December 11, 2011

Eureka moments

Sometimes, research can be a frustrating exercise. You spend hours- or days- trying to track down a piece, following no end of hunches, each leading to a dead end. This was the case with the following piece, an octagonal blue & white plate in the Chinese manner.

It should be Chinese- the dealer I bought it from called it that- but it made me uneasy. While it is a hard-paste type body, the way it has been made- the profile of the side and the base- is unusual compared to the usual Chinese porcelain of the mid 18th century. There is a brown line rim and foot, which does appear on Chinese.

The decoration is very Chinese in style, although perhaps a little too stiff & formal compared to the fluid Chinese originals. It reminded me of the copies you see made in English & Dutch Delft bodies, circa 1750's.
So where does it fit in?
Hard paste porcelain, blue & white decoration... early unmarked Meissen? ( might as well aim high!) No, the hard paste is not crisp enough. It has a faint creamyness to it. After a whole string of Continental & English 'red herrings' , I laid it to one side. All I could say was definitely NOT Chinese.

Then one day as I sat having a coffee with a customer, I was flipping through 'Godden's New Guide to English Porcelain' - and there it was. "EUREKA" I shouted as I ran off to find the plate, and returned with it to explain to the startled customer. Fortunately, they are fascinated by the same detective work regarding early ceramics as me!

So what was the solution to the mysterious plate?

A rare, short- lived factory in Liverpool, the Islington China Manufactory.
This was a pottery factory run by Thomas Wolfe from around 1790, but in 1796, Wolfe took on two partners- John Lucock and Miles Mason.
Mason was of course a 'Chinaman' - an importer of Chinese porcelain based in London. The date of his partnership coincides with the decline of Chinese porcelain imports. Miles could still sense a demand for the type of porcelain, and so seems to have looked around for an alternate source. The Islington Works fitted the bill. The porcelain they produced was of a hybrid hard-paste, of a type also made by Wolfe & Mason at the old Pennington works in Liverpool prior to the opening of Islington.
However, the factory did not last, and in 1800 the partnership was dissolved. They are rarities, and Godden remarks "....much further research needs to be carried out on this interesting class."

This exciting discovery will be offered in our upcoming exhibition & catalogue, in early 2012. Join our newsletter email list to stay informed.