H. Priestman. An Illustrated Guide to Minton Printed Pottery, 17961836.
Sheffield, England: Endcliffe Press, 2001. 373 pages, 600 bw illustrations,
115 color plates. $78.00.
Many years ago I was privileged to visit the storeroom for the engraved copper printing plates of Mintons manufactory in Stoke-on-Trent. Joan Jones, the curator of the Minton Collection, estimates that there are some 30,000 copper plates. They include not only table and toiletware patterns for printing in monochrome but also printed outline designs for hand coloring. There are engraved plates for tiles and acid patterns for the rich embellishment of fine bone china, as well. Packed very tightly into pens stretching from floor to ceiling, the plates present a formidable challenge to anyone wishing to research them. Geoffrey Priestman, who undertook this task with determination and dedication, has given us a comprehensive book that should be in the library of every Minton collector and of most collectors of blue-and-white, transfer-printed earthenwares.
Thomas Mintons career as a skilled engraver and entrepreneur is outlined in the first chapter. With the support of his family, Minton was dedicated to producing earthenware and bone china of the highest quality. Personal reminiscences of printers and transferers provide a delightful insight into the factory scene. The naming of patterns by printers is of particular interest, especially those named after the craftsmen who produced them, even if these names never reached the official lists. For example, one Copeland pattern had been christened Jam Tart, a pattern name that clearly would have made advertising difficult. Instead, it became known as the more marketable Royal Bracelet, then Majestic. After this contextual chapter, the book focuses on patterns and shapes attributed to the Minton factory.
A useful Pattern Reference Guide illustrates all of the Minton patterns in full color, enabling the reader to appreciate the delicate differences in the tonal quality of blue. The Broseley pattern is the principal Chinese landscape printed in the paler ultramarine blue, whereas most of the other oriental-style designs are printed in the darker royal blue.1
The chapter titled Early Landscapes (perhaps more aptly called Early Chinese Landscapes) is a comprehensive catalog of designs, providing valuable comparisons between identical patterns produced by different manufacturers. The same detailed attention has been given to subsequent chapters. One section illustrates the subjects that were used on black prints and bat-printed wares, each one helpfully numbered.
Priestmans attribution to Minton of previously unattributed patterns like Roman, Bewick Stag, Camel and Giraffe, and the Monks Rock series is of the greatest satisfaction. (The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery will need to be updated.2 And I wonder if a further examination of the reverse of some of the copper plates might reveal indisputable proof of the authors claims?) Despite the enormous number of existing copper plates, it is nevertheless surprising that Priestman was unable to find any for a number of Minton patterns, including Roman, Shepherd, Monks Rock, and English Scenery, and only two for The Hermit pattern, one of which was engraved on the reverse of another pattern. It seems probable that some of the Minton copper plates were sold in the mid-nineteenth century.
The earliest list of Minton printed patterns is thought to have been made about 1870, at the start of the Franco-Prussian war when the demand for copper for munitions would have affected their value. Other mid-century conflicts that may have affected the disposition of copper plates were the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856 and the Indian Mutiny in 1857. Priestman does not mention the inclusion of the previously named patterns in the 1870 record book, so it seems likely that the copper plates had been sold already. (Copeland produced a similar book about 1865 which recorded all, or nearly all, of the patterns. Some were marked Engravings destroyed, which meant that copper plates of redundant patterns were knocked upthe reverse surface was leveled by knocking up deeply engraved areas so that a new design might be engraved thereon.)
Collectors might wonder why manufacturers did not keep paper records of transfer-printed patterns that were printed in only one color. Keeping records of one color patterns was believed unnecessary because the engravings were almost always available. Pattern books were introduced to record those designs that were either entirely hand decorated or were embellished with extra color applied by hand, known as print and paint. These books usually only recorded patterns that were decorated on top of the glaze, sometimes called enamel decorations.
