The Victorian passion for cheese was matched by their enthusiasm for decorative earthenware dishes
in which to serve it.
When it came to cheese, the Victorians were real enthusiasts. Every area had its own speciality cheese and the discerning shopper in the larger towns had literally hundreds to choose from.
Names such as Double Cottenham, Brickbat and Sage were as well-known then as Cheddar, Cheshire and Stilton are today.
Victorian shoppers didn't fiddle about with small pieces, but
typically bought whole cheeses. They even devoted a dinner course to them, which came between the pudding and a dessert.
Once the cheese had its own place on the menu, it had to have its own serving dish, and these were manufactured in huge numbers.
There were two basic types. The round Stilton dish, with a domed lid, was made to
accommodate a whole cheese, while others were shaped to take a wedge. Stilton dishes were more popular at the start of the Victorian period, while wedge dishes were typical of late Victorian and Edwardian times.
Most wedge-shaped dishes, and some of the Stilton type, were sold as part of a dinner service, and decorative styles varied according to the fashion of the day.
Multi-coloured transfer printing was introduced in 1828 and there was a vogue for it in the 1830s, but early examples of it are now rare and expensive.
With the opening up of Japan to the west in the mid-19th century, Wedgwood produced services called Satsuma, Imperial Dragon and Mikado, while Minton made a bamboo design and Dudson introduced a stylish pattern that imitated lacquer, with transfer-printed,
hand painted motifs over a shiny black glaze.
Other designs reflected the Victorian passion for gardens, and featured flowers or designs that hinted at the traditional accompaniments for cheeses, such as swags of vine leaves, fruits and nuts.
Wedgwood produced Stilton dishes in their famous jasper ware, with a blue or a green ground.
In 1851, Minton's developed bright and highly decorative glazes that they christened
majolica, because of their fancied resemblance to the blue and white majolica wares produced in Italy in previous centuries.
The new style, in colours other than just blue and white, became all the rage. The glaze was generally applied to highly moulded wares; fruit, flowers, leaves and cows were the favoured motifs.
At first, the lids of the dishes were lifted by knobs, moulded in more or less appropriate shapes; tomatoes, cows' heads, sheaves of corn, acorns and knots of rope were all used. Later, these were replaced by handles.
The shape of cheese dishes reflected the different ways in which cheeses were brought to the dining table, either in the round or, as here, in a wedge cut from the whole cheese.
CHEESE DISH COLLECTOR'S NOTES
You do not have to be a cheese lover to enjoy cheese dishes. A collection of them can make a handsome display.
Stilton dishes are now pretty rare and so they tend to he expensive, while their size makes them quite hard to accommodate. If your funds or your space are limited, you will be better off collecting the wedge-shaped dishes.
The diversity of pottery styles and glazes popular in the 19th century means you can either
build a general collection or specialize. Maiolica ware and Japanese styles are desirable items, or you could concentrate on one manufacturer, such as Wedgwood, Dudson or Royal Doulton.
Commemorative ware is another option.
Novelty designs can be fun. William Brownfield of Cobridge made some with ivied
battlements, known as castle dishes, while Beswick, now owned by the Royal Doulton group, made cottage ware.
Royal Winton II
(Grimwades) and Price's also made cheese dishes in the shape of country cottages.
Jasper ware - with white motifs in relief against a coloured background - need not be Wedgwood, which can be very expensive to collect.
Copeland and Dudson, for instance, both produced their own, and most pieces you will find today are likely to have been
made by Dudson; they can be identified by their cut rope or acorn knobs. The relief designs include cherubs, muses, ferns, birds, butterflies and hunting scenes.
BUYING CHEESE DISHES
Specialist pottery shops are the place to look for Stilton dishes, while wedge-shaped dishes will turn up all over the place, including junk shops, antiques fairs and markets.
If a Stilton dish is missing its large, domelike cover, as is, sadly, often the case, its value will be greatly reduced.
Some tops and bases may fit and look well together but may still not be a pair.
The price should reflect this.
If you wish to collect pieces by specific makers and need help in identifying them, the potteries and pottery museums in
Staffordshire can often prove helpful.
Bear in mind, though, that famous makers such as Wedgwood, Minton and Doulton are quite likely to
command a premium price.
Check the handle, mouldings and glazes very carefully for
signs of damage before you buy. Breakages should be handed over to experts for repair. Staining is a
common fault in cheese dishes and this should also be dealt with by experts. Don't on any account use bleach or dishwashers in an attempt to clean stained