English pottery had long been produced in the form of stoneware and earthenware, but it was some time before a successful home-grown recipe for porcelain was discovered. By the 18th century, the desire for costly porcelain imports from China had become so great that Europe was in a race to discover how to make the such delicate ceramics closer to home. Across the continent, chemists were working hard on a solution to the porcelain problem.
History books generally credit Johann Friedrich Böttger of Meissen for first arriving at a solution to porcelain in Europe, although this has been disputed in recent years, with some claiming that it was the English who first discovered the recipe. Around 1742, Thomas Briand of Chelsea Porcelain Works demonstrated the solution at the Royal Society (the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences) with a recipe likely inspired by the French St Cloud formulation. Briand’s formulation was used and refined for use in Chelsea porcelain, but ultimately it was the work of Josiah Spode that meant the formulation was perfected, keeping English ceramics at the forefront of the industry in Europe.
As with ceramic production across Europe, much of the production of English porcelain was focused around regional centres of excellence such as Staffordshire, Derby and London. Many of the producers are still in production to this day, but the pieces from the 1700-1800s are often the most coveted wares. While there are many well-known producers, there were a few stand-out manufacturers, some of whom went on to receive the royal seal of approval. The centuries-old history of many of the manufacturers, and the numerous craftsmen in their employ, means that makers marks changed many times over the years.
English porcelain marks can indicate:
- Who made the piece
- Where the piece was made
- When the piece was made
- When a new factory owner was introduced
Read on for a loose guide to the porcelain marks used by the major porcelain manufacturers in English history.
Chelsea Porcelain Works, Est. 1743
Chelsea Porcelain was one of the earliest producers of porcelain in England. The factory used the formulation demonstrated by Thomas Briand. Whereas many of its counterparts focused on their serveware, Chelsea porcelain was particularly well known for its figurines. They drew influence from Europe, particularly Meissen, and Sèvres.
Chelsea was somewhat inconsistent in their use of marks, and different styles often overlapped, but the use of the small anchor allows for consistent identification. As a loose guide, there were four periods of Chelsea marks:
(Royal) Worcester, Est. 1751
The title of oldest (or second oldest) is attributed to Royal Worcester. The reason for the uncertainty is that Royal Crown Derby also claims to have been established in 1751. The company was granted a royal warrant of appointment from 1788, at which point Royal was added to the Worcester name.
Early marks were experimental, although a crescent was commonly featured. Other periods of inspiration by Chinese ceramics gave way to crude interpretations of Chinese symbols for use as a maker’s mark.
The most common printed factory mark for Royal Worcester features intertwined “W” letters that form a circle with “51” in the center, relating to the date that Worcester was established. These are usually topped by a crown. From 1867 onwards, marks for Royal Worcester often include a complex code to indicate the year of production. Further details of these codes can be found on the Royal Worcester Museum’s website.
A typical Royal Worcester factory mark would be printed in any color, with the number 51, surrounded by cursive W’s, topped by a crown. The name “Royal Worcester England” would have been added from 1891 onwards.
(Royal Crown) Derby, Est. 1751
Royal Derby argues that it is the oldest English porcelain manufacturer still in production. Derby porcelain was established around 1751 by Andre Planche and William Duesbury. The company quickly established itself as a leader in the industry. It went on to acquire both the Chelsea and Bow porcelain factories in 1770 and 1766 respectively, further cementing its reputation. The royal crown was given in 1773, when the company changed its name from Derby to Royal Crown Derby.
Prior to royal approval, early pieces of Derby pottery included crossed swords. Upon receipt of royal approval, the crown was incorporated into the mark, and a D used.
When Derby acquired the Chelsea factory, the D and the Chelsea anchor were interlinked. From this point onwards, Derby marks may have included a combination of the crown, a D, and on occasion, crossed swords.
Wedgwood, Est. 1759
Wedgwood is one of the best-known English ceramics producers. Josiah Wedgwood had set up the company in 1759, around the time English porcelain was making its mark on a global stage. Josiah Wedgwood was an innovative scientist, developing Queen’s Ware (an earthenware answer to porcelain), Black Basalt (a delicate black porcelain), and the company’s most distinctive line to date: Wedgwood blue Jasperware.
Wedgwood marks have changed numerous times over the history of the company. However, marks consistently included the name Wedgwood, except for a short period between 1769-1780, when marking very small intaglios. Wedgwood was also one of the first factory potters to establish a factory mark which will be helpful to collectors.
Spode, Est. 1770
Arguably, the most important thing about the Spode name actually from Josiah Spode’s work prior to his formation of the Spode company. Josiah Spode (1733 – 1797) was responsible for refining the porcelain production process, resulting in some of the most high-quality English porcelain of his day. His formulation was adopted by much of the rest of the industry was thought to be admired by audiences in France.
While Spode is still in production to this day, much of its most highly regarded work dates back to the era of Josiah Spode and son’s era until 1833, when William Taylor Copeland (the son of William Copeland, who served as Josiah Spode II’s business partner) came to the helm.
Spode’s ranges followed broader trends of the time, but are particularly well known for their blue transfer underglaze technique that was used on many Spode pieces. As with many of the older porcelain manufacturers, Spode regularly changed their marks, with hundreds used over its 250-year history. Prior to William Copeland joining the business, many early pieces would be unmarked, or simply had a pattern number. The name Copeland subsequently featured in almost all marks. From the 1800s onwards, date marks were regularly used which will, of course, help significantly with dating any pieces.
(Royal) Doulton, Est. 1815
Royal Doulton was established in 1815, and was another producer that arrived at porcelain production later than many of its competitors. Originally Doulton was known predominantly for its stoneware and utilitarian pieces. Like Chelsea, Doulton may be best known for its figurines as well as colorful commemorative jugs and tankards. Doulton noticed a growing public appetite for colorful glazed porcelain and acquired a small producer of porcelain in order to add porcelain to their output in 1882. The company was granted the royal warrant in 1901.
Doulton marks are one of the easier to identify; for much of the 1800s the consisted of simple stamps impressed into the base of each piece and included ‘Doulton’ in some form. The late 1800s onwards saw a move towards four interlocking D’s.
The variety of producers of English porcelain extends beyond this list and it may be difficult to identify some of the earlier porcelain pieces by even well-known manufacturers. However, as the techniques became more refined and the companies established themselves as leaders in the industry across Europe, English porcelain marks marks became more consistent and are a useful tool in identifying these unique pieces.