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The company was founded by Josiah Spode, who earned renown in the ceramic business for perfecting the blue underglaze printing process in 1784 and for co-developing the formula for fine bone china. He opened a factory in Stoke-on-Trent in 1767 and in 1776 developed the current Spode factory. His business in creamware (a fine cream-coloured earthenware) and in pearlware (a fine white-glazed earthenware) was very successful.
Josiah Spode I is credited with the introduction of underglaze blue transfer printing into Staffordshire, in 1781-84. Worcester and Bow had commenced transfer printing in 1756, and Wedgwood introduced a similar process to Staffordshire in blacks and reds using Liverpool engravers. Liverpool pottery also produced tiles by a variant transfer method. William Adams of Cobridge followed with overglaze blue transfers. But it was through the engraver Thomas Lucas and printer James Richard of the Caughley factory, in the tradition there of Robert Hancock and Thomas Turner, who had created transfers absorbing the Chinese character of the painted designs of Worcester pottery, that Spode introduced the blue underglaze transfer to Staffordshire 'in a bid for supremacy in utilitarian ware.' Thomas Minton also produced transfers for Spode.
This method involved the engraving of a design on a copper plate, which was then printed onto gummed tissue. The colour paste was worked into the cut areas of the copper plate and wiped from the uncut surfaces, and then printed by passing through rollers. These designs, including edge-patterns which had to be manipulated in sections,were cut out using scissors and applied to the biscuit-fired ware (using a white fabric), itself prepared with a gum solution. The tissue was then floated off in water, leaving the glaze pattern adhering to the plate. This was then dipped in the overglaze and returned to the kiln for the glost firing. Blue underglaze transfer became a standard feature of Staffordshire pottery. Spode also used on-glaze transfers for other wares. The well-known Spode blue-and-white dinner services with engraved sporting scenes and Italian views were developed under Josiah Spode the younger, but continued to be reproduced into much later times.
During the 18th century many English potters were striving and competing to discover the industrial secret of the production of fine translucent porcelain. The Plymouth and Bristol factories, and (from 1782-1810) the New Hall (Staffordshire) factory under Champion's patent, were producing hard paste or true porcelain similar to Oriental china. In the artificial or soft-paste porcelain, imitating French production like Sevres, silica or ground up flint was used in the clay to give it strength and translucency. The technique was developed by adding calcined bone to this glassy frit, for example in the productions of Bow China works, Chelsea and Lowestoft, and this was carried on from at least the 1750s onwards. Soapstone porcelains further added steatite, known as French chalk, for instance at Worcester and Caughley factories.
The bone porcelains, especially those of Spode, Minton, Davenport and Coalport, eventually established the standards for soft-paste porcelain which were later (after 1800) maintained widely. Although the Bow, Chelsea, Worcester and Derby factories had, before Spode, established a proportion of about 40-45 per cent calcined bone in the formula as standard, it was Spode who first abandoned the practice of calcining or fritting the bone-ash with some of the other ingredients, and used the simple mixture of bone-ash, petuntse (china stone) and china clay, which since his time has formed the technical body of English porcelain, and to many other parts of the world. A standard English paste may be taken as 6 parts bone-ash, 4 parts petuntse and 3.5 parts kaolin, all finely ground together. This is essentially the same as true porcelain but with the addition of a large proportion of bone-ash.
Josiah Spode I effectively finalized the formula, and appears to have been doing so between 1789 and 1793. It remained an industrial secret for some time. The importance of his innovations has been disputed, being played down by Professor Sir Arthur Church in his English Porcelain, estimated practically by William Burton, and being very highly esteemed by Spode's contemporary Alexandre Brongniart, director of the Sevres manufactory, in his Traité des Arts Céramiques, and by M. L. Solon hailed as a revolutionary improvement.
Many fine examples of the elder Spode's productions were destroyed in a fire at Alexandra Palace, London in 1873, where they were included in an exhibition of nearly five thousand specimens of English pottery and porcelain. As the understanding of the work of the early potters depends in part on the study of actual specimens, the loss was both aesthetic and scientific.
The business was carried on through his sons at Stoke until April 1833. Spode's London retail shop in Portugal Street went by the name of Spode, Son, and Copeland.
After some early trials Spode perfected a stoneware that came closer to porcelain than any previously, and introduced his "Stone-China" in 1813. It was light in body, grayish-white and gritty where it was not glazed and approached translucence in the early wares; later Stone-Ware became opaque. Spode pattern books, which record about 75000 Spode survive from about 1800.
In Spode's similar "Felspar porcelain", introduced on the market in 1821, felspar was an ingredient, substituted for the Cornish stone in his standard bone china body, giving rise to his slightly misleading name "Felspar porcelain," to what is in fact an extremely refined stoneware comparable to the rival "Mason's ironstone", produced by Josiah II's nephew, Charles James Mason, and patented in 1813 Spode's "Felspar porcelain" continued into the Copeland & Garrett phase of the company (1833-1847). Armorial services were provided for the Honourable East India Company, 1823, and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, c1824. Some of the ware employed underglaze blue and iron red with touches of gilding in imitation of "Imari porcelain" that had been introduced on Spode's bone china in the first decade of the century: the most familiar "Tobacco-leaf pattern" (2061) continued to be made by Spode's successors, William Taylor Copeland, and then "W.T. Copeland & Sons, late Spode".
Messrs Spode were succeeded in the same business in c. 1833 by Copeland and Garrett, who often used the name Spode in their marks. In particular these are called 'Late Spode' and include productions of the so-called 'Felspar porcelain'. They also produced other kinds of bone china, earthenware, parian, etc. The partnership continued in this form until 1847. After 1847 the business continued until 1970 as W.T. Copeland and sons, and again the term 'Spode' or 'Late Spode' continued in use alongside the name of Copeland. Under the name 'Spode Ltd' the same factories and business was continued after 1970.
In 2006, the business merged with Royal Worcester. The merged company entered administration on 6 November 2008.
On 23 April 2009 Portmeirion Pottery purchased the rival Royal Worcester and Spode brands, together with some of the stock, after their parent company had been placed into administration the previous November. The purchase does not include Royal Worcester and Spode's manufacturing facilities.
Information obtained from www:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/spode