From our museum, this month we’re showcasing a demitasse cup and saucer set in the stunning Summer Glory chintz pattern by Shelley. The word "chintz" derives from the Sanskrit word "chitra," meaning "bright" or “variegated.” Chintz calico was imported from India into Europe at the beginning of the 17th century. But it wasn’t until three centuries later that the English would popularize the decoration on dinnerware. “Summer Glory” is one of many chintz designs produced by Shelley between the years of 1880 to 1964, and the cup and saucer from our museum are in the “Henley” shape, produced from approximately 1938 to 1964.
The story of Shelley Potteries begins in 1822, when a pottery was built in the Foley district of Staffordshire, England (an area that is now part of Stoke-on-Trent). The factory produced various earthenware products under several different owners until 1856, when Henry Wileman became the sole proprietor. In 1860, Wileman set about expanding the facility and built, next to the existing pottery, a china factory for producing porcelain. In 1862, Joseph Ball Shelley, who descended from a long line of potters, began working for Wileman as a travelling salesman. In 1872, Shelley became a partner in the firm, and by 1884, Shelley and his son, Percy, had full ownership of the business, although they chose to continue selling their products under the name “Wileman & Co.” When Joseph Shelley died in 1896, Percy gained full ownership of the company and took the helm with aplomb, setting out to greatly improve the company’s product lines.
Percy had visited the Chicago Exhibition in 1893 to gain greater insight into American and international tableware trends. After attending the Exhibition, Percy recognized his company had potential to break into the North American market. But first, Percy realized the company needed to improve the overall quality and design of their products, so he began to bring in many top pottery artists and designers. Over the years, the firm employed influential artists and designers like F. Micklewright, Rowland Morris, Mabel Lucis Attwell, and Hilda Cowham. Aided by talented art directors like Frederick Alfred Rhead, and later, Walter Slater, Shelley began to achieve great success. (Frederick Alfred Rhead’s son, Frederick Hurten Rhead, spent a brief period working with his father at Wileman & Co. before moving to America, where he would go on to design the immensely popular “Fiesta” pattern for Homer Laughlin.)
The Art Deco shapes and designs of the 1920s and 1930s were some of Shelley’s most popular, both in England and America. In 1929, the company officially changed its name to “Shelley Potteries, Ltd,” although it had been using a Shelley backstamp on its products since 1910. Percy Shelley retired in 1932, leaving the company in the control of his three sons. With the onset of World War II, Shelley focused on producing colorful wares for export (production of English ceramics for domestic use during the war was restricted and limited to plain, white pieces). After the war, the company began to struggle, hurt by a lack of innovation in design and increased competition from European and Asian companies. In 1966, the company was sold to Pearson & Sons, Ltd., a holding company that had purchased many struggling English potteries. These potteries were eventually combined into Allied English Potteries, a single company set up by Pearson & Sons. Soon after acquiring Shelley, Allied English Potteries destroyed all of the Shelley molds, not realizing a market for Shelley products still existed. Allied English Potteries was combined with the Doulton Group in 1971. The two entities split in 1994, with Royal Doulton keeping the rights to the Shelley name, which it maintains today.
Although the Summer Glory cup and saucer set in our museum is not for sale, we do have a limited supply of gorgeous Summer Glory items available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you'll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 12 million individual pieces in more than 400,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!