Review by Patricia M. Samford
Spode’s Willow Pattern and Other Designs After the Chinese

Robert Copeland. Spode’s Willow Pattern and Other Designs After the Chinese. London: Studio Vista, 1999. 3rd edition. 214 pages with nine appendices, glossary, terminology, references, and index. 400 bw illustrations, 50 color plates. $60.00.

In the seventeenth century, a fascination with things Chinese swept through Europe and North America as trade with the East introduced the West to tea, spices, fine silks, lacquered items—and porcelain. For much of the eighteenth century, consumers unable to afford expensive Chinese porcelains contented themselves with painted renditions of Chinese-style designs on less costly ceramics like delft and the later refined earthenwares. With the late-eighteenth-century advent of printed underglaze designs in blue on white-bodied ceramics, production of the complex landscapes and geometric borders typical of Chinese porcelains became more cost efficient for the potteries and, thus, more affordable for consumers. This new technology revolutionized the Staffordshire ceramic industry and paved the way for the production of a number of decorative patterns copied directly from or inspired by Chinese porcelain.

Robert Copeland’s volume, Spode’s Willow Pattern and Other Designs After the Chinese, examines the influence of Chinese porcelain on the English printed earthenware, porcelain, and bone china industries of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Copeland, whose great-great-grandfather William Copeland III was Josiah Spode’s original business partner, made his career at the Spode factory. While Spode and its products are the primary focus of the book, the author does not restrict his discussion of Chinese-influenced ceramics to that particular manufacturer. Although many of the illustrated vessels are either marked as or attributed to Spode, Copeland also features the works of a number of English factories, including Caughley, Herculaneum, New Hall, and Joshua Heath. A variety of sources are used in this study, including Spode factory correspondence, engraved copper plates, pattern books, test prints on paper and fabric, ceramic vessels, and archaeological material excavated from both Spode factory waster pits and North American sites.

The volume’s early chapters focus on providing the reader with a historical context for the development of Chinese-influenced ceramics, as well as details of the manufacturing process. Copeland treats the reader to a concise yet clear overview of the diverse factors that affected the Staffordshire industry during the eighteenth century, including consumer desire for Chinese motifs, the development of refined white-bodied earthenwares and colorless lead glazes, and economic and political factors affecting overseas trade with China. These early chapters also provide detailed step-by-step descriptions with accompanying illustrations of two distinctive printing processes used to decorate ceramics—underglaze printing with tissue paper and the lesser-known overglaze process of bat printing. In the latter procedure, a skilled craftsperson used thin sheets, or bats, of glue to transfer the engraved design to the glazed ceramic vessel. 

Later chapters examine over seventy individual Chinese-influenced patterns on English wares, with an emphasis on landscape designs. Some of the more commonly produced patterns, such as Willow, Mandarin, Rock, Two Temples (also called Broseley), Buffalo, Long Bridge, Trophies, and Fitzhugh, are the subjects of individual chapters. Less common patterns form segments within chapters organized around design-related themes. One chapter, for example, deals with patterns for which there are no known Chinese prototypes. Basic defining characteristics are provided for each pattern, as well as discussions on design variations, alternate pattern names, and production dates. For three patterns (Two Temples, Long Bridge, and Buffalo), Copeland provides illustrated, analytical charts comparing how different manufacturers depicted specific design elements in these patterns. He cautions, however, that it is virtually impossible to attribute unmarked ceramics to specific manufacturers based solely on the pattern because potters both lent and sold used, engraved copper plates.

Copeland does an excellent job of documenting the various landscape patterns (many of which, to the untrained eye, are remarkably similar), assembling and illustrating the original Chinese porcelains and their English counterparts in bone china, earthenware, porcelain, and stone china. General dating considerations based on print color and engraving style are provided, but Copeland cautions that precise dating of early pieces is difficult. Some of the earliest printed patterns, such as Mandarin, Buffalo, and Two Temples, were copied directly from Chinese porcelain motifs. Other designs, including Bungalow, Buddleia, and Forest Landscape, were European interpretations of Chinese-style landscapes for which no known Chinese prototypes exist.

