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The Development of Early English Porcelain

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on January 2, 2018 at 6:45 AM Comments comments (9)

Of late there has been a shift in the study of early English and American ceramics, in that science is being used in a more routine manner to answer questions about attribution, dating, raw materials, and kiln-firing techniques. One such example is the work of Jay, Cashion, and Blenkinship (2015) in regard to Lancaster delftware and the recognition of the use of Carrickfergus magnesian clay in that ceramic body. Another example is the work by Owen and Hanley (2017) in the recreation of Bartlam porcelain. Such approaches have not been common for

 

much of the 20th C despite very early contributions by Simeon Shaw, Sir Arthur Church, and Eccles and Rackham. This account argues that to understand the development of early English porcelains one has to give consideration to porcelain composition and when this is done the inescapable conclusion that one comes to is the recognition as to the indigenous genius of early English scientists and materials scientists. Unfortunately a constant feature through much investigation and research into English porcelains during the 20th C is reflected in a rephrasing of Pawson and Brooking (2002, p. 5),

 

It has not been seen of sufficient interest when a belief in the separation of form, decorative idioms, and the shade of grey observed in the glaze; from materials science, composition, and even contemporary documents renders the former central to the enquiry and the latter unproblematic.

 

Based on historical documents and porcelain composition we claim that the early English ceramicists hold a highly significant position in the development of porcelains in the Western world and that arguably John Dwight is the father of a high-fired, refractory ceramic porcelain body or more correctly, bodies. We also contend that Bow and its contribution has been greatly underestimated. Based on our analytical work, we argue that a wide range of English porcelain bodies were being trialled and produced in London by the early to mid 1740's and that concern had to have been Bow.

Early English Porcelains of the 17th Century

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on January 12, 2016 at 5:10 AM Comments comments (5)

Posted by Ross Ramsay on January .......

Predicated on our new research contribution (Number 19) presented to the English Ceramic Circle in London, November 21st, we are proposing that the English porcelain tradition can be traced to its infancy with the firing of refractory ceramics in the Blackwater Valley and Stamford dating back to the 16thC if not before. A major advance in our understanding of this development was the work of Morgan Wesley on the Burghley House jars published in 2008. We propose that the firing of a hard-paste porcelain body was undertaken at Wigan and thence back to Wadham College. Arguably the mentor of the English porcelain tradition was Robert Boyle FRS, in the 1650's. By the mid-1670's a variety of hard-paste porcelain bodies were being produced in London using either a secondary sedimentary clay or what we infer was a primary china clay. Porcelain bodies produced were the Si-Al type and the Si-Al-Ca type, the forerunner of the 1744 patent specification of Heylyn and Frye. Glazes employed were the high-firing, lime-alkali glaze or the lower-firing, Pb type.

 

The Use of Soapstone in Early English Porcelains

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on June 15, 2015 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (4)


 

With the discovery of the Limehouse porcelain site in 1990 these porcelains have become prominent with auction houses, dealers, and collectors. Prior to the Limehouse excavation the consensus was that the first use of soapstone in English porcelains lay with Benjamin Lund at Bristol. This belief was based on the soapstone licence awarded Lund in early 1749, the observations by Richard Pococke, and the chemical analyses by Eccles and Rackham in 1922. However, with the discovery of the factory site the earliest use of soapstone was awarded to Limehouse based on unsubstantiated claims that some Limehouse porcelains in private collections contain magnesium. This we regard as one of the more significant red herrings in English ceramics in that no evidence to support this notion has ever been published in the literature - not even images of these alleged magnesian 'Limehouse' porcelains. Consequently, Limehouse has grown in stature to become the first to use soapstone, the first to employ moulding, the first to mirror silver forms, the first to use underglaze blue decoration, and even regarded as a role model for Bow. However, in our previous Limehouse monograph (2013) we demonstrated that this short-lived, failed concern was in fact highly derivative from Bow, a concern that was in existence ten, if not fifteen years before Limehouse. In this account we continue this line of research and argue that a group of soft-paste, magnesian wares previously attributed to Limehouse because of comparable decorative idioms is not of Limehouse origin. We contend that one can only arrive at this new understanding by integrating chemistry with historical records and connoisseurship.

