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Bow Porcelain

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Our Journey into Bow Porcelain

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on March 11, 2014 at 4:25 AM

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.



Categories: Personal Journey