Page 1

THE

DELLA ROBBIA POTTERY BIRKENHEAD 1894–1906

PETER HYLAND


CONTENTS 1. Introduction

4. Premises, Methods and Workforce

2. The Background

a. The Pottery premises i. Exterior ii. Interior b. Materials c. Production methods i. Guiding principles ii. Larger panels and figures iii. Smaller wares: throwing or moulding iv. Sgraffito decoration v. Firing, painting and glazing vi. An eye-witness report vii. Lead hazard d. Design and decorative themes i. Architectural design ii. Domestic ware: shapes iii. Domestic ware: decoration iv. Choice of design v. Inspection and approval; production standards vi.Technical influences vii.Tube-lining and slip trailing e. The Workforce i. Staff list ii. Male and female workers iii. Recruitment and training

a. The Rathbones of Liverpool b. Philip Rathbone (1828–1895) c. Art and Applied Art on Merseyside i.The growth of art appreciation ii. Art education in Liverpool iii.The Liverpool Art Congress 1888 iv. Applied art: the Art Sheds v.The Laird School of Art vi. Philip Rathbone’s Role in the Arts d. Harold Rathbone, the Artist i. Upbringing ii. Art education iv John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites v. Ford Madox Brown vi.The 1890s e. The Arts and Crafts Movement i.The Ruskinian philosophy ii.The Art Guilds and Craft Schools iii.The Keswick School of Industrial Art

3. The Founding of the Della Robbia Pottery a. Della Robbia Ware and its origins b. The Growing Fashion c. The New Company i. Della Robbia Pottery Limited ii. Choice of name iii. Subscribers and shareholders iv. Banking iv. Press reaction e. The Della Robbia Pottery Council i. Council members ii. G.F.Watts iii.William Holman Hunt f. Birkenhead i.Town development ii. Practical advantages g. The Pottery’s Aims i. Main objects; School of the Mersey ii. Precedents

5. First Period of Business 1894–1900 a. Early Production i.The first pots ii. Improvement iii. Ethical problems iv. Compromise b. Re-financing c. Publicity and Advertising d. The 1896 Catalogue i. Contents ii. Prices iii Portraits and customer orders e. Sales Outlets

i. London ii. Liberty’s iii. Liverpool, Manchester and overseas f. Royal Patronage i. Princess Louise ii. Royal family g. Arts and Crafts Exhibitions i.The Home Arts and Industries Association ii.The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society iii.The Walker Art Gallery Autumn Exhibitions iv. Paris Universal Exposition 1900 h. Press Comment

6. Second Period 1900–1906: The Della Robbia Pottery and Marble Co. Ltd a. The New Company i. Dissolution and merger ii.Terms of management iii. Shareholders b. The 1900 Catalogue c. Religious and Political Influences i. Unitarianism ii. Positivism iii. Female equality d. Daily Life at the Pottery i. Hours of work ii. Coping with the Manager e. Exhibitions 1900–1906 i. London and Liverpool ii.The Cork International Exhibition, 1902 iii.The Glasgow Exhibition, 1904 f. Notable Public Works i. Fountains ii. ‘Days of Creation’ panels iii. Figures for bank facade g. Art Nouveau

7. The Final Years a. Sales Difficulties 1900–1905

b. Closure i. Dispersal of staff ii. Liquidation iii. Final sale iv. Pottery premises v. Payment of debts and dividend c. End of the Dream d. Aftermath

8. A to Z of Della Robbia Pottery Artists, Workmen and Associates Staff Photograph Ted Ackerley Agnes Henry Bloomfield Bare Ruth Bare May Barker Annie Beaumont Miss Beckett Robert Anning Bell Arthur E. Bells Arthur Bolton Jim Bowen John Bowers William Broster Gwendoline Buckler Jim Callaghan; Jim Caton; Tom Connolly Charles Collis Benjamin Creswick Alice Maud Cunningham/Rathbone Annie Davis Emile de Caluwé Marian de Caluwé Sebastian de Caluwé Conrad Dressler i. Origin and influences ii. Dressler and Ruskin iii. ‘The Curse of Machinery’ iv. Harold Rathbone and the ‘unknown land’

v. Rising tension vi. St George’s Hall vii. Departure viii. Medmenham ix. Dressler’s Della Robbia legacy John T. Firth and Susannah Firth Harry Fletcher John Fogo George Francis Miss Furniss Tom Hall Harold Hewitt James Hughes Percy Jacques Alice Louisa Jones Annie Jones Hannah Jones Miss Kearney Herbert Keegan J.L. Levy E. LL. Carlo Manzoni i. Upbringing and emigration ii. Move to Birkenhead iii. Della Robbia June 1894–June 1895 iv. Hanley, and ‘Minerva Art Ware’ v. London again vi. Return to Della Robbia vii.The Final Venture Harry Pearce Albert Peers Aphra Peirce Lena Peirce May Pollexfen Alice Rathbone Edmund Rathbone Richard Llewellyn B. Rathbone Albert Richardson Tom Robertson Ellen Mary Rope Gertrude Russell

George Seddon John Cecil Shirley Jessie Sinclair Annie Smith Newman Smith C. Taylor Edith Trantom Edward Turri Cassandra Annie Walker William Warwick Frank Watkin E. Jennie Whitehead Liz Wilkins Annie Williams Willie Williams Emily Margaret Wood Enid Woodhouse Violet Woodhouse Unidentified artists

9. Della Robbia Pottery Marks a. Factory Marks i. ‘Ship’ mark ii. Pottery name; dates and numbers b. Artists’ Marks i. In general ii. Identity of artists c. List of Marks of Artists d. Other Marks

Appendix A 1896 List of Della Robbia Ware Shapes

Appendix B Works by the Della Robbia Pottery and its Associates exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery Autumn Exhibitions 1894–1906

Appendix C Catalogue of the Della Robbia Pottery Closing Sale 1906


CONTENTS 1. Introduction

4. Premises, Methods and Workforce

2. The Background

a. The Pottery premises i. Exterior ii. Interior b. Materials c. Production methods i. Guiding principles ii. Larger panels and figures iii. Smaller wares: throwing or moulding iv. Sgraffito decoration v. Firing, painting and glazing vi. An eye-witness report vii. Lead hazard d. Design and decorative themes i. Architectural design ii. Domestic ware: shapes iii. Domestic ware: decoration iv. Choice of design v. Inspection and approval; production standards vi.Technical influences vii.Tube-lining and slip trailing e. The Workforce i. Staff list ii. Male and female workers iii. Recruitment and training

a. The Rathbones of Liverpool b. Philip Rathbone (1828–1895) c. Art and Applied Art on Merseyside i.The growth of art appreciation ii. Art education in Liverpool iii.The Liverpool Art Congress 1888 iv. Applied art: the Art Sheds v.The Laird School of Art vi. Philip Rathbone’s Role in the Arts d. Harold Rathbone, the Artist i. Upbringing ii. Art education iv John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites v. Ford Madox Brown vi.The 1890s e. The Arts and Crafts Movement i.The Ruskinian philosophy ii.The Art Guilds and Craft Schools iii.The Keswick School of Industrial Art

