Early British Porcelain - In the century between its origins in the 1740s and the beginnings of the Victorian age, the British porcelain and bone china industry produced a huge range of delightful - and extremely collectable - wares.


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English Porcelain


 In the century between its origins in the 1740s and the beginnings of the Victorian age, the British porcelain and bone china industry produced a huge range of delightful - and extremely collectable - wares.

 Tea and porcelain came together from China to Europe in the 16th century, and they have been closely associated ever since. Though the British climate won't grow tea, the country's continuing love affair with the beverage did much to stimulate its porcelain industry.

 The whiteness, translucence and 'ring' of Chinese porcelain was so obviously superior to the other forms of pottery that were available in 17th and 18th century Europe that hundreds of potters devoted their lives to discovering its secret.

 It was first made in Britain in two factories in the London area, Bow and Chelsea, in the 1740s. Both of them produced soft-paste porcelain wares. Other factories, including those at Lowestoft, Longton Hall in Staffordshire and Caughley in Shropshire, followed their lead and specialized in soft-paste porcelains.

 The first hard-paste factory was established at Plymouth in 1768 to take advantage of the china clay deposits that had recently been discovered not far away in Cornwall. It was transferred to Bristol in 1770. The only other 18th-century factory that made hard-paste porcelain was New Hall, in Staffordshire, which began operations in 1781.

 The other main category of porcelain, hone china (hard paste plus bone ash), was patented by Josiah Spode in 1794, though bone ash had been added to soft-paste porcelain by the Bow factory in 1749. Bone china remains a British speciality. Whatever the type, 18th-century British porcelain, which included both useful and decorative wares, was greatly influenced by the top European factories - particularly Meissen in Germany and Sevres in France and by Chinese decorative styles.


 In the first decades of the 19th century the manufacture of porcelain, and particularly of bone china, was a thriving industry in England. Worcester was pre-eminent, but fine wares were also being produced by Coalport, Derby, Minton, Rockingham, Spode and Wedgwood. Of these, only Rockingham, which closed in 1842, is no longer in business.

 The Coalport factory specialized in tableware, while Derby, founded in 1756, made excellent figures as well. Minton, founded in 1796 by Thomas Minton, began by making very simple wares, but they later became much richer; delicate figures and flower-encrusted baskets were a speciality.
Rockingham ware, too, was usually very richly decorated, sometimes to the point of vulgarity. The factory, located at Swinton, near Doncaster, began producing porcelain only around 1826, and like Spode and Wedgwood produced porcelain goods only as part of a wide range of ceramics.

 Fine Regency porcelain was also made in Wales, at Swansea and Nantgarw, where soft pastes were used, mainly to make tableware decorated in the style of Meissen and Sevres.


 Early British porcelain is an enormously wide subject, and you'd do well to specialise in either a particular maker or type of piece. Knowledge is your best protection against disappointment; try to handle genuine pieces and read everything you can find about your specialty. Check with your local library for the titles of books and journals on the subject - plus we've made some recommendations of the best books available through the international Amazon bookstores. See right.

 A visit to local and national museums can be rewarding - good ones in the UK with exhibits on British porcelain include Stoke-on-Kent's City Museum and Art Gallery.


 There is little cheap porcelain to be had from the 18th century, unless you're lucky enough to find a piece that isn't recognized for what it is. Remember, though, that a bargain may turn out to be a fake or forgery. Your best guarantee is to buy only from specialist dealers or auction houses, and always to get a detailed receipt from the seller in case you need to dispute a piece's authenticity later.

 Regency and other early 19th-century pieces are more common and quite reasonably priced. Look for them at antiques fairs and markets, specialist dealers and auctions.

 Condition is important in assessing price; chips, cracks and other flaws will all devalue a piece, sometimes considerably. Try to examine old porcelain in good sunlight before you buy it, as this makes it easier to detect restoration, over painting or tampering.

Cobalt blue was not widely available in Britain until the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, when it could be imported from Saxony.
Look on maker's marks as guides rather than guarantees.
The thickness and colour of the glaze and general style of a piece is often a better guide to the factory of origin.
In soft paste porcelain, colours tend to fuse with the glaze; the decoration on hard paste is generally crisper.

 Read articles and references:
Good standards are Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).


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New Handbook of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks
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Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (3rd Ed)
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Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain
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The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story
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