One factor affecting the thickness of the copper plates was the variation in cobalt colors. The early, thin plates were appropriate for the strong, deep color of cobalt blue, so the depth of the engraving was slight. Ceramic historian Paul Holdway has pointed out that the strength of cobalt lessened through time, requiring deeper line engraving and stipple punch work to achieve a comparable result. Hence, thicker copper plates were needed.3
For patterns for which no engraved copper plates have been found, Priestman has made use of his extensive collection of ceramic objects, linking their shapes to archival sources and identifying the patterns with those named in the lists retained in the archive collection. In this endeavor, he acknowledges the valuable and dedicated work of the late Alyn Giles Jones, the archivist appointed by John Hartill, the factorys last managing director before Royal Doulton acquired Minton. Jones created and maintained an enormous index of irreplaceable material.
One reason for the books focus on pattern identification is revealed in the chapter Early Minton Factory Marks. Nonetheless, one wonders why Minton was so reluctant to link his name to his early transfer-printed wares, only inscribing a modest scripted M instead of the formal printed marks that show such ingenuity of design.
The detailed photographs of printed workmens marks with the accompanying patterns are especially useful and must have taken a great deal of study to assemble. These marks are distinctive and should help collectors authenticate an attribution to Minton. As Priestman cautions, however, workmens marks cannot be any more than a guide since workers moved from one manufactory to another, and similar marks could have been used by others.
The chapter illustrating various shapes is quite helpful and, in the finer points of detail, should be of great assistance in attributing unmarked objects to Minton. In particular, the reproduction of part of the 1827 dinnerware factory book showing thirty different hollow ware shapes will be useful to collectors of blue-and-white, transfer-printed pottery.
One criticism, though minor, is the omission of various cup sizes. The inventory of January 1817 (p. 15) lists London handled teacups @ 5/- dozen, Norfolk handled cups @ 4/6 dozen, and Irish handled cups @ 6/6 dozen. London-size cups were the most common. Today, as in 1817, a teacup holds about seven to eight fluid ounces, so the most expensive Irish-size cup probably relates to todays breakfast-size cup, which holds nine to ten fluid ounces. The Norfolk cup may be equivalent to the coffee cup, holding five and one-half fluid ounces. As late as 1872, an industry Foreign Price List records only Norfolk-, London-, and Irish-size cups.
Also, the sizes of hollow ware (p. 257) are misrepresented. Numbers like 12s, 24s, 36s, and so forth, represent the number of clay objects to be counted carried on a six-foot ware board into the greenhouse (where the unfired, or green, clayware was collected and placed into the biscuit oven). A 12s pitcher, while being the basis for pricing a potters dozen, was also about five to five and one-half inches in diameter and would have held about two and one-half to three pints of fluid. A 36s pitcher holds one pint of sixteen fluid ounces. The sizes refer to dimensions, rather than to capacity. A clay maker needed to make, say, thirty-six pitchers of that size in order to earn the price per dozen. These sizes have been abandoned because the present staff in retail shops no longer understands the peculiarities of the pottery counts.4
Illustration captions are clear and detailed, including measurements in millimeters and approximate dates. The photographs are distinct and of a size that makes it easy to distinguish important features. Pictures of the plates and saucers reverse are unusual, but helpful. Use of the term foot ring is to be applauded, instead of the more widely used, and incorrect, term foot rim.
At the end of each chapter there is a list of references, 186 altogether, many attributed to the Minton archive collection. There is no separate bibliography. The two indexesone solely for pattern namescomplete this truly remarkable, thoroughly researched, and superbly illustrated publication.
The books importance as a record of the Minton factory heritage is accentuated by the pending loss of some of the material products of that tradition. The Minton manufactory site has been vacated and, as I write in May 2002, is being offered for sale along with most of the ceramic collection. Joan Jones has succeeded in retaining a small number of representative pieces for display in the Minton Room at the Royal Doulton Visitor Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The copper plate archive collection and the paper archive collection are accommodated at the Nile Street site of Royal Doulton in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
Historical Consultant to The Spode Museum Trust, Stoke-on-Trent