Eastern Influences: 19th Century Staffordshire Platter

In the mid-19th century "Oriental" artwork was a popular pattern for ceramics.




Thank you for sending me an image of your Staffordshire platter. The ceramics of Staffordshire, England, have always been of particular interest to me because my parents were collectors. I remember conversations about "Staffordshire dogs" when I was 7 years old, and at last realizing that my parents were not actually talking about our golden retriever!

Staffordshire refers to a region in England that was - and still is - known for its ceramics. The area was rich with natural clay deposits and by the 1800s Staffordshire had developed into a leading center that manufactured wares for both utilitarian and decorative purposes. Legend has it that in the 1700s potters would simply dig clay up from the roads - hence the term "potholes"! As the market grew for dinner and decorative wares, so did techniques from the manufacturers. With competition from the finer, thinner and harder porcelain from the Orient and, later, Germany, the region of Staffordshire strove to create their wares in a way that gained popularity through ingenuity of decoration.

In the mid- to late-1800s, transfer-decorated ceramics, or "transferware," became the new hottest thing to hit the English ceramics market. The consistency of pattern achieved by creating a decal-like decoration applied to the underglaze of the ceramic enabled the manufacture of products that could be mass-produced and enjoyed at a reasonable price. For instance, the popular "Blue Willow" transferware dinner sets were created to mimic Canton and Nanking decorated Chinese export porcelain depicting "Oriental" scenes of junk boats in a mystical Eastern landscape. The fascination at the time with Eastern culture certainly drove the ceramic marketplace in the West.

English "ironstone" was invented in the early 19th century as a new and improved ceramic that was harder than earthenware and stronger than porcelain. It was marketed as affordable and beautiful for everyday use; its decoration was most often transferware patterns of flowers, landscapes and historical scenes.

Your piece is an English Staffordshire ironstone platter, transfer-decorated in the Corinth pattern. The scene evokes a classical landscape with ancient ruins, figures and horses looking out to the sea. The entire set would have consisted of everything from plates to tea pots. Enjoying a meal surrounded by a classical landscape is certainly a luxury!

I would value your platter today - as it is slightly crazed (has crackles in the glaze) and is somewhat stained from over 100 years of wonderful use - at $125.

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