Antiques: Pitchers, plates and mugs from Liverpool info


Liverpool earthenware, decorated with a Line drawing printed by transfer in black as though drawn with India ink, was the first attempt in England to produce an inexpensive tableware with scenic, political, symbolic, or even comic decoration. The designs were no longer reproductions of those of the Chinese, but subjects of everyday life as it was then taking place at home or in the American settlements on the other side of the broad Atlantic.

Just who invented transfer printing on earthenware has been a matter of dispute. John Sadler and Guy Green claimed to have done so in 1756 when they opened a Printed Ware Manufactory in Liverpool and stated that they would take out a patent for it. They never did so, however, and as transfer printing was being done at Battersea, just outside of London, as early as 1753, it is now conceded that the actual inventor was an Irish engraver named John Brooks.

One of the best markets for earthenware so decorated was America. Consequently, a letter from Benjamin Franklin, whose finger was in nearly every inventive pie, is of special interest.

Written from London, November 3, 1773, it read in part:

Now, we are speaking of inventions, I know not who pretends to that of copper-plate engraving for earthen ware, and I am not disposed to contest the honour with anybody, as the improvement in taking impressions not directly from the plate, but from printed paper, applicable by that means to other than flat forms, is far beyond my first idea. But I have reason to apprehend that I might have given the hint on which that improvement was made; for more than twenty years since, I wrote Dr. Mitchell from America proposing to him the printing of square tiles for ornamenting chimneys, from copper plates, describing the manner in which I thought it might be done, and advising the borrowing from the booksellers the plates that had been used in a thin folio called "Moral Virtue Delineated," for that purpose * * * Dr. Mitchell wrote me in answer that he had communicated my scheme to several of the artists in the earthen way about London, who rejected it as impracticable.

Dr. Franklin's "hint" may well have set off the train of thought that culminated in the transfer printing process at Battersea, but the two men who commercialised and made it widely used were Sadler and Green of Liverpool. This is not surprising, for this seaport was founded on expediency and apparently populated by opportunists. From the time of William the Conqueror until the thirteenth century, its site had been a part of royal grants, forfeitures, and regrants to various individuals for services rendered. Then silt in the River Dee spoiled neighbouring Chester as a seaport. For easy access to Ireland, Liverpool on the Mersey was seen to have distinct possibilities in its stead.

Accordingly, King John bought it from Henry Fitzwarine, falconer to his father, Henry II, and gave him other lands in exchange. Henry III followed this up by making it a free borough forever, but not until the Restoration did its real rise in commerce begin. Then by the end of the seventeenth century its population had grown from one to five thousand. In 1709 a ship carried fifteen Negro slaves across the Atlantic from Liverpool. It was profitable and by the middle of the century some fifty-three ships were plying from this seaport to Africa and thence to the West Indies where the slaves were sold and sugar and rum bought. Another fifty years and five-sixths of the entire African slave trade centred in Liverpool. And in 1807, just before the abolition of this inhuman traffic in "black gold," there were close to two hundred ships carrying a yearly average of about fifty thousand slaves. Privateering also flourished in this port during the latter half of the eighteenth century.

Commercially, at least, Liverpool was broad-minded. When the American colonies rebelled against the mother country, Liverpool potteries made a definite bid for the trade of the young republic, particularly with their wares decorated by transfer patterns. The very ships that carried human cargo to American ports likewise bore pitchers, mugs, and even punch bowls of cream-coloured ware decorated in black with portraits of important Americans, such as Samuel Adams, John Hancock, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or with designs complimentary to the newly formed United States of America.

For Liverpool was more than a port where ships came and went. The potting activities of Staffordshire were felt there and not only were quantities of ware exported but much was made within its limits. Early in the eighteenth century Alderman Thomas Shaw had his Delft works at Shaw's Brow. As time went on other potters established themselves in the general neighbourhood until some twenty potteries were listed in the Liverpool directory of 1769. Among these were Richard Chaffers, who learned his trade from Shaw; John Pennington, whose products so well imitated Oriental porcelain that they are often mistaken for it; Zachariah Barnes, whose Delft ware appealed especially to the Welsh ; John Sadler, who with Guy Green commercialised transfer printing; the Herculaneum Pottery and that of Richard Hall & Sons.

All these firms worked independently of each other and on different lines concurrently. But definitely associated in the American mind with Liverpool were certain souvenir pieces of cream-coloured pottery with black transfer printed designs. Josiah Wedgwood brought this ware to a high state of development and in 1763 named it Queensware for Queen Charlotte. He always referred to it as "useful" ware and, for a time at least, sent it some thirty miles by cart from his Burslem pottery to Sadler and Green at Liverpool for the black printed decoration. He was often there himself to import clay Or look after his export trade to America. It was on one of these visits that he met Thomas Bentley, who became his partner in 1768. Queensware was made also in Bristol, Leeds, Sunderland, and Liverpool. The last-named produced it in a slightly greyer tone and it was a bit harder and heavier than the ware made by Wedgwood.

Of these pieces, designed to catch the eye of the seafaring man as presents for friends or relatives back in his home port, the most popular were pitchers of various sizes. A close second in favour were mugs. Plates and handleless cups and saucers were made, as were occasional punch bowls. The bowls were favourite presents for the captain of a ship. The designs were as varied as the tastes of the buyers. Since they were widely sold to shipmasters and other officers and quite possibly to many of the crew, pitchers with ship decorations were much in evidence. These were stock designs with special wording added.

According to the purchaser, the ship adorning the piece might have any name or fly any flag since these marks of individuality were added for him by hand. Under the spout, too, was usually a design where his name and that of the intended recipient could be worked in and the whole given added firing. Colours were added in the same way. The flags shown on these pieces are usually either English or American but occasionally an example is found with some European flag in evidence.

In addition to ship decorations there were those depicting Masonic emblems, likenesses of eminent people, sentimental or comic scenes, rural life to please the farmer, and delineations that appealed to the merchant. There were symbolic decorations glorifying the United States wherein Washington and the American eagle figured prominently. Many of these were hazy as to geography and vague as to political entity, but the spirit of the whole was sufficiently flattering to render these pitchers and mugs popular with Americans.

The heyday of this black-and-white ware was from about 1790 to between 1810 and 1815. Toward the end, colour was introduced and, in some cases, luster. Then came the blue-and-white and other colours in transfer patterns and the popularity of the Liverpool pitcher was over for the time being.
As stated before, not all the pitchers were made in Liverpool. Many came from various of the Staffordshire potteries and were merely sold at this port since it was one of the main outlets. Further, of the potters making them in Liverpool itself, only two consistently marked their wares. One was Herculaneum; the other was Richard Hall & Sons.

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