 

Lund's Bristol Porcelain

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on April 25, 2014 at 4:05 AM Comments comments (6)

 

In this publication (Ramsay, Ramsay, and Girvan, 2011) we recognize that Benjamin Lund used bone ash in part of his porcelain production. This combination of bone ash and soapstone has been traced by us back to Bow where it was being used by at least early 1745, if not earlier. Research into porcelain wasters at Warmstry House, Worcester by Victor Owen has demonstrated the presence of a Mg-P body in early Worcester material. Technology pathways, as initially employed by Owen and Hillis (2003) for Liverpool, has been able to show a compositional line of ascent stretching from the experimental work by the Royal Society of London in the 1720’s, through to Bow, to Lund’s Bristol, and thence to Worcester. Although Mg-P porcelains have now been recognized in porcelains characterized by what appears to be decorative idioms traditionally attributed to Limehouse, there is now considerable debate as to whether such porcelains are in fact Limehouse.

 

 

Our Journey into Bow Porcelain

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on March 11, 2014 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (2)

Welcome to our Bow porcelain web site where we list and discuss our research into early English porcelains. Some 14 years ago when we were living on the old gold mining centre of Ballarat, out of Melbourne, a good colleague, Pat Daniels, urged us to consider chemically analysing a sequence of porcelains through the Bow output from (as we thought at the time) the late 1740s to around 1774.  Likewise in the 1990s we also considered that Bow made only phosphatic (bone ash) wares. Up to that time it was widely believed that:


•    Bow made a bone ash porcelain only, aimed for the middle market.

•    Bow commenced commercial production in the late 1740s - this restrictive thinking we now identify as the millstone syndrome, all the more so when we recognised by the early years of the new millennium that Bow was making a brilliant hard-paste body using Cherokee clay in the early 1740s.

•    Representative ceramics of the Heylyn and Frye 1744 ceramic patent (Bow first patent) did not exist.

•    This ceramic Heylyn and Frye patent was at best 'hesitant' and at worst 'not worth the paper it was written on'.

•     William Cookworthy was the first Englishman to fire a hard-paste ceramic body in the 1760s.

•    Chelsea was the first manufactory to produce porcelains in England and these ceramic wares were the only 18th Century English porcelains that could compare with Meissen porcelain.

•     Limehouse predated Bow and was highly innovative with the first use of steatite, the first output of underglaze blue decoration, and the development of moulded wares and the manufacture of porcelains of silver shape.

•    Continental technology (wandering Continental potters) was the basis of much of the English porcelain tradition.

•    The Royal Society of London played little or no role in fostering the English porcelain industry and acted more as an observer.

•    The overriding belief as to the primacy of the artistic pursuit in the understanding of English porcelain development.


Very early on both Gael and I became aware of the Heylyn and Frye ceramic patent of 1744 and both of us were impressed with the clarity of the patent wording and its contained specification. The clear reference to clay obtained from the Cherokee nation and the description of that clay intrigued both of us, all the more so when we came across the diary of Thomas Griffiths, agent for Josiah Wedgwood, and his attempts to obtain samples of Cherokee clay some 20 years later in the 1760s.


Based on the extent of the Cherokee nation in the early 1740s, the geology of the Appalachians, and the accounts of Andrew Duchè and Thomas Griffiths, we flew to the USA in 2000 and got ourselves to Macon County in the far west of North Carolina. Our voyage of discovery commences with our first published work on Cherokee clay in 2001, which is described on our web site under Our Research.


On the one hand our isolation in the southern hemisphere has denied us the opportunity of handling a large number of Bow and other porcelains, yet on the other hand this isolation has allowed us to think in an original manner free from peer group pressure and herd conformity. From this position of comparative isolation we have had the opportunity  to question many of the dogmas and articles of faith that have sustained the study of early English porcelains over the last century.