3. The Founding of the Della Robbia Pottery a. Della Robbia Ware and its origins b. The Growing Fashion c. The New Company i. Della Robbia Pottery Limited ii. Choice of name iii. Subscribers and shareholders iv. Banking iv. Press reaction e. The Della Robbia Pottery Council i. Council members ii. G.F.Watts iii.William Holman Hunt f. Birkenhead i.Town development ii. Practical advantages g. The Pottery’s Aims i. Main objects; School of the Mersey ii. Precedents

5. First Period of Business 1894–1900 a. Early Production i.The first pots ii. Improvement iii. Ethical problems iv. Compromise b. Re-financing c. Publicity and Advertising d. The 1896 Catalogue i. Contents ii. Prices iii Portraits and customer orders e. Sales Outlets

i. London ii. Liberty’s iii. Liverpool, Manchester and overseas f. Royal Patronage i. Princess Louise ii. Royal family g. Arts and Crafts Exhibitions i.The Home Arts and Industries Association ii.The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society iii.The Walker Art Gallery Autumn Exhibitions iv. Paris Universal Exposition 1900 h. Press Comment

6. Second Period 1900–1906: The Della Robbia Pottery and Marble Co. Ltd a. The New Company i. Dissolution and merger ii.Terms of management iii. Shareholders b. The 1900 Catalogue c. Religious and Political Influences i. Unitarianism ii. Positivism iii. Female equality d. Daily Life at the Pottery i. Hours of work ii. Coping with the Manager e. Exhibitions 1900–1906 i. London and Liverpool ii.The Cork International Exhibition, 1902 iii.The Glasgow Exhibition, 1904 f. Notable Public Works i. Fountains ii. ‘Days of Creation’ panels iii. Figures for bank facade g. Art Nouveau

7. The Final Years a. Sales Difficulties 1900–1905

b. Closure i. Dispersal of staff ii. Liquidation iii. Final sale iv. Pottery premises v. Payment of debts and dividend c. End of the Dream d. Aftermath

8. A to Z of Della Robbia Pottery Artists, Workmen and Associates Staff Photograph Ted Ackerley Agnes Henry Bloomfield Bare Ruth Bare May Barker Annie Beaumont Miss Beckett Robert Anning Bell Arthur E. Bells Arthur Bolton Jim Bowen John Bowers William Broster Gwendoline Buckler Jim Callaghan; Jim Caton; Tom Connolly Charles Collis Benjamin Creswick Alice Maud Cunningham/Rathbone Annie Davis Emile de Caluwé Marian de Caluwé Sebastian de Caluwé Conrad Dressler i. Origin and influences ii. Dressler and Ruskin iii. ‘The Curse of Machinery’ iv. Harold Rathbone and the ‘unknown land’

v. Rising tension vi. St George’s Hall vii. Departure viii. Medmenham ix. Dressler’s Della Robbia legacy John T. Firth and Susannah Firth Harry Fletcher John Fogo George Francis Miss Furniss Tom Hall Harold Hewitt James Hughes Percy Jacques Alice Louisa Jones Annie Jones Hannah Jones Miss Kearney Herbert Keegan J.L. Levy E. LL. Carlo Manzoni i. Upbringing and emigration ii. Move to Birkenhead iii. Della Robbia June 1894–June 1895 iv. Hanley, and ‘Minerva Art Ware’ v. London again vi. Return to Della Robbia vii.The Final Venture Harry Pearce Albert Peers Aphra Peirce Lena Peirce May Pollexfen Alice Rathbone Edmund Rathbone Richard Llewellyn B. Rathbone Albert Richardson Tom Robertson Ellen Mary Rope Gertrude Russell

George Seddon John Cecil Shirley Jessie Sinclair Annie Smith Newman Smith C. Taylor Edith Trantom Edward Turri Cassandra Annie Walker William Warwick Frank Watkin E. Jennie Whitehead Liz Wilkins Annie Williams Willie Williams Emily Margaret Wood Enid Woodhouse Violet Woodhouse Unidentified artists

9. Della Robbia Pottery Marks a. Factory Marks i. ‘Ship’ mark ii. Pottery name; dates and numbers b. Artists’ Marks i. In general ii. Identity of artists c. List of Marks of Artists d. Other Marks

Appendix A 1896 List of Della Robbia Ware Shapes

Appendix B Works by the Della Robbia Pottery and its Associates exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery Autumn Exhibitions 1894–1906

Appendix C Catalogue of the Della Robbia Pottery Closing Sale 1906


INTRODUCTION The town of Birkenhead, situated on the river Mersey directly opposite Liverpool, is chiefly known for the ships which were built there during the last 150 years – two Ark Royal aircraft carriers come to mind, and countless other ships and submarines. Residents familiar with the town’s history will also know about Lee’s Tapestry Works which exported top-class fabrics and embroideries worldwide during the 1930s and helped furnish the Queen Mary. Far less well known is a remarkable little factory, a pottery, in the centre of Birkenhead which was at the heart of the British Arts and Crafts Movement – the Della Robbia Pottery, just off Hamilton Square, in production from 1894 to 1906. Why would such a small pottery, set up to revive an antique Italian style as its name suggests, be started up on Merseyside? An answer can be found in a speech given on 10 February 1894 by Sir William Forwood, a prominent member of Liverpool City Council, at the opening of the Walker Art Gallery Spring Exhibition. Sir William emphasised how desirable it was to cultivate the decorative arts on Merseyside and went on to say: “We have very few industries and handicrafts of our own in Liverpool at the present time. This has not always been the case, for looking back over a period of 50 years we will find that Liverpool had her potteries at Seacombe and in the neighbourhood of the Herculaneum Dock. To my mind there is no reason why what has been done in the past should not be done in the future (hear, hear). I am glad to think that Mr Rathbone and some members of his family have already made a departure in that direction by forming a company for the manufacture of art pottery (hear, hear). I would like also to see pottery establishments formed for the manufacture of pottery for mercantile purposes.”1 The Rathbones referred to were Alderman Philip Rathbone and his son Harold, who were present. Also among the invited VIPs was the artist and designer Walter Crane, a clue to the significance of the occasion, for Liverpool artistic and political leaders were waking up to the fact that a new movement, known in retrospect as the Arts and Crafts Movement, had swept the country and that in the production of individually designed and hand-crafted articles, Merseyside was being left behind. In that same month, February 1894, Harold Rathbone had begun production at his Della Robbia Pottery across the water in Birkenhead with funds provided by his family and their business colleagues. Unlike most of his kinsmen who were merchants and politicians, Harold Rathbone was a trained artist who had travelled in Italy and had fallen in love with the figures and relief panels modelled by Luca della Robbia and his descendants in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence. Back in England, Harold decided that he would attempt to make similar ceramic pieces, and also try to copy some of the smaller domestic wares made in Italy in the sixteenth century and distinguished by their bright colours and glazes. He would do this in accordance with the principles laid down by William Morris for the revival of traditional skills and pride in workmanship, principles which underlay the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain. At the same time he would encourage the artists at his pottery to develop their own individual skills and express themselves when throwing the pots and decorating them. There was to be absolutely nothing which was mechanical or

