reissued them, creating a “Second Rococo” characterized by lacework details (made from actual lace dipped in slip and fired) and applied flowers; English collectors used the term Dresden porcelain to describe these wares, especially the somewhat simpering and coy figurines. Under Erich Hösel, who became head of the modelling department in 1903, old styles were revived and reinterpreted. Hösel also restored eighteenth century models. Some appealing work in the Art Nouveau style was produced, but Meissen’s mainstay continued to be the constant production of revived eighteenth-century models.

After 1933, the artistic freedom of the artists became restricted by the State of Saxony in accordance with the contemporary indoctrination process in Germany. Some artists (i.e. Ernst Barlach) who had contributed to progressive Meissen during the Weimar period were banned.

After World War II and under Communist rule, the manufactory that had always catered to the rich and wealthy had some difficulty finding its way. The danger was that Meissen would become a factory merely producing for the masses. It was not until 1969, when Karl Petermann became the director, that Meissen went back to focus on its old traditions and was also allowed a freer artistic expression. Production continues to this day. Meissen products can be found online, in antique stores world wide (look for the crossed swords logo) and at buymeissen.com.

Information from antique-china-porcelain-collectibles.com, Victoriamag.com and Wikipedia.com

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