Spode was founded in Stoke on Trent in 1770 by Josiah Spode I. His technical skills and business nous would lead to 2 major achievements which would redefine the pottery industry in Britain: the development of a stable formula for fine bone china and the perfection of blue under glaze printing.
Spode remains a well-known English pottery and homewares brand to this day. It is still based in Stoke on Trent.
After cutting his teeth working under some of the finest potters in Stoke on Trent, Josiah Spode set up his own small pottery factory in 1760, and in 1770 officially established the Spode pottery company.
A lacework of canals connecting north with south and east with west served the Spode works well, allowing Josiah to transport his wares cheaply, efficiently and securely, as well as bringing the raw materials into Stoke on Trent at regular intervals.
Josiah I sought a wealthy, urbane customer base, specifically the fashionable and affluent London crowd. Duly, he sent his son (Josiah II) to set up a shop and showroom in London. From this vantage point, the Spodes could appreciate what their customers desired, and designed their wares accordingly.
During this period, exotic, intricately decorated Chinese porcelain was all the rage. Chinese porcelain tended to be blue and white, however, blue and white pigments were difficult and costly to obtain.
In response to this, Josiah I developed the technique of transferring printed designs engraved onto copper plates onto his wares in 1784. Spode’s famous Willow pattern was introduced in 1816, along with the iconic Blue Italian pattern.
After some early trials Spode perfected a stoneware that came closer to porcelain than any previous examples. Josiah I introduced his "Stone-China" in 1813. It was light, grayish-white and gritty where it was not glazed; later Spode Stone-Ware became opaque. Spode pattern books, which record about 75000 patterns, survive from about 1800.
After much deliberation and experimentation, Josiah I and his son Josiah II also perfected their recipe for fine bone china - an invention that redefined the pottery industry.
This fine bone china was brilliant white and translucent. It inspired new designs and finishes and demanded new skills of its decorators. It was of superior quality; strong, whilst also having the look of being delicate. It was this formula that made the Spode name famous across the globe.
Very early examples
It is a paradox that while Josiah Spode I ran his factory for almost 30 years and died a very wealthy man, his productions were unmarked and therefore very few of the earliest Spode pieces can be easily identified. It is known that he produced a wide range of ceramic forms (often Wedgwood forms), including creamwares, basalts, stonewares, redwares, Jasperwares and of course blue-printed pearlwares and early experimental porcelains
Spode Blue Italian
The Blue Italian pattern has been in continuous production since 1816 and remains a best seller.
The Spode Blue Italian pattern features on tableware, cookware, plates and giftables.
For years it has been a mystery as to where the Italian scene featured on the Blue Italian dinnerware came from. Recently it was noted the design on the dinnerware is a composite representing various regions and places in Italy, but there is no physical location that contains all of the elements of the Blue Italian design – the Blue Italian pattern is a fantasy pattern of a fantasy place. The pattern represents a voyage through Italy – these were thought to be the images to best represent the country.
Spode Albany (nee Gloucester)
Originally produced in 1813, under the name Gloucester (which it maintained until 1998) this printed pattern was produced as a replacement pieces for imported Chinese porcelain.
The Gloucester pattern has had many colour variations including green, red, and pink. The latest colour variation of blue and yellow came out in 1999 – this is when the name of the range changed to
The first Blue Willow design was created by Thomas Turner – also inspired by the en vogue Oriental china being imported into Europe during the 18th century. Yet it was Spode who first mass produced the Blue Willow pattern on earthenware dishes around 1790.
The classic features of the Blue Willow pattern are as follows: it is a distinctly Oriental themed pattern, always including a teahouse or pagoda, an Oriental bridge with three people crossing it, a willow tree, a zigzagging, latticework fence, and two birds in flight in the sky.
In terms of symbolism, in all versions of the Blue Willow pattern, the birds symbolize two young lovers who were forbidden to see each other. It is said that the lovers were transformed into birds by the Gods, enabling them to fly off into the sunset together.
The pattern was extremely popular throughout the Victorian era, both in England and in the US.
The most popular colour combination is royal blue and white, however, the Willow pattern has been produced in a variety of blue tones as well as other two-colour combinations (a liverish red and white Willow pattern is also fairly well known).
There is plenty of Willow Pattern Spode on the market.
If you decide to collect Blue Willow china, keep in mind the following:
Try to stay away from damaged or repaired pieces, regardless of age. Collectors will always pay more for pieces in good condition and these pieces will retain their value and be worth far more in the future than damaged pieces.
