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Museum Feature

Museum Feature – Spode Florence Tureen, Platter, and Ladle

The scalloped shape and exquisite detail in the hand-painted design make our museum feature, a tureen, platter, and ladle in the Spode Florence pattern, truly special. Spode promotional material from August 1957 provides interesting perspective on the origins of the Florence pattern. “From the carefully drawn and colored illumination of an Italian Renaissance manuscript - done by some forgotten monk – Spode artists took the graceful scrolls and soft coloring of Florence. The Charlotte shape, with its sparkling reverse swirl and scalloped edge, was named for Queen Charlotte, who used silver of this type. Florence is correct for any period from the Traditional styles of the 18th Century to the present.” The Spode promotional team certainly got it right – Florence is an elegant and timeless pattern.

The founder of Spode China, Josiah Spode I, was born in 1733 near what is now Stoke-on-Trent, England. Josiah’s young life was fraught with hardship; the Spode family was exceedingly poor, and his father died when Josiah was only six years old. But Josiah’s fortunes began to turn by the time he was sixteen, when his brother-in-law helped him gain an apprenticeship under Thomas Whieldon, one of the best potters of his time. After five years of learning the trade from Whieldon, Spode began working for William Banks, another highly regarded potter in the area.

When Spode opened his own factory sometime around 1770, he quickly earned a reputation for being an astute businessman and innovator in the field of pottery production. Using land he had previously acquired through various business deals, Spode created a system of canals around his factory as an efficient means to transport raw materials and finished wares. Josiah Spode I’s son, Josiah Spode II, entered the family business around 1778. He left Stoke-on-Trent and moved to London, where he opened a store for his father’s wares. Around this time, the British government imposed a huge tax increase on the popular tableware being imported from China. At the same time, the tax on tea was substantially reduced. The sudden scarcity of Chinese porcelain (combined with the tea-hungry public’s rising demand for fine ceramics) created a huge window of opportunity for domestic pottery manufacturers. The Spode family business took advantage of this situation, and began to grow rapidly.

Innovations in production techniques helped Spode’s company meet the demands of its customers in creative and efficient ways. Painted tableware was extremely popular at the time, but expensive to make. The preferred color of the day was cobalt blue, and Chinese patterns like “Willow” were highly desirable in the marketplace. Spode’s new technique for decorating china included putting the desired images on tissue paper, then transferring them to unglazed pottery. The paper was then peeled away and the item was fired in an oven. This method produced exquisitely detailed designs without the time and expense of hand painting each piece, and the basic process remains virtually unchanged in china manufacturing to this day. Spode and his son also perfected a formula for high-quality, translucent dinnerware. This formula produces thin, strong, white china using approximately 50 percent bone ash, 25 percent feldspar, and 25 percent china clay. Today, this recipe is used by many manufacturers, and is generally referred to as “fine bone china.”

In 1784, a tea salesman named William Copeland began working for the Spode family in London. Copeland gained employment with Spode after suggesting he could sell Spode products to the customers who bought his tea. In 1805, William Copeland became an equal partner in the Spode business with Josiah Spode II, and by 1812, a business deal with Josiah Spode II made Copeland the sole administrator of Spode. Over the coming decades, Spode, which was now known as Copeland Spode, produced some extraordinary dinnerware patterns, including Blue Italian, Buttercup, Woodland, Billingsley Rose, Christmas Rose, Christmas Tree, and Indian Tree. The firm stayed in the Copeland family from 1812 until 1966. Various names were used during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to label Spode’s wares, including “Spode,” “Copeland,” “Copeland Spode,” and “Copeland Late Spode.” Today, the company continues to grow. Spode patterns are used on the tables of royalty, dignitaries, and ordinary families alike. Because of its technical innovations and a continued commitment to excellence in design, the Spode name has come to be known the world over.

The Spode Florence tureen in our museum is not for sale, but we do have a variety of Florence items and other Spode pieces 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 425,000 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 10:00 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.

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