To call Staffordshire a capital of ceramic production would not be hyperbole; in the area’s heyday it was one of Britain’s top-producing pottery locales. The striking pieces created by past Staffordshire pottery studios continue to appeal to collectors today, who admire them for their brilliant craftsmanship and collectable styles. From the organic motifs of Moorcroft to the workshop wonders of Wedgwood, Staffordshire potters were some of the most celebrated ceramicists of all time.
Staffordshire pottery production centered around today’s Stoke-on-Trent, a city in north-central England that was once a collection of villages – including Burslem, Hanley, Shelton, Stoke, and Tunstall – all sited on a hub of rich deposits of clay. This natural abundance allowed earthenware production in the region to soar as early as the seventeenth century. The advent of European porcelain production only accelerated the development of Staffordshire as a hub for pottery, particularly thanks to the locally ample supply of kaolin-rich Devonshire clay. By the eighteenth century, Staffordshire porcelain creators had joined the ranks of the Staffordshire pottery makers in leading England’s ceramic market.
While the heyday of Staffordshire pottery has long since passed – thanks to mergers, closures, and shifts in production – the brilliant body of work produced by Staffordshire potters once located in the region continues to compel collectors on the auction market today. Here are some of the most recognizable makers of Staffordshire pottery who never fail to generate excitement among collectors.
Established in 1759, Wedgwood continues to be one of the most prestigious Staffordshire potters in history. Patriarch Josiah Wedgwood poured his passion for ceramicware into every line created by the iconic brand. This dedication resulted in Staffordshire porcelain and ceramic pieces produced over generations. Wedgwood is immediately recognised for its Jasperware line, but the factory broke new ground in their fearless exploration of new styles.
From Neoclassical motifs to whimsical nymphs and nature scenes incorporated into Fairyland Lustre ware, so progressive was Josiah Wedgwood that he even made teapots for protest purposes, as revealed in a 1765 creation in protest of the Stamp Act. That tiny teapot sold for a steep $112,000, the standing record price for a piece of Wedgwood porcelain. Other examples of Wedgwood wonder, however, can be found for much more palatable prices.
Equally versatile in style were the Staffordshire potters of Minton, a studio opened by Thomas Minton in the closing years of the eighteenth century. Early works by Minton tended to showcase Neoclassical splendor similar to Wedgwood. But as tastes changed, so too did Minton’s makers. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the appeal of Art Nouveau design meant that Minton’s creations incorporated more organic elements from nature. It is one of these works that currently holds a record price for Minton: a monumental majolica peacock figurine sold at a 2010 Christie’s auction for more than $170,000.
One of the later additions to the Staffordshire pottery landscape, Doulton pottery began as an outlet near London but later opened its first factory in the Staffordshire area in the 1880s. At the time, Doulton’s reputation for exceptional bone china was on the rise. Indeed, not long after their Staffordshire debut, the brand earned its royal warrant, thereby becoming Royal Doulton and earning international acclaim. Most of Doulton’s production involved decorative wares, with impressive Doulton vases one of the most coveted collector categories on the auction market today.
Moorcroft pottery also built on the beauty of Art Nouveau by pairing luminous glazes with blooms and motifs taken from nature. Moorcroft enjoyed a meteoric rise to success, from the acclaimed debut of founder William Moorcroft’s ‘Florian’ pattern in 1904 to the maker’s receipt of a royal warrant from Queen Mary in 1928 and the subsequent ‘Hazeldene’ pattern commissioned for sale exclusively with London’s Liberty department store. This triumph lingers on in the examples of Moorcroft pottery that come to market today.
A Mention of Staffordshire Pottery Marks
Given the plethora of Staffordshire potters and the generations of pottery production in the Staffordshire region, it can at times be challenging to determine dates and makers of a given piece. Staffordshire pottery marks can be helpful in this regard, as each studio developed their own insignia and means of marking their work. That being said, the vast majority of Staffordshire pottery marks – at least from the 1850s onward – have one emblem in common: a loosely-knotted length of rope, which often appeared adjacent to, or in combination with, other specific symbols associated with the maker’s factory. This knot, which often included elements like the date within the loops of rope, is a sure sign that your ceramic piece has a connection to Staffordshire pottery.
Seek Out Staffordshire Pottery
Staffordshire pottery makes it an ideal collecting category given the sheer variety of makers and styles that once were made in the region. Whether your goal is to seek out a singular Staffordshire potter or to acquire a selection that showcases some regional diversity, owning examples of Staffordshire pottery means owning a piece from British pottery history.