Archive for the ‘Queen's Ware’ Category

Intellectual Property Rights

July 31, 2011

The music industry is currently awash in copyright battles.  New technologies force everyone to protect their slice of the pie.  The Grateful Dead was one band that addressed this issue early on.  Their ‘open door’ policy of encouraging a cult of bootlegging and brand recycling broadened their reach and helped propel their success.  Many bands today explore similar paths.

But navigating the maze of intellectual property rights issues has never been simple.  Over two centuries ago new technologies in pottery making changed the Decorative Arts landscape.  The use and abuse of patent laws led to an equally complex slate of responses.  Many potters relied on patents and copyrights to assure recognition and appropriate compensation for their discoveries.  Some avoided patents, feeling the required detailed description of a particular technique would only make that technique easier to steal.  The most far-sighted saw the possibilities of a bigger picture.

This situation offers a rare chance to liken Josiah Wedgwood to the Grateful Dead.

In a 1789 letter to Thomas Bentley, Wedgwood wrote:

“So far from being afraid of other people’s getting our patterns we should Glory in it, throw out all the hints we can and if possible have all the Artists in Europe working after our models… With respect to myself, there is nothing relating to business I so much wish for as being released from these degrading slavish chains, these mean selfish fears of other people copying my works.”

Wedgwood never sought patents for his Queen’s Ware.  His logic was interesting.  “Instead of 100 manufacturers selling to the world, it would have been just one amusing England…”

…But he did sue people for stealing his process information.

Readings:
The Rise of the Staffordshire Potters.  John Thomas.  Adams & Dart/London.  1971.

Master Potters of the Industrial Revolution: the Turners of Lane End.  Bevis Hillier.  The Born & Hawes Publishing Co./London.  1965.

Staffordshire Pottery and Its History.  Josiah Clement Wedgwood.  S. Low, Marston & Co. Ltd/London.  1913.

A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead.  Dennis McNally.  Broadway/New York.  2002.

 

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The True Story of The Industrial Revolution.

January 30, 2011

Josiah Wedgwood was angry.  He didn’t like how the price of Prussian Blue, one of his colorants, had risen since it first became available.  Potters across Europe had for centuries admired the brilliant blues they originally saw on pots coming from the east – from the tin glazed Iznik wares in Anatolia to the tonnage of Chinese blue and white porcelains that flooded Europe from the 17th century onward.  The cobalt required to achieve these hues was available but expensive.  A cheaper local alternative was highly sought after.

In 1772 someone in Germany got the bright idea of mixing bullock blood with potash.  They calcined the mess and ended up with a prussiate of potash.  When this prussiate was dissolved in water, voila!  Prussian Blue!

Soon thereafter the Davidson and Davenport chemical manufacturing company in Newcastle upon Tyne, Scotland acquired the formula.  (How they pulled that off might make for an interesting story.)  Once word got out that a domestic Prussian Blue was available, a large number of English potteries jumped on the blue band wagon, Wedgwood included.

Business boomed.  So much so that Davidson and Davenport hired Northumbrian potter and tile maker Antony Hilcote to mass produce prussiate of potash.  He set up a “Blood-Works” on the west bank of the Firth of Forth.  Even on a factory scale, demand was such that prices inevitably rose.  So there was Wedgwood, complaining to his partner Thomas Bentley about the three guineas a pound he now had to pay for it…

The neighbors of Hilcote’s Blood-Works had more to complain about.  From local accounts, they were downright disgusted.

Readings:
Pratt Ware. John and Griselda Lewis.  Antique Collector’s Club/Woodbridge, Suffolk, England.  1984.

 

Things You Can Do With A Horse

December 1, 2010

One of the pivotal breakthroughs for the Stoke-on-Trent potteries during the mid 18th century was the addition of calcined flint to their clay bodies.  The immediate effect was to whiten the clay.  But this small step opened up previously unimaginable vistas.

Potters began thinking ‘hey, we can do anything.’  And they meant, literally, anything.  They were no longer constrained by the materials at hand as they were.  Mind bending inventions tumbled one after another relating to how materials were processed, how the pottery was produced, and even how it was all moved around the country and the globe.

