Manitoba History: Review: Lynne Sussman, Spode/Copeland Transfer-Printed Patterns Found at 20 Hudson’s Bay Company Site

by Virginia G. Berry

Manitoba History, Number 2, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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This Canadian Historic Sites publication is a handsomely illustrated catalogue of 109 Spode/Copeland transfer-printed patterns found at 20 Hudson’s Bay Company sites. Identification of the designs, often from small pieces. has been a demanding task. Lynne Sussman has used the records and pattern books of Spode Limited as her chief source for general information about the firm, its relation to the HBC, and identification of the artifacts. The copious illustrations are almost all taken from the copper plate engravings in the pattern books.

Sussman gives a brief summary of Spode/Copeland from 1776, when Josiah Spode set up on his own, to the present day. Innovative and enterprising during the period of rapid development in the ceramics industry of the late 18th and early 19th century, in 1806 the firm was named “Potter and English Porcelain Maker” to the Prince Regent. By 1835 W. T. Copeland was Lord Mayor of London” and his factory began an association with the HBC which lasted for approximately a century. The U.S. portion of the business was cur-tailed after the 1850s because of restrictions on the entry of British goods; but the Canadian market continued to expand, with sizeable shipments peaking in the 1870s. Excavations show a decline beginning in the 1880s and 1890s when other makers and more variety in wares appeared.

The HBC purchased transfer-printed white earthenware, the 19th century’s most popular ceramic. Printed in the usual range of colours, the dishes rarely had painting or gilding added. Both tableware and toilet ware were included. These were for sale to settlers as well as for use at the forts. The author describes the printing technique and includes two useful appendices for dating: excerpts from a pattern number summary compiled by S. Williams, and the makers’ marks during the firm’s different phases. Particularly interesting is the table recording specific patterns found at each of the HBC sites studied.

Probably the catalogue’s outstanding feature lies in the illustrations. These include 149 black and white photographs and five in colour Most designs are for dinner plates, with additional centre designs shown for elaborate sets (e.g., Field Sports, Rural Scenes, Continental Views), occasional details of other pieces, and extra borders and beads. A photograph of a large selection from the Byron Views dinner service shows the impressive effect of a set of this earthenware. Another happy choice is Sidney Hall’s drawing of a store in c1881, the kind of place where Spode was sold in Western Canada then. All are well printed on excellent paper Eiko Einari has designed an attractive format.

Spode/Copeland is a thorough piece of research within the limits stated. One could wish. however, for some additional information about the trade. For example, were cost and durability the same for all patterns at any given time? Did orders come from the forts, where local taste had input. or from the London headquarters? Do invoices provide the quantities shipped? Also some discussion of the occurrence of patterns at the forts and of the patterns themselves would add interest—styles of designs; themes represented; the favourites; those chosen least often; the best customers; infrequent purchasers. It is intriguing to think of people throughout HBC territory dining off floral B772 and Flower Vase, recorded at 18 out of 20 sites, while Field Sports, Coral, and Corn Poppy occurred at single points. But to speculate on this without information about cost, method of ordering, etc., is idle.

Leaving aside such topics, which could form the basis of another study, this is an excellent catalogue for those interested in the decorative arts and for students of Canadian history.

Page revised: 23 April 2010