Very large plaque, with a portrait of a young woman in imitation of 16th century Italian plaques made at e.g. Deruta: see figs. 42, 43. Incised mark “CAW” for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1904. 50cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

1. Liverpool Mercury, 12 February 1894.

13


INTRODUCTION The town of Birkenhead, situated on the river Mersey directly opposite Liverpool, is chiefly known for the ships which were built there during the last 150 years – two Ark Royal aircraft carriers come to mind, and countless other ships and submarines. Residents familiar with the town’s history will also know about Lee’s Tapestry Works which exported top-class fabrics and embroideries worldwide during the 1930s and helped furnish the Queen Mary. Far less well known is a remarkable little factory, a pottery, in the centre of Birkenhead which was at the heart of the British Arts and Crafts Movement – the Della Robbia Pottery, just off Hamilton Square, in production from 1894 to 1906. Why would such a small pottery, set up to revive an antique Italian style as its name suggests, be started up on Merseyside? An answer can be found in a speech given on 10 February 1894 by Sir William Forwood, a prominent member of Liverpool City Council, at the opening of the Walker Art Gallery Spring Exhibition. Sir William emphasised how desirable it was to cultivate the decorative arts on Merseyside and went on to say: “We have very few industries and handicrafts of our own in Liverpool at the present time. This has not always been the case, for looking back over a period of 50 years we will find that Liverpool had her potteries at Seacombe and in the neighbourhood of the Herculaneum Dock. To my mind there is no reason why what has been done in the past should not be done in the future (hear, hear). I am glad to think that Mr Rathbone and some members of his family have already made a departure in that direction by forming a company for the manufacture of art pottery (hear, hear). I would like also to see pottery establishments formed for the manufacture of pottery for mercantile purposes.”1 The Rathbones referred to were Alderman Philip Rathbone and his son Harold, who were present. Also among the invited VIPs was the artist and designer Walter Crane, a clue to the significance of the occasion, for Liverpool artistic and political leaders were waking up to the fact that a new movement, known in retrospect as the Arts and Crafts Movement, had swept the country and that in the production of individually designed and hand-crafted articles, Merseyside was being left behind. In that same month, February 1894, Harold Rathbone had begun production at his Della Robbia Pottery across the water in Birkenhead with funds provided by his family and their business colleagues. Unlike most of his kinsmen who were merchants and politicians, Harold Rathbone was a trained artist who had travelled in Italy and had fallen in love with the figures and relief panels modelled by Luca della Robbia and his descendants in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence. Back in England, Harold decided that he would attempt to make similar ceramic pieces, and also try to copy some of the smaller domestic wares made in Italy in the sixteenth century and distinguished by their bright colours and glazes. He would do this in accordance with the principles laid down by William Morris for the revival of traditional skills and pride in workmanship, principles which underlay the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain. At the same time he would encourage the artists at his pottery to develop their own individual skills and express themselves when throwing the pots and decorating them. There was to be absolutely nothing which was mechanical or

Very large plaque, with a portrait of a young woman in imitation of 16th century Italian plaques made at e.g. Deruta: see figs. 42, 43. Incised mark “CAW” for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1904. 50cm. Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

1. Liverpool Mercury, 12 February 1894.

13


Fig. 18. ‘Annunciation’, Andrea della Robbia (1435–1525), Hospital of the Innocents, Florence. © 2012 Photo Scala, Florence.

32

33


Fig. 18. ‘Annunciation’, Andrea della Robbia (1435–1525), Hospital of the Innocents, Florence. © 2012 Photo Scala, Florence.

32

33


Fig. 47. ‘New Vase’, shape no. 59 in the 1896 Catalogue. Incised mark ‘HP’ for Harry Pearce, painted monogram ‘HJ’ for Hannah Jones; c. 1898. 21.5cm. Private collection.

necessary, but it was also the result of Harold Rathbone’s approach which was that of an art tutor, not that of a potter. A tutor must always encourage, and a Pottery artist who had showed a spark of true artistic flair in incised decoration would have his piece fired and coloured. Only ‘slipshod’ work was rejected (although the dividing line is not always clear). This artistic tolerance caused many pieces to be put on the market which other potteries would have smashed, and is a cause of the disdain with which Della Robbia wares have sometimes been treated. Most Della Robbia enthusiasts have at least one rather rough-looking piece in their collection, but have learnt to love it because of the honest effort it represents. Harold Rathbone knew all this. In his article for The Sphinx in 1895 he wrote: ‘Local talent alone being employed, these early efforts were naturally somewhat crude. But in that the material was also a local product, the true spirit of life and growth (which has since so remarkably developed) was in them.’ vi.Technical influences Harold Rathbone must have known about contemporary potting trends, the lustre-glazed wares of William de Morgan for example, and the technical advances and glaze experiments being carried out at the Linthorpe Pottery in Middlesborough with the active encouragement of Dr Christopher Dresser. Nearer home, the Salopian Pottery at Benthall, founded in the early 1880s, was decorating wares with coloured slips and high-temperature colours under the glaze, and there is some evidence of a link between this pottery and the Della Robbia Pottery (see p. XXX), but unlike Salopian and Linthorpe, the Birkenhead factory never really experimented once a decorating and firing routine had been established at the beginning. After being forced at the outset to compromise to some extent and betray the principles of William Morris by using moulds and a turning lathe, Harold Rathbone then drew a line and would go no further. No other mechanical aids were allowed. His kiln was built to fire red earthenware clay at a low temperature (1100–1150º) and that was sufficient for him. He was not interested in potting technology, and he imported skills from Staffordshire only to the extent needed to obtain minimum standards of quality.Above all, he detested ‘slickness’.20

