Imagine Christmas morning, 100 years ago: excited children wheel porcelain dolls in cast iron buggies while father builds a fire beneath the ornately decorated mantle. The kitchen is alive with acttivity as the aroma of the forthcoming feast wafts through the home. In the dining room, the massive oak table displays hand sewn linens set with sterling silver flatware, figural napkin rings, , crystal salt dips, and mothers finest china, a beautiful set of Spode Tower.
This holiday season, many lovingly prepared family banquets will again be served on Spode Tower and other traditional Spode dinnerware patterns, many of which remain unchanged since the early 1800s.
Josiah Spode I, a former apprentice of Josiah Wedgwood, founded his pottery works in 1770; ten years later, he perfected the non-fading, blue transfer printed underglazed china that became the hallmark of the Staffordshire potters in the 1780s. The next breakthrough at the Spode works came in 1794, when Josiah Spode II mixed calcified ox bone with ordinary china clay and stone, creating a bone china which approached porcelain in quality yet could be produced inexpensively on a large scale. Bone china quicly replaced other inferior types of stoneware throughout the pottery industry and remains one of the most admired ceramic forms today.
More than excellent quality attracts collectors to Spode; elegant designs, from the brilliantly colored floral motifs of Billinglsey Rose(c.1894) and Buttercup to Oriental styles like India (c.1815) and Spode's Willow have drawn tableware buyers to Spode for decades. Spode designs were greatly influenced by the family's association with William Copeland, a London broker and tea merchant; in many cases, Spode lifted design concepts directly from the elaborately decorated papers used to wrap the tea leaves Copeland imported from China. Trade with Asia was booming in the early 1800s, and as Europeans became entranced by Oriental design, Spode patterns became wildly popular.
Together, the Spodes and Copeland opened a showroom in London, exposing Spode China to the burgeoning British merchant class and to sea traders who soon carried it around the world. Spode's success at selling inexpensive bone china with an Oriental flavor brought the importation of Chinese pottery almost to a halt.
After Josiah Spode II died, Copeland bought the pottery, adding exquisite hand-decorated parian figures, plaques, vases and tablewares under the Copeland name while continuing many popular Spode patterns. New Spode patterns in the Victorian era depicted English country and hunt scenes as well as flora motifs; special export china in Spanish styles was created to sell in Mexico and South America, and later in Florida and California. An area of surprise and interest to modern Spode collectors is the variety of non-tableware pieces produced with any number of Spode or Spode/Copeland marks in the late 1800s, including vases, bidets, and ornamental items.
While collectors are increasingly discovering unusual pieces of Spode, most seek out the attractive dinnerware patterns. Now a part of Royal Worcester China, Spode is still produced in Red and Blue Tower and certain other patterns; new pieces are easily told from old by their stylized blue marks. Whether the collector desires a complete set of Wickerland or an individual plate, gravy bowl, or serving dish in cheery Spode Christmas pattern, Spode's timeless designs and widespread distribution make it easy to build a collection. Attractive Spode China services will remain a part of family holiday tradition for many Christmases yet to come. -Don Haase and Biff Minnick
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