As we see the ceramic landscape at the beginning of 2013, the big picture in understanding the development of the English porcelain industry - what we call the grand tradition - lies not so much with in-depth studies of outside decorators or Continental-derived decorative idioms but rather with the following questions:


•    The role of the Royal Society of London in fostering the technology required for the English porcelain industry. This line of enquiry was initially raised by Pat Daniels in her book published in 2007 and subsequently expanded on in our joint Limehouse monograph in 2013.

•    The further need for compositional studies of porcelain body and glaze recipes coupled with the compositions of the under-glaze colours and the on-glaze enamels.

•    The location and excavation of the first Bow porcelain site which may have been in Middlesex on the western side of the river Lea.

•    The location and excavation of the postulated second Limehouse site believed to have been located on the north side of Fore Street.

•    The location and excavation of the Lund's Bristol site.

•    A better understanding of early Bow porcelain and glaze compositions dating back to the 1730s.

•    Based on the argument that Bow was producing a brilliant hard-paste commercial body using imported Cherokee clay by 1743, it follows that the dating of a number of other early Bow ceramic items of various recipe types is incorrect, again reflecting the deleterious influence of the millstone syndrome.

•    The dating and attribution of what must surely be the most significant figural porcelains from 18th Century England - namely the George II busts. For too long attempts at attribution for these busts over the last 150 years have verged in many instances towards a ceramic shambles. The correct attribution and dating of these busts initially to Dettingen and then subsequently for a later group as identified by Pat Daniels to Culloden, will have a major impact on our understanding of the development of English porcelains.

•    A compositional study of early Chelsea and Girl-in-the-Swing porcelains and an attempt to recognise the respective inputs of Gouyon and Sprimont. From our perspective here in New Zealand, Sprimont may have been given more credit than he deserves (as with Thomas Frye at Bow) in the setting up of the Chelsea manufactory. As yet we do not know when Chelsea commenced production.

•    Likewise a compositional study of Vauxhall through time is urgently needed.

•    At the time of writing it might appear that our knowledge of Chaffers' Liverpool porcelains is limited to one published analysis alone and in the case of Christian's Liverpool we are unaware of any published analyses of either body or glaze.

•    Trace element and isotopic signatures of the various soapstones found on the Lizard Peninsula may help us trace particular porcelain items back to their soapstone source. A case in point is that we would contend, along with Pat Daniels, that the George II busts have the soapstone used in them sourced to Kynance Cove.

•    The whole matter of the Burghley House jars and their compositional relationship to John Dwight's ceramic output needs to be revisited as do the enamel compositions found on those jars - both lids and bodies.


We see the future for ceramic research into English porcelains both exciting and challenging and we agree with Barry Lamb of Reference Works Ltd (February, 2013) Early British porcelain history is in an exciting state of flux.

 

 

New Thinking on the Early Development of English Porcelains

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on February 17, 2014 at 4:20 AM Comments comments (10)

 

Posted by Ross Ramsay on January 23rd, 2014

 

    This update on our collective thoughts is based on two monographs we have published during 2013.

1.    Ramsay, W. H. H., Daniels, P., & Ramsay E. G., 2013: The Limehouse Porcelain Factory: It’s Output, Antecedents, & the Influence of the Royal Society of London on the Evolution of English Porcelain based on Composition and Technology. 42 pp. ISBN: 978-0-473-23459-1.

2.    Daniels, Pat, Ross and Gael Ramsay, 2013: The George II Busts and Historic Wall Brackets: The Motivation, Symbolism, and Technology by which the models can be dated to 1745-6 and attributed to the First Bow Factory in Middlesex. 83 pp.