20. Ibid. 21. The Magazine of Art, 1897, p. 7.

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Due to this basic and unvaried house technique, the Birkenhead pots do have a unique and consistent appearance and can be distinguished at a distance from the wares of other art potteries.The colour palette used in decoration is certainly a recognisable feature, in particular the predominance of the ‘Della Robbia turquoise’. The glaze, too, is unmistakeable – it looks glossy, as if still wet. The high-flux colours which were used have blended with the viscous glaze, and the pieces gleam – this was deliberate, as Harold Rathbone had a clear idea of how he wanted the pots to look. The inspiration owed much to the bright colours of Deruta, Gubbio and other sixteenthcentury Italian manufacturers and in particular the later Cantagalli revivals of those early styles. Della Robbia pots were intended for the dark corners of Victorian houses, where oil lamp-light would pick out their Mediterranean liveliness and, as the Magazine of Art put it, ‘the ordinary meal would have the comparative air of a banquet’.21 vii.Tube-lining and slip trailing There was, however, one development in decorative technique late on in the Pottery’s existence. The artist Charles Collis spent two years at the Doulton factory at Burslem, during which time he learnt the technique of slip trailing, a process in which a coloured clay slip is dropped or trailed onto the surface of the pot to form part of the pattern outline, and also tube-lining, a similar process in which a thin even line of clay is ‘piped’ onto the surface, often to form the edge of a design feature. On his return to Della Robbia in 1902 he introduced these techniques there, having brought the necessary equipment with him from Staffordshire. In his memoirs Collis makes it clear that Harold Rathbone disapproved of this, as he did any technical innovation: ‘I introduced slip work, that is raised like the old English tygs, and coloured slips – no one else [at Della Robbia] did this type of work. After working in the Potteries, I was able to introduce new ideas. Mr Rathbone was very conservative and reluctant to accept anything that was mechanical.’ Gertrude Russell recalled that she did once try out a piped decoration on a pot but was stopped by Harold Rathbone. She was told that designs had to be sgraffito, and not put on ‘as one would ice a cake’.


Fig. 47. ‘New Vase’, shape no. 59 in the 1896 Catalogue. Incised mark ‘HP’ for Harry Pearce, painted monogram ‘HJ’ for Hannah Jones; c. 1898. 21.5cm. Private collection.

necessary, but it was also the result of Harold Rathbone’s approach which was that of an art tutor, not that of a potter. A tutor must always encourage, and a Pottery artist who had showed a spark of true artistic flair in incised decoration would have his piece fired and coloured. Only ‘slipshod’ work was rejected (although the dividing line is not always clear). This artistic tolerance caused many pieces to be put on the market which other potteries would have smashed, and is a cause of the disdain with which Della Robbia wares have sometimes been treated. Most Della Robbia enthusiasts have at least one rather rough-looking piece in their collection, but have learnt to love it because of the honest effort it represents. Harold Rathbone knew all this. In his article for The Sphinx in 1895 he wrote: ‘Local talent alone being employed, these early efforts were naturally somewhat crude. But in that the material was also a local product, the true spirit of life and growth (which has since so remarkably developed) was in them.’ vi.Technical influences Harold Rathbone must have known about contemporary potting trends, the lustre-glazed wares of William de Morgan for example, and the technical advances and glaze experiments being carried out at the Linthorpe Pottery in Middlesborough with the active encouragement of Dr Christopher Dresser. Nearer home, the Salopian Pottery at Benthall, founded in the early 1880s, was decorating wares with coloured slips and high-temperature colours under the glaze, and there is some evidence of a link between this pottery and the Della Robbia Pottery (see p. XXX), but unlike Salopian and Linthorpe, the Birkenhead factory never really experimented once a decorating and firing routine had been established at the beginning. After being forced at the outset to compromise to some extent and betray the principles of William Morris by using moulds and a turning lathe, Harold Rathbone then drew a line and would go no further. No other mechanical aids were allowed. His kiln was built to fire red earthenware clay at a low temperature (1100–1150º) and that was sufficient for him. He was not interested in potting technology, and he imported skills from Staffordshire only to the extent needed to obtain minimum standards of quality.Above all, he detested ‘slickness’.20

20. Ibid. 21. The Magazine of Art, 1897, p. 7.

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Due to this basic and unvaried house technique, the Birkenhead pots do have a unique and consistent appearance and can be distinguished at a distance from the wares of other art potteries.The colour palette used in decoration is certainly a recognisable feature, in particular the predominance of the ‘Della Robbia turquoise’. The glaze, too, is unmistakeable – it looks glossy, as if still wet. The high-flux colours which were used have blended with the viscous glaze, and the pieces gleam – this was deliberate, as Harold Rathbone had a clear idea of how he wanted the pots to look. The inspiration owed much to the bright colours of Deruta, Gubbio and other sixteenthcentury Italian manufacturers and in particular the later Cantagalli revivals of those early styles. Della Robbia pots were intended for the dark corners of Victorian houses, where oil lamp-light would pick out their Mediterranean liveliness and, as the Magazine of Art put it, ‘the ordinary meal would have the comparative air of a banquet’.21 vii.Tube-lining and slip trailing There was, however, one development in decorative technique late on in the Pottery’s existence. The artist Charles Collis spent two years at the Doulton factory at Burslem, during which time he learnt the technique of slip trailing, a process in which a coloured clay slip is dropped or trailed onto the surface of the pot to form part of the pattern outline, and also tube-lining, a similar process in which a thin even line of clay is ‘piped’ onto the surface, often to form the edge of a design feature. On his return to Della Robbia in 1902 he introduced these techniques there, having brought the necessary equipment with him from Staffordshire. In his memoirs Collis makes it clear that Harold Rathbone disapproved of this, as he did any technical innovation: ‘I introduced slip work, that is raised like the old English tygs, and coloured slips – no one else [at Della Robbia] did this type of work. After working in the Potteries, I was able to introduce new ideas. Mr Rathbone was very conservative and reluctant to accept anything that was mechanical.’ Gertrude Russell recalled that she did once try out a piped decoration on a pot but was stopped by Harold Rathbone. She was told that designs had to be sgraffito, and not put on ‘as one would ice a cake’.


Fig. 74. Advertisement for the Berry Street showrooms, 1905–06. Fig. 73. Liberty & co. advertisement in The Magazine of Art, 1896.

Fig. 72. Della Robbia miniature globe vase. Base of vase showing Liberty’s label still attached. Artists’ marks obscured, 7cm. Private collection.

both factories were hand-made by ‘young lads’ or ‘young apprentices’, while ‘girls’ were employed ‘for the painting process’.Very occasionally, Della Robbia items are found still bearing their adhesive Liberty label.

ii. Liberty of London Liberty’s famous store at 150 Regent Street is accepted as being the most influential as regards the marketing of arts and crafts furniture and decorative items, and the latter included Della Robbia wares. In deciding what was fashionable and desirable, Liberty had an advantage in that the store was quite close to the New Gallery in Regent Street, where the Arts and Crafts Exhibitions were held. A full-page advertisement in The Magazine of Art in November 1896 (see fig. 73) announced that ‘a representative and extensive Collection of English Art Potteries’ was on view at Liberty’s Regent Street galleries, which ‘happily demonstrates the recent advance made in our English Art Pottery’. Three Della Robbia examples are illustrated, along with three examples of Aller Vale products. The two factories were clearly regarded by the store as appealing to the same market. In their catalogues, Liberty stressed that the wares of

iii. Liverpool, Manchester and overseas There were numerous outlets for Della Robbia products in Liverpool, including Stoniers in Church Street, a famous Liverpool china and glass supplier, and Warings in Bold Street, Liverpool’s most fashionable shopping quarter, where regular ‘special displays’ of Della Robbia pottery were put on. After 1900 the Pottery gave the address of its showrooms as 42 Basnett Street, a general house furnishing store owned by Charles Southorn & Co. Harold Rathbone made two attempts to open his own showrooms, the first being at 4 Cook Street Arcade in the commercial quarter of the city in 1899.This shop evidently did not last long, as by 1901 a different occupant was listed.The Arcade was comparatively new and no doubt intended to emulate the London West End arcades, but the rents were high, the Della Robbia shop costing £7 a week plus rates.8 Towards the end of the Pottery’s existence, a larger showroom was opened at 7 Berry Street, Liverpool (at the top of Bold Street), listed in Gore’s Directory for 1906 as ‘Della

8. Charles Collis file, Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

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Robbia Pottery & Marble Co Ltd – new show-rooms and office’. In a contemporary advertisement the façade was depicted – a twin-bay frontage with large letters affixed at first-floor level: ‘DELLA ROBBIA POTTERY’. The advertisement also featured the words ‘Unique Local Industry’ and ‘Makers of Vases, Panels, Fountains, Friezes’. Charles Collis has recorded that this shop was staffed by a manager, a Mr Maggs, and an assistant. Alas, these fine premises were opened too late, and barely lasted a year.

Sales agents in other cities were listed in the 1896 Della Robbia catalogue: in Manchester, Goodalls, King Street, and Haywards, Deansgate; in Paris, Liberty, Avenue de l’Opera, and Jansen Bros, 5 Rue Royale; and in New York, Messrs McHugh, 5th Avenue. There is no record of the volume of sales in these stores, but in the case of the overseas outlets, it was probably not very high and may have consisted of just a few of the better Birkenhead pieces, despite the fact that parts of the Della Robbia catalogue were set out in French.

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Fig. 74. Advertisement for the Berry Street showrooms, 1905–06. Fig. 73. Liberty & co. advertisement in The Magazine of Art, 1896.

Fig. 72. Della Robbia miniature globe vase. Base of vase showing Liberty’s label still attached. Artists’ marks obscured, 7cm. Private collection.

both factories were hand-made by ‘young lads’ or ‘young apprentices’, while ‘girls’ were employed ‘for the painting process’.Very occasionally, Della Robbia items are found still bearing their adhesive Liberty label.

ii. Liberty of London Liberty’s famous store at 150 Regent Street is accepted as being the most influential as regards the marketing of arts and crafts furniture and decorative items, and the latter included Della Robbia wares. In deciding what was fashionable and desirable, Liberty had an advantage in that the store was quite close to the New Gallery in Regent Street, where the Arts and Crafts Exhibitions were held. A full-page advertisement in The Magazine of Art in November 1896 (see fig. 73) announced that ‘a representative and extensive Collection of English Art Potteries’ was on view at Liberty’s Regent Street galleries, which ‘happily demonstrates the recent advance made in our English Art Pottery’. Three Della Robbia examples are illustrated, along with three examples of Aller Vale products. The two factories were clearly regarded by the store as appealing to the same market. In their catalogues, Liberty stressed that the wares of

iii. Liverpool, Manchester and overseas There were numerous outlets for Della Robbia products in Liverpool, including Stoniers in Church Street, a famous Liverpool china and glass supplier, and Warings in Bold Street, Liverpool’s most fashionable shopping quarter, where regular ‘special displays’ of Della Robbia pottery were put on. After 1900 the Pottery gave the address of its showrooms as 42 Basnett Street, a general house furnishing store owned by Charles Southorn & Co. Harold Rathbone made two attempts to open his own showrooms, the first being at 4 Cook Street Arcade in the commercial quarter of the city in 1899.This shop evidently did not last long, as by 1901 a different occupant was listed.The Arcade was comparatively new and no doubt intended to emulate the London West End arcades, but the rents were high, the Della Robbia shop costing £7 a week plus rates.8 Towards the end of the Pottery’s existence, a larger showroom was opened at 7 Berry Street, Liverpool (at the top of Bold Street), listed in Gore’s Directory for 1906 as ‘Della

8. Charles Collis file, Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.

86

Robbia Pottery & Marble Co Ltd – new show-rooms and office’. In a contemporary advertisement the façade was depicted – a twin-bay frontage with large letters affixed at first-floor level: ‘DELLA ROBBIA POTTERY’. The advertisement also featured the words ‘Unique Local Industry’ and ‘Makers of Vases, Panels, Fountains, Friezes’. Charles Collis has recorded that this shop was staffed by a manager, a Mr Maggs, and an assistant. Alas, these fine premises were opened too late, and barely lasted a year.

Sales agents in other cities were listed in the 1896 Della Robbia catalogue: in Manchester, Goodalls, King Street, and Haywards, Deansgate; in Paris, Liberty, Avenue de l’Opera, and Jansen Bros, 5 Rue Royale; and in New York, Messrs McHugh, 5th Avenue. There is no record of the volume of sales in these stores, but in the case of the overseas outlets, it was probably not very high and may have consisted of just a few of the better Birkenhead pieces, despite the fact that parts of the Della Robbia catalogue were set out in French.

87


CHAPTER 7:

A to Z of Della Robbia Pottery Artists, Workmen and Associates Brief biographies, where details are known, in alphabetical order. In some cases, no photograph is known.

Ted Ackerley Albert Edward (“Ted”) Ackerley was born in 1876 in Birkenhead, and brought up by his mother Jane and his stepfather John Williams whom Jane had married in 1878 after Ted’s father Thomas Ackerley had died prematurely of tubercolosis. Ted Ackerley joined the Della Robbia Pottery at the age of 18 or 19 not long after it opened, as did his half-brother Willie Williams, both resident at the family home at 3 Willaston Place, barely 200 yards from the Pottery. Their mother Jane had died in 1893. Ted Ackerley was chiefly a clay presser (i.e. he pressed clay into moulds), and worked in the architectural department at 28 Argyle Street. Charles Collis lists him, in the early years, as “assistant presser, clay maker, and jobber”. By 1905 he had become the sole presser and, according to Collis, “made plaques etc for me to decorate”. He was one of the last employees to leave. Although a painted letter “A” is sometimes found on Della Robbia pieces, it is not thought that this relates to Ted Ackerley, who seems always to have been a clay-worker.

Fig. 112 Photograph of Della Robbia staff probably taken early in 1898.The photo was published in The Sketch magazine in March 1898. As in the earlier staff photograph, not all the artists are present.

