When Pottery Meant Something

First this happened, then that happened, then the other thing happened.  Then all that ended and something else happened…  Not very meaningful, of course – unless you’re an outline junkie.

But in the mid 1700’s something actually did happen.  In England anyway.  Super organized pottery factories burst on the scene.  SpodeMintonWedgwood.  Such names as these made the six towns collectively known as Stoke-on-Trent synonymous with exacting precision, a dizzying stylistic range and ruthless marketing – and large numbers of unskilled and child laborers.  Staffordshire’s pottery firms radically changed the face of pottery.  Within decades, they would practically dominate the world.  The one run by Western Europe, at least.

The days of small, family run country potteries were numbered.  An entire way of life would soon disappear.  You’d think these potters would riot.  They didn’t.  The new stuff rolling off the assembly lines hardly impacted  (just yet) the need for “coarseware.”  Staffordshire’s initial target was more up-scale.  Like pewter.

Pewterers and other high-end craftspeople had enjoyed a monopoly on most upper class tables for generations.  To them, the rise of Staffordshire meant disaster.  An Exeter newspaper article of April 4, 1776 says it all:

“Last week the tinners in Cornwall rose in consequence of the introduction into that country of such large quantities of Staffordshire and other earthenware.  About a hundred in a body went to Redruth, on the market day, and broke all the wares they could meet with, the sale of which was intended in that town.  From thence they went to Falmouth for the same purpose, and because they could not force their way into the Town Hall, where a large parcel of Staffordshire and other wares were lodged, they were about to set fire to it, had not Mr. Allison, the printer and alderman of that town, with another gentleman, pacified them, by promising to discourage the sale and use of these wares by every means in their power, and by going to a pewterer’s and bespeaking a quantity of pewter dishes and plates to evince their readiness to serve them.”

A picture paints a thousand words.  Sometimes newspaper articles do too.

Readings:
The English Country Pottery, Its History and Techniques. Peter Brears.  Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT.  1971.

The Story of Craft.  The Craftsman’s Role in Society. Edward Lucie-Smith.  Phaidon/Oxford.  1981.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

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4 Responses to “When Pottery Meant Something”

  1. Michael Says:

    Holy shine-ola! Those pewterers were not to be messed with. But I guess the combination of Stoke-on-Trent juggernaut and the awareness of lead poisoning did them in. I do love an old pewter vessel, though. There have been some folks teaching pewter at Penland over the last few years, and hopefully, one day I can get into some pewter work myself.

    Thanks again for your posts!

  2. sue Says:

    Competition and professional jealousy is a lovely and historical thing.

  3. FullTextRssFeed – RSS As It Was Meant To Be | Startup Websites Says:

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  4. Winds of Change | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] Revolution era Stoke-on-Trent master potters ruled the […]

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