Our museum feature this month, the “Bobby Burns Plate,” is an outstanding example of the many collections of Series Ware that Royal Doulton produced in celebration of people, places, events, and literature significant to British history.
At the center of the plate is a formal, etched portrait of Robert Burns, who lived from 1759 to 1796, and was known as “Rabbie” or “Bobby” Burns. He was called “Scotland's favorite son,” and often, the “Ploughman Poet” (in the background of the portrait, a ploughman and his team of horses are depicted). Burns’s work defined him as a spokesman for the common man, and the political and social commentary in his poems was sometimes blunt.
Burns is the best known of the British poets who wrote in Scots dialect. In addition to his original works, he also collected Scottish folk songs, and his work grew in popularity, even after his death. His song, “Auld Lang Syne,” is given voice worldwide, and his poems, “A Red, Red Rose” and “A Man’s a Man for A’That” are often recited. On the rim of the “Bobby Burns Plate” are beautifully rendered illustrations of some of the major characters in Burns’s poems and songs, including Tam O’Shanter, Highland Mary, and Duncan Gray.
Royal Doulton began as Doulton and Watts Pottery in 1815. A partnership between John Doulton, Martha Jones, and John Watts, the pottery house mainly produced industrial materials such as stoneware sewer pipes, along with pots, jugs, and pitchers. The new business flourished over the next few years, and eventually relocated to Lambeth, England. By 1830, John Doulton’s sons had joined the management of the factory. As the company grew, so did its interest in producing ceramics for the home. Two of John Doulton’s sons, Henry and Frederick, left Doulton and Watts to open Henry Doulton and Co. In 1847, John Doulton’s oldest son, John Doulton, Jr., also left the Lambeth factory to open his own ceramics mill. Turmoil in the European and American financial markets forced the three firms, Doulton and Watts, Henry Doulton and Co., and John Doulton, Jr., to dissolve. But in 1853, the three firms regrouped as Doulton and Co.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, industrial pollution began to contaminate the River Thames, London’s primary source of drinking water. To address this problem, Doulton and Co. produced ceramic vessels that successfully filtered pollutants from the water. These vessels were easily adapted to the needs of the Royal Family, British Military, and hospitals throughout England. In 1901, to honor this contribution to public health, King Edward VII provided Doulton and Co. with a Royal Warrant.
After the Royal Warrant was issued, Doulton and Co. became Royal Doulton. It was around this time that the company began to invest its resources in skillful art directors and sculptors, as Henry Doulton had realized a growing demand for mass produced figurines and art ware. Ceramic designer Charles J. Noke had been recruited by Doulton in 1889, and would become a seminal force in the company. Noke’s father was a fine antiques dealer who counted among his friends R. W. Binns, who was then director of the Royal Worcester company. Noke grew up spending time in the Worcester factory, and apprenticed under famed sculptor James Hadley. After becoming art director of Royal Doulton, Noke championed the creation of Series Ware. Crafted by a talented team of artists, including George Holdcroft, Harry Tittensor, Victor Venner, and others, these lines of themed art ware were very popular. Noke (in collaboration with potter Bernard Moore) also developed a variety of new glazes, perhaps most famously the brilliant red “Flambe” glaze which debuted at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1914 to great acclaim. Under Noke’s artistic direction, Royal Doulton also began producing the character jugs and figurines for which the company is best known today.
The “Bobby Burns Plate” in our museum is not for sale, but we do have a variety of other Royal Doulton 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.