In an earlier post, I wrote about how maker’s marks on ceramics can help us figure out the date of specific artifacts. If we can match the mark on a piece of pottery to those listed in a book like Godden’s Encyclopedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks, we can figure out its date. Godden’s encyclopedia was intended for collectors, though, and works on the assumption that the entire piece is complete and the full mark is present. If part of the mark is missing, the whole prospect becomes a lot more challenging, because we can’t simply look up that maker’s name.
We’ve found several partial marks on the site, such as the one shown to the right. This is a blue transfer-print mark that shows part of a distinctive circular belt called a garter mark. Inside the garter is the word “TUNSTALL,” which is a placename related to some potteries in Staffordshire; just below the garter is a partial word that I at first interpreted as “_OLAND”. I was quite puzzled by what that could mean, until Kate pointed out that what I was seeing as an “O” was actually a “G”. So the word under the garter is “ENGLAND”. Given that the maker’s name is missing, my best bet was to page through the 4515 entries in Godden to see if I could find a mark that matched.
Lo and behold, mark 3204 was a good match– though not a total match. The key was in the shape of the buckle and the end of the belt; unlike most other garter marks, our sherd and mark 3204 are quite bold, with a distinctive fold where the belt crosses over the bottom of the circle. Godden reports that Mark 3204 was used by T. Rathbone & Co., of Tunstall, from c. 1898+. The difference is that our sherd has the addition of the word “ENGLAND” at the bottom, a feature that was common after 1891 due to protectionist tariffs in the United States that required that imported goods be labelled with their country of origin; by 1921, the requirement shifted to a label “Made in __” and then the country name. Taken together, this information suggests that our sherd is from some time after 1898 and before 1921.
We went through a similar process with this sherd. This one shows a kind of banner at the top with some lettering (probably including a “PB”), a bell, and a wreath or spray of leaves. We decided that “Bell” would be a good clue to start with– and, sure enough, Godden lists a J. & M.P. Bell & Co. of Glasgow, Scotland, active from 1842-1928. This would fit with the “_PB_” and the bell image, except that the marks shown in Godden are quite different from this one. At this point, we switched to searching the internet for marks from J. & M.P. Bell, eventually locating this example in the collections of the South Lanarkshire Museums:
The museum notes that the mark was used by Bell from 1850-1870.
Finally, we have this very fragmentary mark, which shows part of the Royal Arms. The full coat of arms shows a lion and a unicorn on either side of a shield displaying the royal symbols of each part of the United Kingdom: lions for England and Scotland and a harp for Ireland.
Technically, manufacturers had to have royal permission– a Royal Warrant of Appointment– to use the Royal Arms, but somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2000 companies were given permission during Queen Victoria’s reign, so it wasn’t unusual to see the Arms on ceramics.
If a company didn’t have a Royal Warrant, they might use a closely related mark that gave the impression of the Royal Arms, without copying it directly; there are some good examples at this website.
The details of the Royal Arms varied a bit in style over time and from manufacturer to manufacturer. In the case of our sherd, the central shield is oval, rather than the more common circle, and the leg of the rearing unicorn (to the right of the oval) comes in at an unusual angle. In addition, this mark includes the first part of the motto (“Hon y soit qui mal y pense” or “Shame to him who evil thinks”), visible as “_MAL Y P_” at the upper right. It’s not clear if the second part, “Dieu et mon droit” (“God and my right”), is absent or if it would have been placed below the shield on a banner.
It’s a shame that we don’t have just a bit more of our mark, as the differences in the faces and postures of the lion and unicorn can be really useful in identifying the right mark. These examples will give you a sense of some of the small variations.
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