My Tea Set: Why the Flowers Match

Pretty much any item you pick up can teach you something—from the details of its manufacture to why it exists in the first place.

teapot-web
Teapot by Arthur Wood & Son, Staffordshire, England

When the western world first encountered tea, accouterments were required: teapots, teacups, saucers, sugar bowls, creamers, teaspoons.

In England, the Staffordshire area (see previous post) had a deep history of making pottery so the potteries readily accommodated increased demands. Eventually the area was humming along with some 2,000 bottle ovens, and many manufacturers—more than 1,500!—comprised the Potteries.

teapot-mark-web
Maker’s mark on teapot

One such was Arthur Wood, established in 1884 but evolving from ancestors Ralph and Enoch Wood, who began making pottery back in the 1700s.

Like many pottery companies, the name changed as partnerships formed and dissolved (Birks):

  • early–mid-1700s: Ralph Wood was one of the first English potters to put his own name on his pieces
  • 1750: Aaron Wood opened his own pottery business
  • late 1700s: Ralph Wood Jr. supplied items to Josiah Wedgwood
  • late 1700s–early 1800s: Enoch Wood first partnered with his cousin Ralph Wood, and then with James Caldwell (Wood & Caldwell). He then operated as Enoch Wood & Sons until the company closed in 1846.
  • 1884: Arthur Wood and partners Alfred and William Capper opened their factory, Capper and Companywhich became (Alfred) Capper and Wood in 1893, and then finally just Arthur Wood.
  • Arthur’s son Gerald joined his father in 1924, so the name became Arthur Wood & Son in 1928.

Finally, the company was bought out in 1989, which dates my teapot to the years between 1928 and 1989. Although the company made various wares, they specialized in teapots.

My sugar bowl, while decorated with the same pansy pattern as the teapot, was made by Melba Kitchenware.

Historically, four independent companies used the name “Melba.” Of these, H Wain & Sons was likely the precursor to my piece: their factory was called Melba Works and their marks are very similar to that on my bowl.

melba marksThey operated from 1946 to the mid-1980s, placing the sugar bowl firmly in the twentieth century.

And those identical pansies?

While some china was (and still is) hand painted, these pansy-decorated pieces were not. You can easily see a sort of dot matrix-type pattern within the flowers when you look more closely.

teapot-close-up-web

Transfer prints were used already in 1755 by Sadler and Green. That is, decorations could be transferred to pottery by applying ink to a copper plate that had been engraved with the pattern and then pressing that plate against the pottery. The pattern could be left as-is or colored in by hand, sort of like paint-by-number. By the early 1800s, color transfers were used.

This process allowed faster production with less-skilled labor, which in turn made the ware affordable to the middle class.

A hundred years later, in 1851, an even more foolproof method was developed—and is still used today by companies like Duchess China.

Rather than transferring a pattern, a pattern sheet, or lithograph, is applied by hand to an item’s moistened glazed surface and smoothed with a sponge; the item is then fired, adhering the pattern to the glaze.

That’s why the sugar bowl can say “hand crafted,” and that’s how at least three different companies turned out pieces that boast nearly identical decoration.

utensils-web
Made in Staffordshire
flowers-on-all-pieces-CROP-web
Made by various companies in Staffordshire

Today, inexpensive ware is mass produced, and we assume that no actual person applied  decoration.

So any teapot, for instance, can tell a story—because why and how it was made tells us in part who it was made for. Where once that hand-applied lithograph made an item accessible to more people, today that same hand-done element makes it pricier and perhaps less affordable.

Yet the purpose of that teapot, the why (politics of domestically made vs imported Chinese ware aside), remains the same: to brew, serve, and share the beverage that captured the world.


Sources:
–”Arthur Wood backstamps . . . ,” The Vintage Teacup and Vintage Keepsakes, https://thevintageteacup.us/pages/arthur-wood-backstamps-potters-marks.
–The Local History of Stoke-on-Trent, England, by Steve Birks, thepotteries.org.  

–”Staffordshire pottery marks,” Pottery–English, https://pottery-english.com/staffordshire-pottery-marks/.
–”Transfer printing,” Encyclopædia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/art/transfer-printing.
–”Welcome to Arthur Wood teapots,” A Bit of Britain, https://www.abitofbritain.com/arthur-wood-teapots.htm.

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