Some Victorian goods were sold in small ceramic pots with attractive printed lids. Many were thrown away, Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Decorative Arts > Ceramics > Pot Lids

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Collecting Pot Lids


Some Victorian goods were sold in small ceramic pots with attractive printed lids. Many were thrown away, but those that survive are avidly collected today.

 The Victorian age saw the flowering of mass production and the appearance of the first branded goods.

 Competition was stiff, and rival firms clamoured for the attention of the shopper with wall posters, newspaper advertisements and ever more eye catching packaging.

 Even relatively mundane were considered worthy of elaborate attention.  Products such as hair oil and fish paste for instance, were sold in little, round china pots with beautiful, decorative lids.

These pots were themselves mass produced, and used for a wide range of products. Usually the pot was discarded when the contents were used up, but sometimes they were saved in much the same way as we save jam jars and biscuit tins, as handy containers for storing other things.

 Other cheap china products, such as cups and plates, tended to get broken, chipped or cracked from use.  The pots, though, often survived relatively unscathed because they were kept full of pins in a cupboard or graced the mantelpiece as part of the decorative clutter that the Victorians enjoyed so much.


 At first, the pots were produced in black and white. The lids had a printed, decorative border and the maker's name emblazoned in black lettering.

 Any instructions for use and other in formation was in smaller, less elaborate type. These early examples often held health and beauty products.

 By 1845 a way to mass produce coloured designs on pottery had been developed.  In colour transfer printing, the colour was mixed with oil, then worked into the engraved printing plate.

 Tissue paper was spread over the engraving and rolled until the paint adhered to the paper.  The tissue was then placed onto the unglazed pottery and rubbed hard until the colour was transferred.

 A full colour picture was built up using successive layers of yellow, blue and red, with a black outline added last. The final stage was to dip the ware in a liquid glaze and fire it at a low temperature to bring out and fix the colours.

 The manufacturers of pots seized on the new invention; pot lids became increasingly colourful and elaborate, and many more products were sold in them.

 Relatively few firms produced the bulk of this ware, which means that the designs are well-documented.  It is usually fairly easy to follow a particular design back to its manufacturer and the year of production, something which greatly adds to the enjoyment of the collector.

 There were three principal factories. F & R Pratt, the major manufacturer, set up in 1820, while J Ridgway and Co began in 1830 and, after several changes of name, became Cauldon Ltd in 1905. In 1920, Pratt and Cauldon merged and are now part of the Wedgwood Group.

 The third factory, Mayer, began in 1843.  Original designs by all three companies continued to be reproduced as decorative ware through the 20th century.


Pot lids have been collected for some time, so it is unlikely that you will be lucky enough to spot them in car boot sales, junk shops and flea markets, though some enthusiasts do turn up interesting finds by excavating Victorian rubbish tips.

 Special auctions are held for collectors, and pot lids sometimes appear in general auctions. They are often sold in lots, which means you may have to buy several to get the one you particularly want.

 There are so many types to choose from that most collectors concentrate on specific subjects; dogs, animals, birds, flowers, wars, exhibitions and portraits are just a few of the possibilities.

 Two of the most collectable subjects are bears and the Pegwell Bay series.

 As a general rule, lids made before 1875 are more valued than those made after, and full colour prints are more valuable than those printed in one tone of ink.

 Lids which have extra gilt finishes, or come with decorated bases, usually cost more. Many manufacturers reissued their designs at regular intervals, sometimes with slight variations, which themselves make a specialized area of collecting.

Look out for lids that have the name of the goods' manufacturer in the design, either as part of the border or in the picture. Keep a special watch for the name 'Tatnell & Son' on Pegwell Bay subjects.


Pegwell Bay pots originally held potted shrimps. The future Queen Victoria sampled this delicacy on a visit to Ramsgate when she was a girl, and must have enjoyed them, as she issued a Royal Warrant to Tatnell & Son of Pegwell Bay when she came to the throne.

 This led to a huge boom in sales, and all the major manufacturers made lids showing shrimpers, shells, fishing scenes or local landmarks.

 Even though these may display views of Ramsgate, Margate or Walmer Castle, they are still known as Pegwell Bay subjects.  Many lids show the Belle Vue Tavern in Pegwell Bay itself.

 Pegwell Bay subjects are found on very early lids, produced before 1860. These pots have flat tops, a black border and small crazing on the glaze.

 Lids produced between 1860 and 1875 are similar, but tend to be convex in shape and may lack a border.

 'Late' pots, made between 1875 and 1900, can be recognized by their larger crazing and less brilliant colours.


 Lids made after 1900 were intended for decorative use only, and were reissues of earlier designs.  They are usually flat, with no crazing, and have holes in the top rim so they can be hung on a wall.  They may be marked as reproductions on the underside.

  It is possible to buy lids complete with the original pot, which are sometimes decorated themselves, but these are more expensive.

 As with all pottery, it is important to check the condition.  Chips, cracks or repairs will lower the value, while any damage to the picture, unless it is a very rare example, may well make a lid worthless.


Paris Flea Market Small Ceramic Pots with Lids
Available from Marshall Field's

These distinctively English ceramic pots from the Paris Flea Market once held cold cream, cherry toothpaste, anchovy paste and the like. Each has a charming vintage cover with a unique design. The pots are a collector's delight and are sized right to hold a pair of cufflinks or earrings, a secret key or a small keepsake. Each is approximately 3" in diameter and 2" high. These Paris Flea Market items are one-of-a-kind. Individual pieces are in used condition and will vary in appearance and size. Pictured items are representative of the selection from which your order is taken.

Price Guide to Pot Lids Abraham Ball; Hardcover

The Price Guide to Black and White Pot Lids Ronald Dale; Paperback

The Victorian manufacturers of toiletries and food products who marketed them in distinctive transfer printed pots thought of them as disposable, in much the same way as plastic packages are seen today.