 

Both monographs may be procured from:

Reference Works (P&D) Ltd.,
9 Commercial Road,
Swanage, Dorset, England, BH19 424423
Email: sales@referenceworks.co.uk

 

 

Based on previous analyses of Limehouse wasters two distinct recipe types have been identified for the last twenty years, namely a Si-Al body with a lime-alkali glaze and a Si-Al-Ca body with a lead-based glaze. Although there have been anecdotal reports in the literature of a magnesian recipe being used at Limehouse we are the first to publish analyses of a magnesian-phosphorus (Mg-P) type with descriptions and images of the analysed porcelains. However, we draw attention to the fact that to date three studies of Limehouse wasters, involving a total of 47 analyses, have failed to identify the presence of such a Mg-P composition and we therefore raise the possibility that these magnesian-phosphatic porcelains were not made at 20 Fore Street, Limehouse. This point gains support from the recent work of Jay and Cashion who, after carefully selecting a range of wasters from the site which showed variations in body appearance, translucency and general colour, on analysis failed to detect any that contained significant magnesium or phosphorus.

 

    Two possibilities now present themselves. Firstly, the Mg-P porcelains were made on a second Limehouse site on the north side of Fore Street as identified in this monograph, or, secondly, these wares are not Limehouse in origin. If these Mg-P porcelains were not manufactured at Limehouse this in turn suggests two further possibilities. Either they were made at Benjamin Lund’s factory in Bristol, or they can be attributed to the Bow factory prior to mid-1746. This latter option takes on added significance now that we have demonstrated that Bow was producing both Mg-P-Pb and Mg-Pb bodies by 1745 as discussed below.

 

    We have also realised that Limehouse was far from innovative in regard to the use of moulding, the employment of silver shapes, the use of soapstone and the ‘first’ to use underglaze blue, as has been widely claimed in the literature. We regard Limehouse as being highly derivative from Bow, compositionally, stylistically, and in the development of underglaze blue decoration.

 

    New evidence has been presented as to the importance of the Royal Society of London in the development of the English porcelain industry, as initially argued by Daniels (2007). By way of recipe pathways we can trace both the Limehouse Si-Al and Si-Al-Ca recipes back through Bow to experimental firings undertaken or commissioned by the Royal Society early in the 18th century and thence back to the Burghley House jars of the 17th century. Moreover, the use of soapstone at Bow reflects the experimental use of Cornish soapstone in porcelains by Woodward, Secretary to the Royal Society, in the 1720’s.

 

    Our collective work over the last decade, including this research into Limehouse porcelains and our recently published investigation of the George II busts and historic wall brackets, has led to the conclusion that by 1744 the Bow Factory had embarked on an ambitious programme to produce commercial and sophisticated porcelains. This encompassed a hard-paste Si-Al-Ca body using imported Cherokee clay and, by mid 1746, at least 30 remarkable busts of King George II with entirely new Mg-Pb and Mg-P-Pb formulae containing Cornish soapstone. No other English factory operating in the 1740’s had the materials, technology, capability, confidence or entrepreneurial ability to compete with these products. We suspect that at the same time, or most likely even earlier, Bow was producing a range of phosphatic recipes in various forms – figures, utensils and ornamental wares - and that this output has been dated up to a decade too late for the last 100 years.

 

    We suggest that a significant watershed occurred at the start of this millennium as far as our understanding of the development of English porcelains is concerned. This watershed relates to the fact that by 1743 Bow was producing a hard-paste Si-Al-Ca body and associated glaze and that in order to achieve such a unique, sophisticated porcelain Bow had to have been in existence for a decade or earlier. As a result we agree with a number of early ceramic historians who state in the literature that the Bow Factory commenced around 1730. In fact we believe that plans for an English porcelain industry were initiated as part of a much wider scheme on the accession of George II in 1727. In support of this view we have found evidence that Andrew Duchè was appointed Bow agent for the Cherokee clay in 1732 when he was in London. We also know that he showed an inferior unglazed sample of assumed Bow’s hard-paste experimental porcelain in Savannah, Georgia in 1738 and a perfect glazed sample in 1741. Moreover, based on the Vincennes Privilege, we can now date the Si-Al-Ca first patent body decorated in the high-style to no later than mid-1745. Guided by Duchè’s movements in Georgia, we see that by 1746/7 Bow had abandoned the hard-paste recipe. In other words, Duchè and his movements can be used as a proxy for the development and demise of the Bow first patent porcelains.

