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The Use of Soapstone in Early English Porcelains

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


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.


Categories: Important Discoveries, Controversial

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