In just a few short decades, they went from digging clay in the back yard, plopping it on a home made wheel, burning it in a little kiln, and walking around the district peddling it, to setting up a factory for mass produced and machine lathed precise forms, creating an entire supply chain of raw materials to feed the beast, and an international network of sales outlets.

It might seem a stupid comparison, but it really wasn’t much different than the progress in computerized gadgetry since the 1990’s.  We’ve traveled pretty far since then.  And in the mid 1700’s the Staffordshire potters made a similar quantum leap.

So about that horse.  It could be just another apocryphal legend, but like they say in the world of journalism – it’s too good to check.

Staffordshire potter Robert Astbury (if you believe Josiah Wedgwood) or Joshua Heath (if you believe Simeon Shaw) was on his way to London when the horse he was riding developed a stye in its eye.  He stopped at a Dunstable inn (or maybe it was in Banbury) where the hosteller put some flint into a fire until it was red hot.  He then easily ground it into a fine powder and blew some into the horses eye.  The horse could see the road now.  But Astbury saw how white the flint became and how easily it was ground to a powder.  As soon as he returned home, he put some calcined flint into his clay body.  Whiteware, and all that followed, was born…

We get our inspiration from all over.

Readings:
Staffordshire Pottery and Its History. Josiah Wedgwood.  McBride, Nast & Co/New York.  1913.

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

When Pottery Meant Something

February 28, 2010

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.

Catawba Clay

February 1, 2010

As usual, the Cherokee got all the credit.  Since 1540, when swine flu carried by pigs of Hernan DeSoto’s expedition erased the entire Mississippian Mound Building culture in the blink of an eye, the Cherokee had dominated the Little Tennessee River Valley.  They were Britain’s top trading partner in the area (until after the French Indian War, when they became the colonists’ main target for expansion).  And when pottery history came knocking at the door in 1768, who got the glory?  The Cherokee.

Josiah Wedgwood had heard of a fabled pure white clay deep in the interior of North Carolina.  He contracted Thomas Griffiths to collect samples.  Griffiths traveled from Charleston, SC to Fort Prince George, NC, the furthest colonial outpost.  There, he was asked to escort home a Cherokee woman recently rescued from the clutches of a rival tribe.  Lucky for Griffiths, as the Cherokee soon captured him.  What were they to make of this lone white boy in the middle of a free fire zone claiming to be ‘just out looking for clay?’

The squaw saved Griffiths.  But those “Strainge Copper Collour’d Gentry” drove a hard bargain.  It took plenty of eating, drinking, smoking, and “Strong Talk” (and 500 pounds sterling) to get at the “unaker” clay pits.  Griffiths shipped out enough material for Wedgwood to create the exact clay body needed for his masterpiece, the Portland Vase, and to kick off his fabulously successful Queen’s WareBow Pottery also used this clay, still called “unaker” in Mitchell County, NC, to make England’s first true porcelain.

In the shadow of the Cherokee, the Catawba, a small neighboring tribe, existed for generations.  But the Catawba had one main distinction; their pottery.  Other tribes made pots.  The Catawba, specifically their women, were veritable ‘Pottery Indians.’  Pottery was their primary occupation.  Pottery held the tribe together.  And continues to do so.  Cherokee families with Catawba wives became pottery families as well.

Was it possible the Catawba had a hand (even a minor one) in Griffiths’ saga?  It’s clear Griffiths dealt with the proud, powerful Cherokee.  But Fort Prince George, the Little Tennessee River and Mitchell County roughly formed the border between Cherokee and Catawba lands.  Who would best know the value of the unaker clay pits?  A family married into the Catawba tradition might.  The historical record falls silent.

Any recognition the Catawba have garnered in recent years has been well deserved.  But if they did play a part in the creation of the Portland Vase, Queen’s Ware, and England’s first porcelain, I for one would like to see that acknowledged.

Readings:
Catawba Indian Pottery.  Thomas John Blumer.  University of Alabama Press/Tuscaloosa AL.  2004.

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977).

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

A New Face on the Countryside.  Indians, Colonists, and Slaves in South Atlantic Forests, 500-1800. Timothy Silver.  Cambridge University Press.  1990.