11196 A SATINWOOD AND GILT-BRASS MOUNTED CIRCULAR CENTER TABLE BEARING AN EXQUISITE ‘ADELAIDE GREEN’ PORCELAIN TOP BY COPELAND & GARRETT English. Circa 1841. Measurements: Height: 29″ (74 cm) Diameter: 37 7/16″ (95 cm)
Of satinwood, gilt-brass, giltwood and composition, and porcelain. The circular porcelain top with green ground centered by a round white reserve with painted floral group surrounded by three white reserves painted with floral festoons, each enclosed by raised gold scrolling decoration, within a molded gilt-bronze border. The whole supported by a shaped central stem with foliate gilt-bronze base, the three outer gilt bronze legs terminating in foliate decoration. The whole raised on a tripod base supported by three gilt brass feet. Gilding to some parts of the base refreshed.
Backstamp to reverse of porcelain top: ‘COPELAND AND GARRETT’ surrounded by floral spray with crown above.
The Goldschmidt-Rothschild Collection, Probably Villa Grüneberg, Frankfurt
Thence by descent
This table features an exceptional and very large porcelain top by the firm of Copeland & Garrett, the 19th century extension of the Spode pottery works operating between 1833-1847, and is marked with the firm’s backstamp to the reverse (figure 1). Its design was recorded in 1841 in the company’s Fixing Books, part of a series of production records, and was almost certainly executed as a special commission. Following exhaustive research and wide-ranging consultation with porcelain experts we can confirm that this appears to be the largest circular tabletop ever produced by Copeland & Garrett and it also seems to be the only extant circular porcelain tabletop by the firm. As such, it constitutes an incredibly rare survival of the firm’s output and visual record of production.
The Spode pottery works was founded by Josiah Spode I (1733-1797) in the 1770s. He began his career at the age of sixteen as an employee of the English potter Thomas Whieldon, who recorded hiring the boy in his memorandum books in an entry dated April 9, 1749: “Hired Siah Spoade, to give him from this time to Martelmas next 2s. 3d or 2s.6d. if he Deserves it.”1 After his tenure with Whieldon, Spode seems to have found intermediate employment, possibly at the pottery of William Banks before opening his own factory at Stoke-on-Trent; it was Banks’ potworks that were sold to Spode in 1776.
His son, Josiah II, assisted him in running the business and opened a London warehouse and showroom in 1778 for the firm to serve their metropolitan clientele. The two greatest contributions of father and son at this time had been perfecting blue under-the-glaze transfer printing in the 1780s, which proved to be a lucrative substitute for Chinese blue and white porcelain, and developing and refining the formula for bone china in the 1790s. Spode also served as potters to the Royal family and various members made visits to the firm; in September of 1806 the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Clarence, the Marquis of Stafford and other dignitaries toured the Spode factory, and in 1817 Queen Charlotte and Princess Elizabeth visited the London shop.
Josiah II returned home from London upon the death of his father in 1797, leaving the premises in the capable hands of his partner William Copeland. In 1827 the third generation took over when Josiah Spode III inherited the factory. He died just two years later, however, at which point the business was acquired by Copeland’s son, William Taylor Copeland, who took into partnership Spode’s principal salesman, Thomas Garrett.
Thus began the period between 1833 and 1847 during which the firm traded as Copeland & Garrett. These years “proved to be not only profitable for the firm but also the starting point of many innovations which were to keep [their name] at the forefront of the pottery industry.”2 An article in The Penny Magazine of May 1843 entitled “Day in the Staffordshire Potteries” described the works as “the largest in the district: they give employment to nearly a thousand persons and appear more like a small town than a manufactory…Altogether there are nearly a hundred and twenty separate workshops, in which people are employed upon almost every variety of pottery and porcelain.”3 Under this new management, the pottery works continued to make every day wares for use in the home such as dinner-, dessert-, tea-, and cookware, while at the same time expanding its range to more specialized items including door plates, key escutcheons, leg baths, fireplace surrounds and table tops. In 1847 Thomas Garrett left the partnership and the firm continued as W.T. Copeland.
The present circular top was manufactured circa 1841 in a highly technical, multi-step process. First, the initial biscuit firing of the slab took place. Slabs, or very large panels, were complicated to manufacture from clay, but the “Spode factory was renowned for the quality of its slabs, not least that they were consistently able to produce them absolutely flat.”4 The second step was the glost firing in which the glaze was fused to the ceramic body. The firings took place in traditional coal-fired bottle ovens, huge brick structures so-called for their shape. Those ovens used in the first two firing stages could hold as many as 36,000 pieces of pottery at a time. Smaller ovens were employed for the more delicate production phase of applied decoration. The present top was next decorated using a very expensive and complicated method called groundlaying,’ the application of a solid, uniform coat of background color. The process involved outlining and hand-painting the areas to be colored and protecting those areas that were not, and comprised at least 6 separate firings.
