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Shaping a Lip of a Cylinder

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Cindy is a pottery teacher in Malaysia and conduct clay classes & ceramic workshops.

Not just a pretty plate

The French finally discovered kaolin to make the hard-paste porcelain which the region of Limoges is now famous for.

Chinaware has a rich and fascinating history beyond its practical use.

"Will the prized treasures of today always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of our willow-pattern dinner plates be ranged over the chimney-pieces in the years 2000 and odd?” (Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat).

 
Limoges cracker jar circa 1890. After struggling with soft-paste porcelain in Sèvres.

Well, in one word: yes. My love affair with old china is a modest but steadfast one. It began about a decade ago with two saucers from Société Céramique de Maastricht. As saucers go, they were just about averagely pretty. And if you, like my husband, agree with the expression, “What’s a pretty plate with nothing on it?”, you are probably wondering what the fuss is all about.

It is not something that can be coherently explained. When I first lay eyes on those two saucers in a thieves’ market in Mumbai, I felt as though I was looking at 100 years of life being lived. Perhaps a woman from another age did all the things I do today – had a cup of tea, washed up afterwards ? wondered why there were always dishes to wash?

The use of primary colours in the hand painting and the spatterware pattern of rust and cobalt flower heads, green leaves detailed with magenta and green tear drop brush strokes is known as “Gaudy Dutch” and the plates that I have are circa 1863-1887. Soon after that, the company changed hands and the Société Céramique name and seal were discontinued.
 

A Merit cup and saucer, stamped “Made in Occupied Japan”, which have considerable value as they were made after WWII during the occupation of Japan by Allied powers.

After the Maastricht plates, I acquired a beautiful floral sugar bowl. On the back was a green wreath with the words “R.S. Prussia” stamped in red. For years, it reposed in my cupboard.

 
 

I would admire the colour and delicate design and put it back, never dreaming that there was more to it than its pretty face.

Many of the pieces are incomplete – saucers without cups, teapots without lids and so on. Most of them, like mine, have been badly glued together. Fakes, of course, abound. But even so, the eggshell-like quality of my sugar bowl and its beautiful colouring make it special – in my eyes, at least. Never mind that Sotheby’s will not be beating down a track to my door as soon as they read this.

Then a tiny Japanese hand-painted saucer came into my life. This plate – whose mate, an equally tiny teacup, was carelessly separated from it forever – turned me eastwards and even today, I follow Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s advice (at least in all matters concerning porcelain).
 


R.S. Prussia sugar bowl
such pieces date over 100 years old.

At around that time, I found myself in possession of an oval platter, of floral design. It had a flower stamped on the back, with the words “hand painted” along with something in Japanese. The Japanese words turned out to be “Hotta Yu Shoten”, which was a manufactory that wound up around the 1940s and that was prolific in the early 1900s.

Reinhold Schlegelmilch (R.S.) produced what collectors consider to be R.S. Prussia in his factory from the late 1800s through World War I. So most R.S. pieces that are around today are over 100 years old and of immense interest to collectors.

There are even R.S. Prussia clubs – very similar to the Rajnikanth clubs in Chennai.

 

British porcelain first came to me in the form of a rather unassuming, though very pretty sauceboat and two crescent-shaped plates from Ashworth Brothers, circa 1860. The company was based in Hanley, Staffordshire, from 1862 to 1968 and it usually produced ironstone tableware.

I will prepare to wind up this meandering journey at the place I began it: J’s willow patterned plates. The pattern was popularised by Thomas Minton. I acquired the Booth version, circa 1900, which was the most beautiful in my opinion, as the gilt sets off the plate most beautifully.

The story of the Booths Pottery started in 1864, when Thomas Booth, then a coal miner, started manufacturing earthenware in partnership with a John Evans. The name of this extremely popular manufactory saw more changes until in the turn of the century, the Booth name gave way to Colclough. But even this was transient as it changed to Colclough Ridgeway.

 

And then in late 1955, it came to be renamed Ridgway Potteries Ltd, until it finally and permanently downed shutters a few years later. The patterns of all these incarnations of Booth’s are now owned by the Royal Doulton Group. Incidentally, Ridgeway, Colclough and so on are all collector’s items in their own right.

Of course, there are some pieces, boxed away, that I have no clue about. Not always does one get to buying china knowing well what it is. More often, you are rummaging in second-hand stores, in car boots or deep in the bowels of antique stores, with an impatient husband waiting outside.


There is also a beautiful pink and white teapot
with the words “Made in Germany” stamped on the base. On Aug 23, 1887, the British Parliament passed the “Merchandise Act”. It required all German goods be marked “Made in Germany”. So this teapot could date sometime between 1887 and 1949 when Germany was divided and the stamps became more specific as to which side of the Wall the pottery came from.

This interest in old china has many aspects – one of course, is the intrinsic beauty of the china itself. Then, there is the history of the company, often going back several hundred years. And lastly, is the intrigue of tracing the potter’s mark on the back of the china to the company and often being pleasantly surprised.

Of course, there is the ardent desire to at least see at close quarters – if not hold or (dare I say it!) even own – antique Chinese porcelain. But that would be Journey’s End, as it were and I’m not ready for that. All the fun is in getting there.

Acknowledgment of information source:
Article by The Star L I F E S T Y L E Monday January 7, 2008
Title: Not just a pretty plate
Story and pictures by ANJALI VENUGOPAL
 

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