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Bow Porcelain

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Three major groups of English Porcelains

Posted by Ross and Gael Ramsay on October 24, 2020 at 11:50 PM

Today we look at three significant groups of English porcelains whose pre-eminence has all too often been inversely proportional to the level of scholarship afforded each group.

The first group is the so-called 'A'-marked group. Recent research by us (Ramsay and Ramsay, 2017) draws attention that not all 'A'-marked wares may accord with the 1744 patent specification of Heylyn and Frye. Possibly a better name to recognise those porcelains made using Cherokee clay imported from the Carolinas might be Heylyn and Frye 1744 patent porcelains or even the more simple Bow First patent porcelains. There are other early Bow porcelains which are high-fired (hard-paste) which do not contain Cherokee clay. This research was dismissed by Gabszewicz (2008) as 'weak science'.

Considerable opposition has been voiced over the last 20 years regarding our research linking this enigmatic, high-fired and refractory group of wares to Bow. The reasons for this are varied and have involved the following.

1. The 'millstone syndrome' where it is believed that Bow produced little of substance prior to c. 1747.

2. Notions relating to the 'primacy of the artistic pursuit', whereby there are no known items (painting, form, or potting) that link these wares to the Frye second patent bone ash porcelains. We have demonstrated that there is no basis for this claim (Ramsay and Ramsay, 2017) and as shown in our Photo Gallery with a fluted coffee cup having a decagonal footrim.

3. Repeated claims in the literature for over 100 years that the 1744 patent was not worth the paper it was written on, or that is was 'uncertain' or 'hesitant'. We have demonstrated that, 'never in the history of English ceramic studies has such a landmark document been so marginalised and/or dismissed by so many, for so long, based on such unfortunate reasoning (Ramsay et al., 2006).

4. A distrust of science which clearly links the1744 patent specification to this group of porcelains - both body and glaze.

5. Opposition based simply on the notion voiced by various self-professed experts out of Old London Town, that we must be wrong.

For a number of reasons this small group of refractory porcelains made using china clay imported from the Carolinas is the most important and significant of English 18th C porcelains. Very slowly various auction houses, dealers, and collectors are accepting our views, but it has taken close to twenty years and some acrimonious smearing of us and our research to reach this state of understanding. Interestingly, there is still a marked reservation with integrating these wares with the broader Bow output and chronology.

In the case of Limehouse porcelains, this group since the discovery of the kiln site in 1990 has arguably become the 'darling' of English porcelain aficionados. The discovery of this site most likely owes a great deal to John Potter, when in 1987 he learnt of the proposed Limehouse Link Road. He wrote immediately to the London Docklands Development Corporation and to various ceramic societies and museums urging a rescue excavation but it was not until the end of 1989 that the Museum of London called a meeting of interested parties. As a result, MOLAS undertook a controlled excavation of the Limehouse site and in May 1990 it was Lawrence Pontin, the senior archaeologist in charge, who pulled out of the mud part of a sauce boat previously attributed to William Reid.

Moreover, Watney misidentified a group of porcelains that superficially look like Limehouse but are soft-paste in contrast to the high-fired, refractory, aluminous, true Limehouse wares. This haste by Watney has caused an unfortunate chain of events that still ripples through our understanding of Limehouse porcelains today. Writer after writer has clasped and grasped Watney's unsubstantiated claim as to the use of soapstone at Limehouse and consequently numerous beliefs and assertions have appeared in the literature.

1. Limehouse acted for a model for other concerns including Bow, which because of the 'millstone syndrome' must have post-dated Limehouse.

2. Limehouse was the first to utilise underglaze blue decoration.

3. Limehouse was the first to use moulding.

4. Limehouse was the first to produce silver shapes in porcelain.

5. Limehouse was the first to employ the use of soapstone in English porcelains.

We contend that all of the above 'articles of faith' are wrong and the key question that now needs to be addressed is which factory do these false Limehouse porcelains get attributed to? One writer (Jones, 2018) has adopted our research as to false Limehouse and opts for Lunds Bristol. We in contrast, do accept that some false Limehouse may end up with Lunds Bristol but we opine that the bulk of these wares should remain in London and we strongly suspect a link with the manufacturer of the George II busts and wall brackets which we date to 1745-46. Our research into Limehouse, where we realised that a group of wares is not Limehouse, is set out in our publications Ramsay et al., (2013); Ramsay et al., (2015); and Ramsay and Ramsay, (2017) all of which pre-empt the work of Jones (2018) by up to five years.

The third group of porcelains that we discuss briefly here is the George II busts and historical wall brackets. We would be so bold as to suggest that this magnificent group of monumental busts, of which we recognise 19 extant examples, represents the all times shambles in English ceramic studies. Never has any group had so many indignities, attributions, and dates of manufacture heaped upon it as has this group. All too often historical and societal contexts have been ignored as has both composition and iconography of these busts and brackets. Repeatedly in the literature we find Britannia or Fame on the bracket interpreted as St George and apart from the contribution by Dudley Delevingne (1963) no one prior to Daniels (2007) or after has attempted in a scholarly manner to understand the all important symbolism on bust and bracket. With this account we attach a chart of the various attributions through time dating back to Hurst (1816); what we refer to as our 'pin-the-tail-on-the donkey chart'. This chart demonstrates the role of herd instinct and follow-my-leader in English ceramic studies. Once Rackham (1885) declared these busts to be Chelsea this notion continued for nearly 80 years with the exception of Christies as late as 1911, who still clung to Lady Charlotte's claim that they were hard-paste Plymouth. In 1968 Watney attributed these busts to be Chaffers Liverpool. This claim was largely accepted for the next 40 years until Bimson (2009) made a passing comment that Roger Massey regarded these busts to be Vauxhall but gave little supporting evidence for this reassignment. Overnight there was a stampede to Vauxhall with writer after writer abandoning Chaffers Liverpool in favour of Vauxhall. Over the last 5 years there might appear to have developed some uncertainty as to a Vauxhall attribution with other factories now being considered. The latest attribution is to Kentish Town.

We contend that the iconography demonstrates that the busts relate to Dettingen (not any conflict) and the wall bracket is specific to rebellion of which Culloden is the only example known at that time. To our knowledge there was one only concern operating at this early stage with the necessary technical ability, financial backing, and the linkages to St Martin's Lane Academy, the wealthy, city aldermen, and the aristocracy of the day.


Categories: Understanding Bow Porcelain

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