Further decorative elements are the floral hand painting and elaborate decoration in flat gold, raised gold and lined gold, which would also have had to be fired. According to specialist and former curator of the Spode Museum, Pamela Wooliscroft, “it is highly likely that the piece was fired up to 10 times, at temperatures varying from 1200 degrees Celsius (for the first biscuit fire) down to 750 degrees Celsius for the final gold firing. During each firing the piece would have been highly vulnerable to the risk of destruction from the coal firing process as well as other damage as it progressed through the various specialist departments on the 10 acre site of the factory.”5
As noted, the record for the tabletop is listed in a ledger within a series of documents that are known as Fixings Books, kept as part of the Spode/Copeland production records. Each book contains dozens of handwritten entries, occasionally accompanied by sketches, outlining the costs for part of the manufacture of individual items. The records do not indicate total production cost or retail prices, but appear to concentrate only on the decorating costs of each piece.
The present top is found in the volume entitled Fixings Book from October 25th 1839 to May 1841, and was recorded on 29th March 1841 (figure 2). The entry reads as follows:
WG Rich bas relief Victoria scrolls (?) on 391 Green & inner gold border
with group in centre & festoons in panels
1 36 inch Circular Table Top
2 1/2 gns
Grounds……………………..1. 6. 0
Gilding………………….…..2. 0. 0
Painting……………………..2. 2. 0
Gold…………………..……..2. 0. 0
White……………………………2. 2. 0
8. 12. 0
4. 6. 0
12.18. 0 (£12. 18s. 0d)
The record gives a brief description of the design and outlines the various decorative techniques and their costs, although certain details of the records are a bit esoteric. ‘WG’ at the beginning of the entry indicates the type of ceramic body used. Other examples of ceramic bodies would be china, stone china, and ‘EW’ for earthenware. There is no indication in the Fixings Books as to the meaning of ‘WG.’ According to Ms. Woolliscroft “it is one of those abbreviations so well known at the time there was no need to write it out.”6 It is possible that the abbreviation stands for White Glaze, a theory that is supported by the existence of a Copeland recipe for ‘Pearl White Glaze.’ While not exactly a ceramic body, the abbreviation appears in the entries for other tabletops, fireplace panels and tiles, which always had a white glaze. At the very least it “may be a good quality pottery body strong enough to manufacture slabs.”7
The next part of the description applies to the gilding on the table; the ‘rich bas relief’ likely refers to the raised gold design, while the inner gold border denotes a narrow gold line along the raised ornamentation. The word ‘Victoria,’ which, as can be seen in figure 2 was inserted after the entry had been written, is the name for the design of the gilding. Copeland and Garrett used a related shape on tableware called Victoria Embossed but it was uncommon and less elaborate from what appears on the present top. The gold used on Copeland’s wares was real gold of nearly 24 carats. The stock was kept in a special gold safe and was prepared by one of the directors of the firm in the room with the safe using specific scales for weighing the gold, and a pestle and mortar for grinding it. The pestle and mortar made by Copeland & Garrett for its own use is today in the collection of the Spode Museum (figure 3). Several members of the Copeland family were also members of the Goldsmith’s Company, including W.T. Copeland, who served as Prime Warden.
The background color, applied using the groundlaying technique mentioned above, is given as ‘391 Green.’ Many different shades within a color family were available and each was given a name. A different pattern by Copeland, No. 6429, is recorded in the Spode Pattern Books circa 1840 that used ‘Adelaide Green No. 391,’ a color that matches the present top. Later entries, including the one for the present top in the 1841 Fixings Book, omit the ‘Adelaide’ and shorten the description to ‘No. 391 Green.’
The remainder of the description makes reference to the hand painted decoration. ‘Group’ is the word for an arrangement of flowers found at the center of the tabletop and ‘festoons in panels’ clearly means the swags of flowers in the reserves surrounding the group.
Although more than one floral decorated tabletop was produced by Copeland & Garrett, the top detailed in the Fixings Book entry above is the only one found with a diameter consistent with that of the present example, at 36 inches. The actual slab would have been made slightly bigger to account for shrinkage during the first firing. The precise measurement of the present tabletop at 35.8 inches accounts for this. In general, circular slabs are rare in the firm’s records, and those that exist measure 22 or 24 inches in diameter.8
The cost breakdown for decoration takes into account the groundlaying, stenciling (process that preserves white reserves for hand painting), gilding and hand painting, as well as the tools and materials required to perform these steps, and resulted in a fixed cost of 12 pounds 18 shillings. The amount 15 guineas (15 pounds, 15 shillings) is also recorded, which may be the final decoration cost. Other sums of 2 ½ guineas and 2 shillings are jotted but do not have any clear meaning.