Agnes ....... The single letter “A” which occurs as a painted mark on some early Della Robbia pieces can be linked with the name “Agnes” which has been seen painted in full as an artist’s mark (see e.g. “Bulbous Vase” – No. 302 in the 1981 Williamson Art Gallery Della Robbia Exhibition Catalogue). Agnes was likely to have been quite young, probably under 20, but unfortunately there is no record of her surname. Charles Collis, who arrived at the Pottery in mid-1895, made no mention of Agnes in his memoirs, probably because she had left by then. As there were over 100 young women called “Agnes” living in Birkenhead at the time according to the 1891 census, this artist has proved impossible to trace.The two “Agnes Jam Pots” listed as Nos. 71 and 72 in the 1896 Della Robbia Catalogue were no doubt designed by her. Fig. 112A Key to personnel shown in fig 112, as identified by Charles Collis: 1 2 3 4 5

Frank Watkin William Warwick Ruth Bare George Francis John Cecil Shirley

6 Ted Ackerley 7 Annie Smith 8 Harry Fletcher 9 Charles Collis 10 George Seddon

11 Willie Williams 12 James Bowen 13 Jim Connolly or Caton 14 Edward Turri 15 Arthur E Bells

16 Aphra Peirce 17 Emily Margaret Wood 18 Alice Maud Cunningham 19 Albert Richardson 20 Miss Furniss

21 Newman Smith 22 Harry Pearce 23 Harold Rathbone 24 John Bowers 25 ..... Coles (clerk)

Henry Bloomfield Bare Henry Bloomfield Bare was the father of Ruth Bare, a prominent artist at the Della Robbia Pottery. He was born in

1849 at Hungerford, Berkshire. By the age of 13 he had joined an architect’s office in Hungerford and eventually qualified as an architect and surveyor, practising in Liverpool. In 1889 he and his wife and two daughters emigrated to the USA, to Philadelphia, PA, where he set up practice and also edited an Arts and Crafts magazine. However, his American career foundered and in 1896 the family returned to Merseyside, where Bloomfield Bare was to play a prominent role in arts and crafts design, and in publicising the work of students at the School of Architecture and Applied Art, chiefly in the magazine The Studio for which he was the local correspondent. In Liverpool he is remembered mainly as the designer of the wrought iron and copper gates of the Philharmonic Hotel in Hope Street, completed in 1900. In the following year Bare enrolled himself at the Liverpool School (the “Art Sheds”) for half a term of classes in design and antique modelling, and brass and copper working. By 1901 he had opened his own art studio in Liverpool and organised an exhibition of “local artists and craftsmen” there later in that year, which he duly reported in The Studio, commenting that it was greatly enhanced by the specimens of Della Robbia pottery interspersed with the other exhibits, a few of the more important pieces being designed by Harold Rathbone, Cassie Walker, and Ruth Bare”.1 Bloomfield Bare can be exonerated from any charge of nepotism here – it was no more than the truth, as Cassandra Walker and his daughter Ruth were undoubtedly the most gifted artists at the Pottery at that time. Bare’s studio seems to have been at the hub of a tight network of local artists and art students: also exhibiting in 1901 were Marian Walker (Cassandra Walker’s sister) and Florence Cooban (a flatmate of Cassandra’s), who both showed paintings; Mrs Gray Hill (wife of a Della Robbia shareholder) who exhibited decorative panels; Frances MacNair (wife of Herbert and one of the “Glasgow Four”) who exhibited stencilled hangings, as did Ruth Bare; Susanna Firth (daughter of potter John Firth) (stamped leather work); and Bloomfield Bare himself (copper and white metal panels). In 1903 Bare moved his studio to New Ferry, Wirral, and from there he exhibited frequently at the Walker Art Gallery

1 The Studio Vol 24 (1901) pp. 286, 287.

133


CHAPTER 7:

A to Z of Della Robbia Pottery Artists, Workmen and Associates Brief biographies, where details are known, in alphabetical order. In some cases, no photograph is known.

Ted Ackerley Albert Edward (“Ted”) Ackerley was born in 1876 in Birkenhead, and brought up by his mother Jane and his stepfather John Williams whom Jane had married in 1878 after Ted’s father Thomas Ackerley had died prematurely of tubercolosis. Ted Ackerley joined the Della Robbia Pottery at the age of 18 or 19 not long after it opened, as did his half-brother Willie Williams, both resident at the family home at 3 Willaston Place, barely 200 yards from the Pottery. Their mother Jane had died in 1893. Ted Ackerley was chiefly a clay presser (i.e. he pressed clay into moulds), and worked in the architectural department at 28 Argyle Street. Charles Collis lists him, in the early years, as “assistant presser, clay maker, and jobber”. By 1905 he had become the sole presser and, according to Collis, “made plaques etc for me to decorate”. He was one of the last employees to leave. Although a painted letter “A” is sometimes found on Della Robbia pieces, it is not thought that this relates to Ted Ackerley, who seems always to have been a clay-worker.

Fig. 112 Photograph of Della Robbia staff probably taken early in 1898.The photo was published in The Sketch magazine in March 1898. As in the earlier staff photograph, not all the artists are present.

Agnes ....... The single letter “A” which occurs as a painted mark on some early Della Robbia pieces can be linked with the name “Agnes” which has been seen painted in full as an artist’s mark (see e.g. “Bulbous Vase” – No. 302 in the 1981 Williamson Art Gallery Della Robbia Exhibition Catalogue). Agnes was likely to have been quite young, probably under 20, but unfortunately there is no record of her surname. Charles Collis, who arrived at the Pottery in mid-1895, made no mention of Agnes in his memoirs, probably because she had left by then. As there were over 100 young women called “Agnes” living in Birkenhead at the time according to the 1891 census, this artist has proved impossible to trace.The two “Agnes Jam Pots” listed as Nos. 71 and 72 in the 1896 Della Robbia Catalogue were no doubt designed by her. Fig. 112A Key to personnel shown in fig 112, as identified by Charles Collis: 1 2 3 4 5

Frank Watkin William Warwick Ruth Bare George Francis John Cecil Shirley

6 Ted Ackerley 7 Annie Smith 8 Harry Fletcher 9 Charles Collis 10 George Seddon

11 Willie Williams 12 James Bowen 13 Jim Connolly or Caton 14 Edward Turri 15 Arthur E Bells

16 Aphra Peirce 17 Emily Margaret Wood 18 Alice Maud Cunningham 19 Albert Richardson 20 Miss Furniss

21 Newman Smith 22 Harry Pearce 23 Harold Rathbone 24 John Bowers 25 ..... Coles (clerk)

Henry Bloomfield Bare Henry Bloomfield Bare was the father of Ruth Bare, a prominent artist at the Della Robbia Pottery. He was born in

