The term “Rockingham” refers to a rich brown glaze created through the addition of manganese as well as to the wares produced by Rockingham pottery – who originated this technique.
Rockingham glazed pottery was first created by the Rockingham Pottery in Swinton, England, in the 19th century.
Rockingham ware quickly spread to the United States. Initially, American potters followed the English example of submerging their wares in the glaze in order to achieve an even, brown surface. Later, however, potters sponged, splattered and dripped the glaze across their ceramic wares in order to achieve an attractive mottled effect.
By 1845, Rockingham-style pottery dominated American pottery manufacture. It remained popular for the remainder of the century.
In addition to its characteristic brown glaze, Rockingham pottery was elaborately decorated and embellished. Hunting scenes, historical figures, and flowers were popular motifs.
The Rockingham pottery was located in the north of England. Records show that there was a potworks on the site from 1745, which would have made utilitarian earthenware for the local market.
This historic potworks changed hands several times until it was bought by the Brameld family in 1806.
Costly experiments with porcelain manufacture began in the 1820s. By 1826 the pottery was bankrupt, however, the experiments were beginning to yield impressive results and the pottery was bailed out by Earl Fitzwilliam, who allowed the pottery to use his family crest on its ornamental wares.
With the Earl’s financial backing, production of fine porcelain services and decorative wares commenced rapidly. The Earl also brought the pottery’s wares to the attention of the British aristocracy and commissions led to the use of the subtitle “Manufacturer to the King” in 1831.
Among the pottery’s most celebrated output were two “Rhinoceros” vases, which were proclaimed as the largest single-piece porcelain objects in existence (one can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum and the other in Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham, UK), and an extensive, utterly exquisite dessert service, which was initially designed for King William IV, but, since it took eight years to produce, was delivered to his successor Queen Victoria.
Artistry eclipsed business, however, and despite the Earl’s generosity, the pottery was regularly short of capital. At this time it was relatively common for large but cash-strapped companies to pay their employees in IOU notes which would circulate in local economy as a form of cash: the Bramelds frequently resorted to issuing these. The Earl felt it was his duty as the local landowner to bail out the pottery to prevent the economic hardship that the collapse of the pottery would cause on his estate. Eventually in the face of mounting debts, and with a new less interested Earl in residence at Wentworth, no further financial support was extended and thebankrupt pottery closed in 1842.
Rockingham porcelain production can be bisected into two distinct historical periods: the so-called Red Mark period (1826-1830) and the Puce Mark period (1831-1842). As their names suggest, these periods are defined by the backstamps found on the porcelain.
Wares from both periods include dinner, dessert, tea and coffee services, writing sets and ink pots, porcelain plaques, vases, scent bottles and jars, figurines, cabinet plates, chargers and urns.
Patterns vary from regular, geometric designs which feature bright colours and simple gilding, to bold neo-Rococo designs starring lavishly gilded scrolls and acanthus leaves.
Many decorative items star landscapes as well as accurately rendered botanical specimens.
Royal and aristocratic commissions often feature the family's arms. There is some evidence to show that the most decorative pieces were produced towards the end of the red-mark period and the early puce-mark periods: earlier pieces often feature the more geometric shapes, while later pieces, though retaining the neo-rococo shapes of the early puce-mark period, feature less extravagant decoration which was possibly more fitting of the first years of the Victorian age.
Amongst its other products, the factory was also famous for producing a deep brown, almost iridescent brown-glazed earthenware. In these wares, it was most famous for producing an ingenious style of pot that is filled from a hole in the bottom via a vacuum lock, known as a Cadogan. Examples of these in many sizes are often found, sometimes featuring gilding. The Brown Betty is an example of this kind of earthenware.
Amongst its more standard products were blue and green transfer-printed creamware and pearlware services and other items featuring a variety of scenes: the "Returning Woodman" or "Peasant" (often on octagonal plates) is possibly the most recognisable of these.
Rocking-ham produced earthenware was often transfer printed, however, enamelled pieces have been known. Many earthenware pieces are backstamped with an embossed “Brameld” mark.
Brown-glazed earthenware marked with an embossed "Rockingham" mark is often not genuine Rockingham but the output of other contemporary factories seeking to impersonate popular Rockingham wares.
The most common Rockingham porcelain mark is the red griffin coupled with the words “Rockingham Works Brameld”. A puce griffin and the words “Rockingham Works Brameld Manufacturer to the King” is also fairly common.
Pattern numbers are present on services - numbers outside the range 400-1800 are not known on original Rockingham, although there was a subsidiary 2/1 to 2/100 series that is genuine. Due to the frequency with which other manufacturers' wares are mistakenly attributed to this factory, and since pieces were frequently backstamped (in particular the saucers of tea services), the shapes of unmarked pieces must be matched with known Rockingham shapes to associate unmarked wares with this pottery with any confidence.
The famous brown earthenware glaze discovered by the Rockingham pottery was imitated by many potteries and made its way across the Atlantic to be used on many decorative and utilitarian pieces from a variety of U.S. potteries, the most famous of which was at Bennington, Vermont. The name "Rockingham" is often used in the U.S. to describe the rather substantial brown-glazed earthenware output of these factories: Americans may be more familiar with its use in this context. Jabez Vodrey and his family are notable for having made Rockingham-style ware in East Liverpool, Ohio in the mid-19th century, while Edwin Bennett was also producing it in Baltimore. Many examples of this type of Rockingham pottery may be found in the East Liverpool Museum of Ceramics.
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