Under William Taylor Copeland’s direction the decoration and shapes of the wares became more elaborate, and, after the painter Thomas Battam joined the firm as art superintendent, ornament and embellishment continued to increase. During this period the pottery also occupied an important position at international exhibitions both at home and abroad, notably the Manchester Exhibition of 1845-46 (figure 4). By this time Copeland & Garrett was “issuing great slabs of flower-painted china for furniture use,”9 under the art direction of Battam. The Art Union magazine 1846 coverage of the exhibition was predominantly dedicated to the firm:
“The stand, devoted to the productions of Messrs. Copeland & Garrett occupies the whole centre of a small exhibition room, it is so arranged as to display to advantage the various works, which consist of porcelain slabs of very large dimensions adapted for fireplaces, panels for furniture, tops for tables, drawing-room or toilet, etc…The visitors to the Exposition will be first struck by the exceeding beauty of the flower painting…The delicacy and beauty of the art is most apparent in a table top with groups and festoons of flowers.”10
It goes on: “Flower painting on porcelain has been brought to very high perfection by the artists of this establishment…some of the flower pieces on Copeland and Garrett’s stall are painted in very subdued tones, and have not only the natural appearance of flowers seen behind sunshine…but have the suggestive force of calling imagination into action to explain the atmospheric case, which actually reveals, while it seems to hide, the beauty of the floral group…”11
The names of artists and gilders were not recorded by the company at this date, but the present top, like other special commissions, is decorated to the highest standard and the flower painting, of superb quality, would have been executed by the finest painters at the factory.
Like most entries in the fixing books, no mention of a customer name appears within the record for the tabletop. However, other entries were occasionally associated with names of patrons, agents or retailers, often added at a later date, giving an idea of the type of clientele for whom the company made such high-end items. Within the same Fixing Book as the record for the present tabletop, customers who were named include HM Queen Victoria, the Queen Dowager, the Duchess of Sutherland, the Countess of Coventry, the Countess of Burlington, Lord Russell, The Reform Club and Bonhams.
The top rests on a base incorporating Neo-Rococo gilt ornament, which chimes perfectly with the date of the porcelain top i.e. 1841-47. It shares clear similarities with a model of center table supplied by Morel and Seddon in 1828 as part of a commission for Windsor Castle (figure 5). These include a foliate molded gilt-bronze border around the table top, and a tripod base with central stem and three narrow surrounding legs with further gilt foliate decoration. In 1828 Morel and Seddon took on the project of furnishing Windsor Castle for George IV. Apart from a large commission of furniture for the Marquess of Stafford at Stafford House in 1830, the work of Morel and Seddon appears to have been restricted to royal work; the Windsor commission was one of the largest orders for furniture ever undertaken. Interestingly, many of the various pieces of furniture by Morel and Seddon for the royal apartments were veneered in satinwood, as are the present piece and the Windsor Castle table.
The fashion for porcelain mounted furniture, which had been popular in mid-18th century France, was adopted in England in the 19th century especially amongst the English aristocracy and royalty, particularly George IV, who had a taste for ancien regime objects. The Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory had been producing porcelain slabs for furniture mounting from the mid-1700s. The circular variety, known as grandes plaques rondes, were incorporated into the work of leading ébénistes of the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods, such as Claude-Charles Saunier and Martin Carlin; two tables and a secretary by Carlin incorporating floral porcelain plaques are illustrated in figure 6. The style of floral patterns in white reserves on a colorful field (in some cases of a very similar green to the present table) also has design precedent at Sèvres, as can be seen in their 18th century pattern books for the decoration of plates and comparable examples of tableware (figure 7).
The present table formed part of the collection of the Goldschmidt-Rothschild family at Villa Grüneburg, Frankfurt (figure 8). Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) founded the great banking business in the mid-18th century that would become a veritable empire across Europe, with family branches in London, Paris, Vienna, Naples and Frankfurt. The Villa Grüneburg was built on the estate of Mayer’s grandson Amschel von Rothschild, which he had given to his niece and nephew, Charlotte and Anselm. It was constructed beginning in 1835 by the architect Jacob von Essen and decorated by the painter Jean Nicholas Ventadour. “Charlotte originally wanted it designed in an English manner, but ultimately it was built primarily in a French style.”12 The house remained in the family until it was purchased by the city of Frankfurt in 1935, but in 1944 the property was destroyed in the war. As the construction of the villa is contemporary to the date of the table, it is likely it was commissioned or acquired specifically for the house and research into this provenance is ongoing.
We are extremely grateful to Pamela Wooliscroft for conducting the archival research at the Spode archives and providing a written report for this tabletop, which has been included in the above description. Similarly we are also obliged to Nic Boston, whose enthusiasm and research guidance for the top is very much appreciated.
- “Josiah Spode I:Early Pottery Experience.” Spode Exhibition Online | Josiah Spode I:Early Pottery Experience. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.
- Wilkinson, Vega. Spode-copeland-spode: The Works and Its People, 1770-1970. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2002. 60.
- Knight, Charles. “Day in the Staffordshire Potteries”. The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. London: C. Knight, 1842. 204.
- Wooliscroft, Pamela. A Copeland & Garrett Table Top: Research Report for Carlton Hobbs LLC. 19 July 2016.
- 7. Ibid.
- Hughes, Therle. “Fadeless Flowers of the Potter, Spode-Copeland at Stoke-on-Trent.” Country Life Magazine. Vol. CXLI No 3667, 15 June 1967. 1510.
- The Art Union. Volume 8. London: Palmer and Clayton, 1846.
- Cohen, Evelyn M. Charlotte ‘Chilly’ von Rothschild: mother, connoisseur, and artist. The Rothschild Archive Review of the Year April 2012 to March 2013. The Rothschild Archive Trust, 2013, p. 30.