1849 at Hungerford, Berkshire. By the age of 13 he had joined an architect’s office in Hungerford and eventually qualified as an architect and surveyor, practising in Liverpool. In 1889 he and his wife and two daughters emigrated to the USA, to Philadelphia, PA, where he set up practice and also edited an Arts and Crafts magazine. However, his American career foundered and in 1896 the family returned to Merseyside, where Bloomfield Bare was to play a prominent role in arts and crafts design, and in publicising the work of students at the School of Architecture and Applied Art, chiefly in the magazine The Studio for which he was the local correspondent. In Liverpool he is remembered mainly as the designer of the wrought iron and copper gates of the Philharmonic Hotel in Hope Street, completed in 1900. In the following year Bare enrolled himself at the Liverpool School (the “Art Sheds”) for half a term of classes in design and antique modelling, and brass and copper working. By 1901 he had opened his own art studio in Liverpool and organised an exhibition of “local artists and craftsmen” there later in that year, which he duly reported in The Studio, commenting that it was greatly enhanced by the specimens of Della Robbia pottery interspersed with the other exhibits, a few of the more important pieces being designed by Harold Rathbone, Cassie Walker, and Ruth Bare”.1 Bloomfield Bare can be exonerated from any charge of nepotism here – it was no more than the truth, as Cassandra Walker and his daughter Ruth were undoubtedly the most gifted artists at the Pottery at that time. Bare’s studio seems to have been at the hub of a tight network of local artists and art students: also exhibiting in 1901 were Marian Walker (Cassandra Walker’s sister) and Florence Cooban (a flatmate of Cassandra’s), who both showed paintings; Mrs Gray Hill (wife of a Della Robbia shareholder) who exhibited decorative panels; Frances MacNair (wife of Herbert and one of the “Glasgow Four”) who exhibited stencilled hangings, as did Ruth Bare; Susanna Firth (daughter of potter John Firth) (stamped leather work); and Bloomfield Bare himself (copper and white metal panels). In 1903 Bare moved his studio to New Ferry, Wirral, and from there he exhibited frequently at the Walker Art Gallery

1 The Studio Vol 24 (1901) pp. 286, 287.

133


Fig. 199 Very large plaque, with marsh marigold design. Incised mark “CAW” for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1905. 50cm. Private collection.

Women’s Suffrage Movement, to the extent that she was convicted and sent to prison for breaches of the peace committed while protesting. Both Palethorpe sisters later became “suffragettes”. There is no evidence that Cassandra Walker was an active campaigner for women’s rights but she is likely to have been a sympathiser and would certainly have been aware of the Palethorpes’ strong beliefs. Not that Mary Palethorpe was Cassandra’s closest friend – that was Ruth Bare, her colleague at Della Robbia. They mixed in the same social circles, some clue of their shared interests being given by Ruth’s diary entry for 24th March 1901: “Went to hear Dr Aked with Cassie and Alice”. (Dr Aked was the minister at Pembroke Chapel, Liverpool, who preached radical and controversial sermons and later transferred to Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, New York; “Alice”

was Alice Rathbone.) On the 1895 staff photo, Cassandra Walker is wearing, under a full-length apron, a dress with “leg of mutton” sleeves and a high white collar: contrast this with Annie Jones next to her with a white starched apron over a plain black frock. Furthermore, Cassandra is reputed to have often worn a type of long Arabic cloak when walking round Liverpool. All this could be regarded by some as freespiritedness – a descendant of Cassandra Walker has recalled how “Cassandra could not tolerate the way in which women were treated. She was a woman of independent ways and behaviour even in her dress”.82 To others it might have seemed as if she was merely putting on airs and graces – Alice Louisa Jones in her 1978 interview described Cassandra Walker as being “very high and mighty”. This remark was probably due more to the contrast in personalities and

82 Kathleen M. Hawley, ‘Women Artists at the Della Robbia Pottery’ (PhD Thesis 2002, Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead) p 183.

200

Fig. 200 Large plaque, with profile of the head of a woman wearing a bonnet. Incised “CAW” for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1905. 38cm. Bonhams Knightsbridge.

ambitions than anything else but is a rare insight into the more personal side of the Della Robbia workplace. The years 1903 to 1906 saw some of Cassandra Walker’s best work for the Pottery. She specialised in wall plates and plaques which she decorated with style and confidence but she would, on occasion, paint wares designed by others when required. This was an established Della Robbia practice, and even Harold Rathbone was known to paint his employees’ pots on occasion. Cassandra’s painted mark appears, for example, on panels designed by Carlo Manzoni and vases by Charles Collis.

Fig. 201 Small plaque, with startling pattern of rings and spheres in a planetary formation. Incised monogram “CW” for Cassandra Walker. C. 1904. 26.5cm.The design perhaps owes something to the fact that Cassandra Walker also designed jewellery. Private collection.


Fig. 199 Very large plaque, with marsh marigold design. Incised mark “CAW” for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1905. 50cm. Private collection.

Women’s Suffrage Movement, to the extent that she was convicted and sent to prison for breaches of the peace committed while protesting. Both Palethorpe sisters later became “suffragettes”. There is no evidence that Cassandra Walker was an active campaigner for women’s rights but she is likely to have been a sympathiser and would certainly have been aware of the Palethorpes’ strong beliefs. Not that Mary Palethorpe was Cassandra’s closest friend – that was Ruth Bare, her colleague at Della Robbia. They mixed in the same social circles, some clue of their shared interests being given by Ruth’s diary entry for 24th March 1901: “Went to hear Dr Aked with Cassie and Alice”. (Dr Aked was the minister at Pembroke Chapel, Liverpool, who preached radical and controversial sermons and later transferred to Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, New York; “Alice”

was Alice Rathbone.) On the 1895 staff photo, Cassandra Walker is wearing, under a full-length apron, a dress with “leg of mutton” sleeves and a high white collar: contrast this with Annie Jones next to her with a white starched apron over a plain black frock. Furthermore, Cassandra is reputed to have often worn a type of long Arabic cloak when walking round Liverpool. All this could be regarded by some as freespiritedness – a descendant of Cassandra Walker has recalled how “Cassandra could not tolerate the way in which women were treated. She was a woman of independent ways and behaviour even in her dress”.82 To others it might have seemed as if she was merely putting on airs and graces – Alice Louisa Jones in her 1978 interview described Cassandra Walker as being “very high and mighty”. This remark was probably due more to the contrast in personalities and

82 Kathleen M. Hawley, ‘Women Artists at the Della Robbia Pottery’ (PhD Thesis 2002, Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead) p 183.

200

Fig. 200 Large plaque, with profile of the head of a woman wearing a bonnet. Incised “CAW” for Cassandra Annie Walker. Dated 1905. 38cm. Bonhams Knightsbridge.

ambitions than anything else but is a rare insight into the more personal side of the Della Robbia workplace. The years 1903 to 1906 saw some of Cassandra Walker’s best work for the Pottery. She specialised in wall plates and plaques which she decorated with style and confidence but she would, on occasion, paint wares designed by others when required. This was an established Della Robbia practice, and even Harold Rathbone was known to paint his employees’ pots on occasion. Cassandra’s painted mark appears, for example, on panels designed by Carlo Manzoni and vases by Charles Collis.