Harder to find pieces are the more valuable regardless of the maker. This category includes bowls of any size, large platters, pitchers, teapots, egg cups and spoons.
Children's Blue Willow play dish sets are extremely collectible and among the highest priced pieces. As you begin to collect Blue Willow, arm yourself against making mistakes by acquiring knowledge: read as many books on the subject as you can, visit museums and talk with other collectors and dealers, for example.
Judging the age of a Blue Willow piece can sometimes be a challenge as so many manufacturers are still producing it today. Willowcollectors.org has a great list of books for collectors of every level.
Lastly, don't be afraid to display and use your collection. It is fine to collect older, unique pieces of Blue Willow just for show. But allow yourself to enjoy the pattern everyday, as well! With so many modern manufacturers producing it, you are sure to run across some dish washer safe, everyday Blue Willow to round out your collection. After all, the everyday use of a collection is the best way to enjoy it.
Spode used hundreds of different styles of backstamps in its nearly 250 year history.
As a general dating guide it will help to know there are 4 distinct periods of ownership of the Spode company.
Start of the Spode company to 1833
The company was known as Spode. Pieces were not always marked and sometimes just a pattern number appears and no Spode name at all. Painted marks are often in red and marks can also appear printed usually in blue or black, (although other colours were used) or impressed into the clay so appearing colourless. It is possible to have a combination of all three.
1833 to 1847
The company was known as Copeland and Garrett. Marks appear with this name printed or impressed and often include ‘late Spode'. This means formerly Spode as the name continued to be used because the Spode brand had become so well-known. You may also find pieces which are impressed Spode and then printed Copeland & Garrett. The undecorated pieces were already made and marked Spode prior to the name
1847 to 1970
The company was owned outright by the Copeland family and a variation on Copeland or W. T. Copeland was used, again, often in conjunction with the Spode name.
In 1970, to celebrate the bicentenary of the founding of the company, the name reverted to Spode with a new logo designed by John Sutherland Hawes. This is the name used until the closure of the factory in 2009.
A great help to dating wares from the late 1800s to 1963 is that there are often impressed marks on pieces which give you the month and the year. These are usually on flat pieces, for example on a saucer but not on a cup.
They can look insignificant and be difficult to read but once you know what to look for you can date a piece quite accurately. (From c1770 - 1870 datemarks were not used except around the 1860s when a series of impressed marks was used for which the full code is not known!)
From 1870 to 1963 impressed datemarks were used - on earthenware from 1870 until 1957 and on bone china and fine stone from 1870 until 1963. These take the form of a letter over two numbers, for example J over 33, which would give you a date of January 1933. Remember other numbers and letters appear on pieces which are not datemarks so you have to be certain they appear as one letter above two numbers. See the comments below to learn how to read these more easily.
The following gives the letter code for each month: J for January; F for February; M for March; A for April; Y for May; U for June; L for July; T for August; S for September; O for October; N for November and D for December.
Datemarks after 1963 until 1976 are indicated by a printed letter associated with particular backstamps and are a little complicated. There are several series of letters and a different letter is used to indicate the year depending on whether the body is bone china, fine stone or earthenware. To decipher these you (and I!) would need Robert Copeland's 'marks book' mentioned above.
By 1976 the date letters were the same for bone china, fine stone and earthenware starting at A as follows: A to N for 1976 to 1989; no letter O was used; P to W for 1990 to 1997; no letter X was used; Y to Z for 1998 to 1999.
In 2000 a new series of letters began - the year 2000 was given A0 (ie letter A number 0); 2001 was A1 etc until the close of the factory in 2009.
An error is recorded for the fine stone body when the date letter was inadvertently omitted from the backstamps in 1981. This body was withdrawn in about 1993.
Other notable patterns
Indian Sporting Series
An early 19th century partial Spode dinner service from the “Indian Sporting Series” sold for £18,000 at Sotheby’s in May 2006.
An assembled Copeland and Garett partial dinner service sold for $16,800 at Sotheby’s in October 2005.
A Copeland-stamped Spode Blue Italian pattern late 19th century partial dinner service sold for $10,200 at Sotheby’s in February 2005.
An 1815-1820 Spode Pearlware partial dessert service sold for $7,768 at Sotheby’s in October 2012.
A Dollar pattern Spode dessert service sold for £4,400 at Bonhams in September 2005.
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