 

In the case of the Mg-P-Pb body we date its introduction at Bow to no later than early 1745 and in the case of the Mg-Pb body (as found in all but one of the George II busts tested) to before June 1745. The deposit of soapstone at Kynance Cove, which was used in the manufacture of both these bodies, was depleted not long afterwards.

 

We also recognise a phosphatic body with a number of variations. Because Bow discontinued their hard-paste and steatitic recipes around mid-1746 it is reasonable to conclude that phosphatic porcelain must comprise the bulk of the ‘large quantities of cups and saucers etc’ mentioned in Defoe’s Tour Thro the Whole Island of Great Britain (1748), that the factory was producing before late 1746 (old style). In fact, our current research has also identified a number of aluminous (clay-rich) Bow bodies that technically we regard as dating to the early 1740’s, if not to the 1730’s.

 

What is required in the future is a programme of targeted, full chemical analyses of assumed Bow experimental or seemingly extremely early commercial porcelains in order to elucidate more clearly the first phase of Bow’s history. Obviously, this will affect our understanding of the entire chronology of early English porcelain production. Combined with this we need to search for documents and other clues in the literature from the late 1720’s or 1730’s to uncover these beginnings. Also, presently known documents and information need more accurate appraisal. For instance, a careful reading of William Cookworthy’s letter to Richard Hingston dated 27th July 1745 will reveal that Andrew Duchè did not visit Devon to show him samples of Bow’s hard-paste (‘A’-marked) porcelain as stipulated by ceramic historians. This letter indicates that the then little-known Plymouth chemist actually visited Duchè in London. We therefore speculate that Cookworthy saw the samples on the Bow site, and that while there he acquired from the manufacturers in early July a George II bust that remained in his family for many years until gifted to the Plymouth Art Gallery and Museum.

 

It must always be kept in mind that the development of the English porcelain industry dates back to the seventeenth century Burghley House jars and thence to the Si-Al crucibles stretching back to Medieval times in Stamford and was far more indigenous and complex than has been realised. While there are distinct exotic influences, especially with the vast imports of Asiatic china, there has been too much emphasis placed on Continental inspiration and technology. We have now proven that English porcelain technology was initiated and supported by the Royal Society. Furthermore, that artistic input, derived from the St. Martin’s Lane Academy, the London theatres and pleasure gardens, significantly impacted on the porcelains being produced at Bow. This is especially evident during its earliest period of production in the form of portrait figures and decorative idioms as found on the high-style first patent porcelain. If one adds to this the support of Aldermen of the City of London, merchant adventurers, and the experience and expertise of Staffordshire potters one can understand why Bow was able to produce such outstanding porcelains at such an early date.

 

Ideally, in the not too distant future, an enthusiastic and diligent researcher will identify the site of the first Bow factory west of the River Lea in Middlesex, the postulated second Limehouse site on the opposite side of Fore Street, or Benjamin Lund’s works in Bristol. Excavation offers the prospect of significant and definitive new information. Meanwhile, constant searching, careful selection, and extensive testing should allow more cohesive groups to be recognised. Now that the period of both ‘A’-marked and steatitic porcelain has been established, we need to find just one example of the earliest phosphatic porcelain that can be accurately dated by documentation of subject matter.

 

ROSS RAMSAY, PAT DANIELS, AND GAEL RAMSAY                November 26th  2013.