Fig. 201 Small plaque, with startling pattern of rings and spheres in a planetary formation. Incised monogram “CW” for Cassandra Walker. C. 1904. 26.5cm.The design perhaps owes something to the fact that Cassandra Walker also designed jewellery. Private collection.


CHAPTER 8:

Della Robbia Pottery Marks

Fig. 219 A detailed drawing of the Della Robbia “ship” mark on the back cover of the 1900 Catalogue.

Fig. 220 A typical simple incised Della Robbia ship mark.

a. Factory marks

Fig. 218 Large plaque, with a version of the Della Robbia Pottery “ship” mark painted on the front. Incised mark “L” or “LL” possibly for J.L. Levy, painted mark “W” probably for William Warwick. C. 1895–96. 42.5cm. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

210

i “Ship” mark The Della Robbia Pottery used the same identifying mark throughout its existence: a simplified outline drawing of a sailing ship, in between the initials “D” and “R”. The degree of care with which this ship was drawn varied considerably, but the outline roughly resembles a Viking longship, with curved outline, a single mast and a square sail. This type of vessel at sea was a popular motif of the time among arts and crafts designers, appearing on, for example,William de Morgan tiles and Keswick School metal salvers. The Della Robbia Pottery adopted the ship as their own “logo”, possibly because of the Birkenhead maritime connections, and occasionally even used it as a principal design on the front of plates and plaques. A detailed version of the ship device also appeared on the back cover of the Della Robbia Catalogue of 1900. An outline of the Della Robbia ship mark was usually incised into the soft clay on the base or back of each piece before it was fired, but also appears in painted form. An artist who was applying sgraffito decoration to a pot was expected also to incise the ship mark. Some artists developed their own more imaginative version of the vessel, perhaps adding waves and seagulls, and even islands. Very occasionally, the ship mark was omitted, and also the initials “DR”. Such pieces can often attributed to Della Robbia on the basis of artist’s initials and their general style. On the moulded plaques produced by the Architectural Department the sailing ship mark was at first scratched out on the back with a date, but after 1900 a stamp came into use (fig. 224).This was the nearest the Della Robbia Pottery ever came to printing on its wares, and the ship used is the nearest to being the “authorised” version. The final digit of the year is sometimes indistinct, no doubt due to the practice of updating the same stamp each year rather than make a new one.

ii Pottery name; dates and numbers The name of the Pottery also appears quite often on the base of Della Robbia pieces, presumably because it was thought that the ship mark was insufficient identification.Thus the full name “Della Robbia Pottery Birkenhead” is found, or various elements of it, eg just “Della Robbia” or “Birkenhead”. The year of manufacture was marked on about 50% of the pieces made at Della Robbia, and there appears to have been no set rule about this. Inscribed numbers also appear: these, according to the Della Robbia artist Charles Collis, were “a record for the daily work book”. Such a book would have been part of factory administration and would presumably have recorded the time during which a numbered piece was worked on and the names of the employees who worked on it. Collis confirmed that he numbered his designs, and when he got near 1,000 he started numbering from one again. However, once again there appears to have been no set rule: Gertrude Russell admitted that the clay decorator “was supposed to put on a number, which he didn’t always do”. The “good from kiln” payment system used frequently in Staffordshire, under which workers were paid only in respect

Fig. 221 A more elaborate sgraffito ship by the artist Arthur E. Bells.

Fig. 222 A romanticised version of the ship mark by Harry Pearce.

Fig. 223 A stylised ship mark used by Charles Collis.

Fig. 224 Impressed mark often found on the back of panels.

211


CHAPTER 8:

Della Robbia Pottery Marks

Fig. 219 A detailed drawing of the Della Robbia “ship” mark on the back cover of the 1900 Catalogue.

Fig. 220 A typical simple incised Della Robbia ship mark.

a. Factory marks

Fig. 218 Large plaque, with a version of the Della Robbia Pottery “ship” mark painted on the front. Incised mark “L” or “LL” possibly for J.L. Levy, painted mark “W” probably for William Warwick. C. 1895–96. 42.5cm. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

210

i “Ship” mark The Della Robbia Pottery used the same identifying mark throughout its existence: a simplified outline drawing of a sailing ship, in between the initials “D” and “R”. The degree of care with which this ship was drawn varied considerably, but the outline roughly resembles a Viking longship, with curved outline, a single mast and a square sail. This type of vessel at sea was a popular motif of the time among arts and crafts designers, appearing on, for example,William de Morgan tiles and Keswick School metal salvers. The Della Robbia Pottery adopted the ship as their own “logo”, possibly because of the Birkenhead maritime connections, and occasionally even used it as a principal design on the front of plates and plaques. A detailed version of the ship device also appeared on the back cover of the Della Robbia Catalogue of 1900. An outline of the Della Robbia ship mark was usually incised into the soft clay on the base or back of each piece before it was fired, but also appears in painted form. An artist who was applying sgraffito decoration to a pot was expected also to incise the ship mark. Some artists developed their own more imaginative version of the vessel, perhaps adding waves and seagulls, and even islands. Very occasionally, the ship mark was omitted, and also the initials “DR”. Such pieces can often attributed to Della Robbia on the basis of artist’s initials and their general style. On the moulded plaques produced by the Architectural Department the sailing ship mark was at first scratched out on the back with a date, but after 1900 a stamp came into use (fig. 224).This was the nearest the Della Robbia Pottery ever came to printing on its wares, and the ship used is the nearest to being the “authorised” version. The final digit of the year is sometimes indistinct, no doubt due to the practice of updating the same stamp each year rather than make a new one.

ii Pottery name; dates and numbers The name of the Pottery also appears quite often on the base of Della Robbia pieces, presumably because it was thought that the ship mark was insufficient identification.Thus the full name “Della Robbia Pottery Birkenhead” is found, or various elements of it, eg just “Della Robbia” or “Birkenhead”. The year of manufacture was marked on about 50% of the pieces made at Della Robbia, and there appears to have been no set rule about this. Inscribed numbers also appear: these, according to the Della Robbia artist Charles Collis, were “a record for the daily work book”. Such a book would have been part of factory administration and would presumably have recorded the time during which a numbered piece was worked on and the names of the employees who worked on it. Collis confirmed that he numbered his designs, and when he got near 1,000 he started numbering from one again. However, once again there appears to have been no set rule: Gertrude Russell admitted that the clay decorator “was supposed to put on a number, which he didn’t always do”. The “good from kiln” payment system used frequently in Staffordshire, under which workers were paid only in respect

Fig. 221 A more elaborate sgraffito ship by the artist Arthur E. Bells.

Fig. 222 A romanticised version of the ship mark by Harry Pearce.

Fig. 223 A stylised ship mark used by Charles Collis.

Fig. 224 Impressed mark often found on the back of panels.

211

The Della Robbia Pottery  

Provides a background to the pottery and its workers, as well as many illustrations of the wares, for collectors and dealers.