The most enduring and best known of the Chinese-influenced patterns is, of course, Willow. Believed to have been based on the Chinese Mandarin pattern, Willow was first introduced around 1795 by Josiah Spode and was produced by numerous other potters in the intervening centuries. Copeland traces the different versions of Willow produced by Spode and provides a newly added appendix that reproduces, in facsimile, the 1849 publication of the Willow pattern’s origin. 

Originally published in 1980, this expanded third edition of Copeland’s volume has undergone significant revisions from its first edition. Four new chapters and an equal number of appendices have been added. Copeland has also included new information from both earlier and later periods, extending the temporal range of the original work. 

One new chapter focuses on Spode’s late-eighteenth-century Chinese-influenced wares. Another chapter, organized in table format, provides information on landscape patterns reproduced by Spode during the late-nineteenth-century revival of interest in Chinese designs. Arranged by pattern, the table provides data on Spode’s factory pattern number, vessel shapes, body fabric, print color, and decorative detailing. Although the chapter title informs the reader that the recorded ceramics date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, no dating information is provided for the specific patterns.

Another new chapter provides updated information on specific patterns discussed earlier in the volume, while the final chapter also expands on earlier information about the Spode factory practice of creating special orders to match customers’ Chinese porcelain. These two chapters read as addenda to the earlier editions. It is regrettable that the decision was made not to integrate the research into the original text. 

The volume’s appendices provide a variety of information, including figures on tea importation, recipes for cobalt, date ranges for printed and impressed Spode marks, and typical Chinese-influenced border designs. New appendices include a brief discussion of the American colonial revolts against taxation on tea imports and a list of relevant articles on chinoiserie published since 1980.

The volume includes four hundred black-and-white illustrations and photographs and fifty color plates, forty-six of which were added for the third edition. Photographs are clear and reproduced at a scale that provides the reader with substantial detail for each vessel. The figure captioning is largely outstanding—information on vessel dimensions and color is provided, as well as drawings of manufacturers’ marks. Serious readers will appreciate Copeland’s system of documenting and standardizing vessel print colors. He provides color samples depicting the various shades of cobalt used in Chinese-style patterns; each color is provided with a name, using British Standards Institution numbers and British Colour Council names, as well as Munsell color references.

Copeland provides a number of useful identification aids for collectors and scholars alike. One table cross-references the Spode names for various patterns with other ceramic researchers’ (Coysh,[1] des Fontaines,[2] and Whiter[3]) designations for the same pattern. A glossary of terms describes individual design elements in Chinese-influenced patterns and a list of ceramic manufacturing 

Minor format and editorial choices make the book somewhat difficult to use as a ready reference. Many of the pattern names are not included in the photograph captions, making it necessary to search for the figure reference within the book text. General date ranges for vessel production also would have been very useful in the captions. At least one of the photographs seems to be missing a caption altogether. Perhaps due to the large number of new photographs included in this edition, photograph placement is sometimes arbitrary. For example, figure 20 in chapter 8 seems out of place between figures 15 and 16. I was also left wishing for a final chapter that summarized the research and placed it within the larger context of the Staffordshire ceramic industry. All in all, however, these problems are minor and do little to detract from the overall value of this volume.

Copeland has assembled a vast amount of information on a previously little understood component of the English ceramic industry. Serious collectors and scholars will want to make this much-updated, informative reference part of their libraries. Given the vast influence of the Chinese trade on England and the American colonies, this volume is an invaluable resource.

Patricia M. Samford
Tryon Palace Historic Sites & Gardens, New Bern, Nor

Ceramics in America 2001

  • [1]

    A. W. Coysh, Blue and White Transfer Ware, 1780–1840 (Newton Abbott, Woodbridge, Suffolk, Eng.: David and Charles, 1970). A. W. Coysh, Blue Printed Earthenware, 1800–1850 (Newton Abbott, Woodbridge, Suffolk, Eng.: David and Charles, 1972).

  • [2]

    J. K. des Fontaines, “Underglaze Blue-Printed Earthenware with Particular Reference to Spode,” English Ceramic Circle Transactions 7, pt. 2 (1969).

  • [3]

    Leonard Whiter, Spode: A History of the Family, Factory and Wares from 1733 to 1933 (London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1970).