 

 

The Ceramic Busts of George II

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on October 6, 2013 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (2)


From the time of their manufacture these splendid porcelain busts of King George II have been a source of continual controversy. One of the most significant achievements of early English porcelain, they have been the subject of discussions as to the ceramic recipe of the paste and glaze; the motivation behind their manufacture; the age of the King as depicted and also the time, origin and place of production.

 

In order to decipher the original intention behind their manufacture it has been necessary to correct both the discrepancies that exist within primary sources and the inconsistencies and prejudices that have been perpetrated through the literature since William Burt’s first mention of the busts in 1816. What we have discerned from this information is the presence of substantial bias within the research. As a result of this confusion, over time the busts have been attributed to almost every early English porcelain factory regardless of whether it produced a hard paste, glassy, steatitic or phosphatic body.

 

    Initially these busts were thought to be hard paste and made at Plymouth, then following Rackham they, for many years, were assigned to Chelsea. With a publication by Watney (1968) they then were attributed to Chaffers Liverpool and there they remained till Daniels (2007) questioned this attribution. Subsequently these busts have been reassigned yet again, this time to Vauxhall, yet the reasons for Vauxhall are even more threadbare than those published to support a Liverpool connection.

 

    Until recently the most scholarly contribution to these busts was by Dudley Delevingne in 1963. More recently Daniels has extended our understanding of these George II busts and associated brackets by arguing that one cannot hope to date and attribute this ceramic group unless one understands the symbolism to be found associated with both. Although of late, a host of writers have argued for a Vauxhall attribution, based presumably on the notion that the bracket refers to the Seven Year's War, these contributors have pointedly refused to recognise that the iconography of the busts refers to Dettingen (1743) and that of the associated brackets reflects both the preservation of the Protestant succession and the trampling underfoot of rebellion as argued by Daniels (2007). That rebellion of course was the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-1746 with its associated Roman Catholic overtones.

 

    A new contribution to this ceramic debate by Pat Daniels and Ross and Gael Ramsay is to be published in early October, 2013. This monograph runs to some 85 pages, 70+ figures, and 6 tables of chemical analyses. The inescapable conclusion that these three authors have reached is that there is an urgent need for a major reconsideration of the previous understanding of the early development of the English porcelain industry. Copies of this monograph may be had from:-

 

Reference Works (P&D) Ltd,

9 Commercial Road,

Swanage, Dorset, England, BH19 1DF

Phone: + 44 (0)1929 424423

Email: Sales@referenceworks.co.uk

 

 

A Major Watershed

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on March 11, 2013 at 4:35 AM Comments comments (2)

In our joint publication on the Limehouse porcelain manufactory we demonstrate that our understanding of the development of English porcelains underwent a major watershed during the early years of this millennium with the recognition that by the early to mid-1740s the Bow porcelain manufactory was producing a commercial, hard-paste porcelain using a china clay (Cherokee clay) imported from the New World.

 

Concomitant with this has been the re-examination of many notions and beliefs that have sustained English ceramic studies over the last 100 years or so. It is now recognised that the 1744 ceramic patent of Heylyn and Frye, far from being hesitant, experimental, or not worth the paper it was written on, is in fact a highly significant document in English ceramic history. 

 

In addition it is now realised that William Cookworthy was not the first to fire a hard-paste body, that Bow was operating much earlier than recognised to date using a range of ceramic recipes, and the pre-eminent position previously enjoyed by Chelsea needs to be reassessed. This contribution on the Limehouse manufactory continues this enquiry, further establishes the leading position played by Bow, and develops the arguments initiated by Pat Daniels as to the importance of both the Royal Society of London and rational English science and technology back to the 17th Century in the development of the English porcelain industry.


Copies of this monograph on Limehouse (The Limehouse Porcelain Factory; its output, antecedents & the influence of the Royal Society of London on the evolution of English porcelain based on composition and technology) may be obtained from:

 

Reference Works (P&D) Ltd,

9 Commercial Road,

Swanage, Dorset, England, BH19 1DF

Phone: + 44 (0)1929 424423

Email: Sales@referenceworks.co.uk


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