The small porcelain crested models made by W H Goss were enormously popular around the turn of the century, and are now avidly sought by collectors.
William Henry Goss was born in 1833. By the age of 25 he was chief designer at the Spode works in Stoke-in-Trent. At this point he struck out on his own. producing ornamental wares in terracotta and
Parian, a type of unglazed, fine grained porcelain. He also discovered a method of setting gemstones in porcelain to create a range of costume jewellery.
In the mid-1880s, Goss's son, Adolphus, joined the firm. While no potter, Adolphus Goss had a genius for marketing, and saw an opportunity to expand the family business. His father had been producing specially commissioned commemorative pottery bearing heraldic emblems for various schools, colleges and hospitals.
Adolphus saw that such wares would make excellent souvenirs for the ever growing legions of people who had been liberated by increased wages, leisure time and the railway network to explore their native land on day trips and other holidays.
Over the next 20 years, the tireless Adolphus criss-crossed the country, building up a network of more than 1,000 local agents, each responsible for promoting their local coats of arms, which could be placed on any one of upwards of 600 small, mass-produced named models. The first of these were copied from museum pieces, but the later ones reproduced animals, lighthouses, fossils, fonts, statuary and crosses, among other things.
Each piece was hollow and moulded in porcelain. They were fired for up to a week in a high-temperature kiln, cleaned and sanded, then the Goss trademark was applied before glazing and refiring. The black outline of the required coat of arms was transfer-printed onto the piece and hand-coloured and gilded before being fired for the last time in small enamelling kilns.
Although the heraldic crested wares made up the bulk of the company's sales, Goss also made a handsome and popular series of
hand painted buildings known as Goss Cottages, as well as domestic wares. Perhaps the most distinctive of these was the Bag-ware tea service, in which each piece was made to look like a draw-string bag tied with blue ribbon. Crests also appear on domestic ware.
Crested ware was never as popular after World War 1 as it was before, and the Goss family sold out to a competitor, Arcadian China, in 1929. Standards increasingly fell, and the models lost much of their crispness and definition. The factory closed in 1944.
Though they were often derided as poor man's porcelain, the models, busts and crested ware produced by WH Goss & Co graced millions of mantelpieces in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, and were seriously collected in the first 30 years of the century. More recently the factory's products have been rediscovered as relatively inexpensive and inexhaustible collectables that give a real flavour of the innocent pleasures of a time within living memory but still very remote from the hurly-burly of modern life.
GOSS WARE COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The wide range of models and prices available make Goss ware very appealing to today's collectors.
There is plenty of scope for making specialised collections. Some people collect models
bearing the crests of a particular town or group of towns, while others concentrate oil
collecting as many variations as possible of certain type of model, such as animals,
light houses crosses and so on.
Although the high prices fetched by some Goss ware is changing the situation, it isn't the sort of thing you are likely to find being sold
by a specialist dealer in ceramics. It's often offered at auction, though, and you should
be able to find some at an antiques fair. Market stalls and bric-a-brac shops are
also a good bet, while jumble sales, boot fairs and the dustier corners of an elderly relative's
china cabinet may provide good hunting.
BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFULLY MADE
Much of the appeal of Goss ware is in the bright enamel used to decorate it. It's best to
avoid pieces where this, or the gilding, has been rubbed and worn, or where transfer prints
have peeled or faded. Goss models were a byword for their crisp modelling. Ones
that have blurred, indistinct outlines may be fakes or have been produced late in the
company's life, when standards had slipped and worn moulds were not so often replaced.
Look carefully for chips or cracks. These will make the less expensive pieces more or less
worthless and, if repairable, will halve the price of rare pieces. Repairs can be made
almost invisibly, but they will still detract somewhat from a piece's value.
From 1883 onwards, all Goss pieces were marked with a bird of prey, punningly known as the Gosshawk, with W H GOSS printed beneath. Very early pieces have an impressed mark, and those made after 1931 had the word ENGLAND added.
Forged pieces of Goss ware are rarely encountered, although you may find pieces of crested china made by other manufacturers, such as Shelley, Swan or Willow Art, with faked marks. These marks may look distorted, and the colour and texture of the piece beneath the mark is often
different from the rest. The majority of them have not been fired on, and will come off if you scratch them with a fingernail.
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).