‘Sundry Articles of Queens or Cream-Colou-r’d Earthen-Ware’ – The Leeds Pottery Books

Adam Barham, Assistant Librarian Manager in the Art Library, takes a look at our collection of rare Leeds Pottery Books…

Leeds Central Library houses several rare volumes relating to the Leeds Pottery Company. These include the Design, Drawing & Pattern Books and another set of volumes entitled ‘Designs of Sundry Articles of Queens or Cream-Colou-r’d Earthen-Ware…’. Produced by the company for production and sales purposes, these volumes are a key source for ceramics enthusiasts and anyone interested in Leeds history.

An introduction to the Leeds Pottery

Pottery production in Leeds reached its creative zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries. The foremost manufacturer of this period was the Leeds Pottery, situated near Jack Lane in Hunslet. The company achieved widespread fame with its creamware; a glazed earthenware with a rich cream colour. Although other potteries in the country made creamware, the Leeds product was of such high standard that all creamware became popularly known as ‘Leedsware’. Besides creamware the Leeds Pottery produced other ceramics such as pearlware, drabware and black basalt ware.

leeds pottey candleabra
A creamware candelabra produced by the Leeds Pottery c.1785. Image courtesy of Leeds Museums & Galleries

According to evidence from 18th-century land leases and legal contracts, the Leeds Pottery was established as a business c.1770. [1] Initially the company traded as Humble, Green & Co., but the trading name changed several times over the years. After its foundation the Leeds Pottery soon found success, selling its wares to both domestic and overseas markets. [2] Unfortunately the popularity did not last: business suffered in the later 1800s due to increased competition and the company closed in 1881. [3]

The Design, Drawing & Pattern Books

The Design, Drawing & Pattern Books are a set of volumes containing illustrations of Leeds Pottery products. In some cases the illustrations depict the designs for the physical shape of the products. In other cases the illustrations depict the decorative patterns that adorned the pottery. Some illustrations are hand drawn in pen and ink; others are hand painted with watercolours. The books acted as a record of the company’s products, giving a history of different designs and amendments to these designs. It is likely that the company’s potters and decorators used the illustrations for guidance when they were creating product lines in the factory. [4]

Leeds Libraries Leeds Pottery Drawing Books Vol1_0083 A
Mixed items – from Drawing Book No. 1

The Design, Drawing & Pattern Books are extremely rare. There are only twelve known volumes in existence: three are in the Victoria & Albert Museum and nine are at Leeds Central Library. The Leeds collection was donated to us in 1920 by Mr. H. C. Embleton, a well-known collector of Leeds ceramics.

The Leeds collection includes four volumes depicting mixed products, titled Drawing Books 1-4. The other five volumes focus on particular product areas. Their titles are: Ornamental Drawing Book No. 1, Handle Drawing Book, Drawing Book for Blackware, Enamelled Tea Ware and Enamelled Table Service Drawing Book. We do not have a precise date for all the Leeds collection, as several volumes do not provide details about the date when they were produced. However, using evidence such as watermarks and annotations on the pages, we can estimate that all nine books were compiled over a period from c.1781 to c.1819. [5]

Leeds Pottey 02
An ornamental candelabra – from Drawing Book No. 1

The Design, Drawing & Pattern Books are a treasure trove of information on the Leeds Pottery. The drawings and designs are tremendously diverse and attractively rendered, highlighting the incredible variety and quality of the company’s wares. The illustrated products include everyday items such plates, bowls and jugs, as well as extravagant ornamental pieces such as potpourri pots, chocolate stands and figurines. Some of the drawings show beautiful moulded pieces with intricate flowers, seashells, animals, even mermen, winged harpies and griffins. The designs for decorative patterns are colourful and eye-catching; these feature floral patterns, geometric borders and images of people, animals, mythical or historical scenes.

leeds pottery 03
Designs for decorated pieces – from Drawing Book No. 1

The books also provide insights into the company’s market aspirations. Some of the illustrated wares would fit nicely in an English drawing room, and were probably aimed at home markets. Other items, however, seem too exotic for English tastes and were probably designed for overseas customers. These items include an unusual looking spouted amphora, pictured in Drawing Book No. 1. Another example of a piece aimed at foreign markets is a tureen depicted in Drawing Book No. 1, which is labelled as ‘made for Paris’.

