Spode China was started by the son of a pauper, Josiah Spode I, who was a visionary in business and in tableware. Late in the eighteenth century, chinaware from the Orient was becoming scarcer. Coupled with the fact that the outrageous tax on tea was significantly reduced, Britain needed new sources for their dinnerware needs. Josiah Spode answered the call.
Josiah Spode I apprenticed, at the age of 16, to master potter Thomas Whieldon. Remaining with Whieldon until his 21st year, Spode learned much about pottery functionality and design; however, it was not until 1780 that Josiah Spode opened the doors to his own porcelain factory. The Spode factory, under the careful guidance of Josiah, was responsible for two of the most important breakthroughs in English ceramics: First, the formula for bone china that is used today and, even more importantly, he perfected the "underglaze" printing process for earthenware that is used today. Many intricate patterns could be applied to pieces without the worries of chipping, scratching and fading.
Word spread rapidly of Spode's beautiful dinnerware designs and durable underglaze prints. Reaching as far as the settlers in the 'New World,' the Imperialware patterns reminded the settlers of a proud heritage that was based, in many ways, in pottery. Designs like
The Blue Room Collection were favorites in settlers homes for many years. The charm, functionality and strength of Spode patterns is born out of a process that is as astonishing as the patterns.
Underglaze printing is intricate, and remains much the same as it was centuries ago. A design is created on a piece of paper, and then carved onto a copper plate. It is heated with oxides to produce the blue color, and wiped clean of the excess. The pattern is then transferred to a piece of tissue paper, and the tissue is transferred to a blank ceramic piece. The piece is immersed in water so the tissue will float away, leaving the intricate pattern behind. The piece is then glazed and heated in a kiln, producing a finished product.
Josiah Spode II would take control of the company upon his father's death in 1797. The tradition continued with Josiah Spode III. Following a tragic accident in 1829 that claimed the life of Josiah III, the business was sold, eventually landing in the hands of the Copeland family where it remained (under the Copeland banner) until the mid-sixties. After merging with Royal Worcester to form Royal Worcester Spode, the Spode name was resurrected in 1970 to celebrate the company's 200th anniversary.
Spode has become a worldwide success story. Spode has produced many pieces for royalty, including the
Queen's Jubilee, and a china set produced for Queen Mary called
Queen's Bird. Spode is exalted for its enduring spirit and high quality standards. The company now employs over 600 people, and produces a wide range of product, from earthenware to fine bone china.