It goes without saying that the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent has amazing ceramic collections. The combination of archaeological discoveries and surviving pieces sometimes gives us new insights into the development of the pottery industry. This is one such case.
When BBC’s Time Team came to Burslem in 1998, they excavated the site of the old covered market. The building was demolished in 1957 when the surface was laid out as a small public garden leaving the ground beneath undisturbed. The site had originally been purchased in1834, and on 1st December 1835 Enoch Wood laid the cornerstone of the new market in a great ceremony. Everything beneath the cornerstone had to have been in place before December 1st 1835.
In the time team dig great quantities of pottery were recovered, much of it with the mark of Enoch Wood & Sons, including a quantity of earthenware underglaze printed in blue, pink, purple, brown and black, and some pieces printed in a combination of those colours. These must be among the earliest known multi-colour or polychrome printed wares as they were made no later than 1835.
The finds included plates and saucers with two-color printing on the rims in a previously unrecorded pattern. The centres are polychrome printed using three separate engraved copper plates one for each of the colours blue, green and pink. A close look shows that the floral center is printed in blue, green and pink and the colours applied in that order. You can see that the alignment of the colours is not exact. The blue is not lined up with the pink which also seems to be printed a little out of alignment missing the centre of the lower green flowers. The smaller saucer seems to have been printed more accurately than the plate, however the Romantic ethereal flower sprays are very forgiving where the colors not accurately overlaid. A small fragmentary cream jug has similar floral sprays.
Among other fragments recovered, were pieces of a cup. The polychome design on design on this example is a fairly complete landscape. It shows a castle-like building behind an arched bridge over a river, figures in the foreground may be fishing, a small fragment shows two men at a stile. The cup has a single colour brown print on the inside rim, in a design known as Butterfly Border a pattern that is known in marked examples by Enoch Wood.
So, by 1835 at the latest, polychrome printing with multiple plates was underway. Albeit in a modest form, the print subjects, floral or Romantic Landscapes, the print colours not necessarily reflecting nature and technically not always perfect as the lack of registration dots sometimes led to colours being misaligned – but that said attractive full colour printing was underway. This is a full 10 years before the polychrome printed wares of Jesse Austin and Alphonsus Toft were produced. Austin has long been given credit for the introduction of multi-colour printing, perhaps he made improvements, adding registration dots to keep the successive color prints in alignment and finishing with a black print that holds the design together. But it seems likely that a range of simple polychrome printed wares were in production in the 1835-45 period before Austin entered the field.
Plates with polychrome printed centres, Enoch Wood & Sons, 1835-45 © The Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent