Last Saturday we had the great pleasure of entertaining good friends at home for drinks and dinner. We were six at table that evening and as spring was almost upon us, I chose to decorate the dining room with flowering spring blooms and branches laden with blossom. An early Friday morning jaunt to the San Francisco Flower Market yielded exactly what I had hoped to find.
Three plump bunches of blue hyacinths await arranging
I procured the blue hyacinths specifically to complement the dinner plates I intended on using the following evening. These beautiful plates were acquired last year and this was to be their inaugural coming out party. I know I've sworn many times to ignore the heady siren call of a pretty table object, and I do recognize that my escalating
problem vice is something I'm not particularly proud of, but I ask you, how could I have possibly passed these up?
A view of the rim decoration - notice how the delicate hand-painted detail is achieved through the meticulous application of two differing shades of blue enamel paint, and three of brown
Photo: Chronica Domus
When I first examined the plates I was delighted to find that each - there's a baker's dozen in all - was in excellent condition. This is not often the case with early pieces of creamware, their weight being more akin to a pastry shell than the heft one expects of a conventional dinner plate. The bluebell-like decoration reminded me of my bluebell picking days as a young girl living in the Kent countryside. Perhaps that is why they called to me.
Having a curious mind and an eye for detail, I was keen to learn about the hand-painted pattern and the exact age of these plates. My first clue led me to their underside where a 'WEDGWOOD' mark, alongside some random letters, is impressed into the clay.
Fortunately, for fellow crazed fanatics of early Wedgwood tablewares, a rather wonderful on-line resource awaits discovery. The Wedgwood Museum Trust has cataloged their early archive of ceramics, along with a host of other related items, for our viewing pleasure and edification.
My rudimentary search of the collections yielded similarly patterned plates, referred to as "Queen's ware, cream colored earthenware", but nothing that was an exact match to my own. In a bid to learn more, I contacted the museum in hopes of enlightenment and was overjoyed when Ms. Lucy Lead, an archivist at the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, Staffordshire, responded to my inquiry.
With a little sleuthing, Ms. Lead - so aptly named for per chosen profession - generously provided me with a liberal dose of delicious detail about my creamware dishes. Not only that, she kindly sent along the following photograph, taken directly from the original tableware pattern book of Josiah Wedgwood. Here it is:
A detailed image of Josiah Wedgwood's original tableware pattern book showing the hand-painted pattern of my dinner plates, Pattern 96, located at middle right
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Lucy Lead
©Wedgwood Museum/ WWRD
I was elated by the opportunity to scrutinize the detail from Pattern Book Number One, the actual reference book that Josiah Wedgwood's early clientele used when selecting and placing their tableware orders. Each blank creamware item was then decorated by hand before being carefully packed and delivered to its new owner. Ms. Lead also informed me that my plates were made sometime in the late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth century, and are described in the pattern book as "Hyacinth blue, leaves brown, and broad and fine lines brown". This was quite a revelation as I had wrongfully assumed the flowers to have been bluebells and not hyacinths.
Aha! Proof indeed that the flower depicted on the creamware dishes is a hyacinth and not a bluebell as I had intially believed it to be
Photo: Chronica Domus
Ms. Lead also thought it might interest me to learn that the pattern was also reproduced in a green colorway, Pattern 97, which is also recorded in the above image. The random letters visible on the underside of my plates, small impressed 'B' and 'P' marks, are potter's marks, and relate to the worker that actually made the plate. Ms. Lead went onto tell me that sadly, the information of exactly which marks belonged to which potter had long been lost.
As you can imagine, I was all the more overjoyed to set my dining table with such handsome dishes, knowing far more about their history and design than I would have had I not reached out to Ms. Lead. Although our guests did remark on how very pretty the two arrangements of hyacinths were, I did not choose to over-burden them with the detail of how I was inspired by the beauty of Josiah Wedgwood's vision and his original pattern book when setting our communal table that evening. Instead, I reserve that little tale for readers of this blog.
On the morning after our dinner party I was delighted to see the hyacinths, arranged in a pair of Regency wine rinsers unfurled, revealing their full beauty and intoxicating scent*
Photo: Chronica Domus
Thank you once again Ms. Lucy Lead for satiating my curiosity and for your generous research efforts which yielded such fascinating information. I am ever in your debt.
*For the comfort of one's guests, I do not recommend placing heavily-scented flowers on the dining table. However, in this instance, I correctly calculated that the tightly closed bunches of hyacinths I purchased on Friday would not be fully open by the time we sat down to dinner on Saturday evening