Leeds Pottery 04
A tureen labelled as ‘made for Paris’ – from Drawing Book No. 1

Designs of Sundry Articles of Queens or Cream-Colou-r’d Earthen-Ware…

Designs of Sundry Articles… is the title shared by several volumes that were published and printed at the behest of the Leeds Pottery. These volumes are all different editions of one core, original volume. The full title used by the volumes is rather lengthy:

Designs of Sundry Articles of Queens or Cream-Colou-r’d Earthen-Ware Manufactured By Hartley, Greens, and Co. at Leeds Pottery, With a Great Variety of Other Articles. The Same Enamele’d, Printed or Ornamented with Gold to any Pattern; also with Coats of Arms, Cyphers, Landscapes, etc. etc.

At Leeds Central Library we stock a copy of the first edition of the book, dating from 1783. We also stock reprint copies of the first edition and copies of an expanded second edition, which date from sometime between 1794 and 1814. [6]

leeds pottery 06
Mixed items – from Designs of Sundry Articles…

The copies of Designs of Sundry Articles… all contain printed images of Leeds Pottery product designs. Most of these printed images are copies of the hand drawn illustrations from the Design, Drawing and Pattern Books. Designs of Sundry Articles… focuses on showing designs of the physical shape of products, giving less emphasis to decorative patterns. The first edition of the book contains 184 images, while the second edition contains an extra 85 images. [7] The copies of Designs of Sundry Articles… also contain indexes that list the names of the products. In some volumes the index is in English language, but in other volumes the index has been translated into French and German.

It is likely that Designs of Sundry Articles… acted as a kind of trade catalogue, to be used by Leeds Pottery agents for advertising and sales purposes. Company representatives may have taken them on trips to entice prospective customers, such as wholesalers, exporters, shops or individuals. [8]

leeds pottery 05a
Ornamental piece – from Designs of Sundry Articles…

Designs of Sundry Articles… is a fascinating source for those wishing to chart the Leeds Pottery’s growth and popularity. The company’s growth period is shown by their use of foreign language indexes, which indicate healthy overseas trade. The existence of the second edition, with 85 extra products, shows that this enterprising firm was keen to meet demands for new Leedsware. Another interesting feature is the continuation of products – pieces in the original 1783 edition are still present in the c.1814 version. This shows that earlier products were still on sale around 30 years later – evidence of the firm’s lasting appeal.

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Handwritten inscriptions – from the c.1814 version of Designs of Sundry Articles…

However, the books also include a stark reminder that success did not last. One of the copies of the c.1814 version contains two handwritten inscriptions on the fly-leaf. The first reads:

“Received from Mr. Routh the Liquidator of the Leeds Pottery Co., Decr. 20 1878. J Rhodes”

The second inscription, written in a different hand, reads:

“Carried on by Rd. Britton and Sons who became bankrupt in 1878-“

The inscriptions were written shortly before the closure of the Leeds Pottery, during a period when the company faced bankruptcy and changed owners numerous times. The copies of  Designs of Sundry Articles… were presumably passed to new owners whenever the company changed hands. The inscriptions are therefore a testament to the Leeds Pottery’s dying throes, before it finally ended in 1881.

While the company’s failure was a loss for Leeds and ceramics enthusiasts everywhere, it should be remembered that it lasted over 100 years, many of which were days of booming business. Even today the company’s wares are much sought after, and its legacy remains a credit to Leeds.

A note concerning terminology

In certain histories concerning the Leeds Pottery, the books mentioned in this article are described using different terminology. The volumes we have titled Design, Drawing & Pattern Books are sometimes described with the term Drawing Books. Similarly, the volumes we have called Designs of Sundry Articles… are sometimes referred to as Pattern Books. [9]

In this article, however, we chose to follow the terms used in John D Griffin, The Leeds Pottery 1770-1881, an excellent recent study on The Leeds Pottery. We made this choice as the terms are a more accurate representation of the books and their contents. For example, the Design, Drawing & Pattern Books contain designs, drawings and many examples of decorative patterns – therefore it seems most appropriate to use all these terms when describing the books. Similarly, Designs of Sundry Articles… is the official title that appears on the front page of all copies of this book, implying a focus on various designs rather than patterns alone. [10] Therefore the title Designs of Sundry Articles… reflects the books’ contents more accurately than Pattern Books.

This article draws information from several sources; chiefly John D  Griffin, The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881 and David S Thornton, ‘The Leeds Pottery Drawing and Pattern Books’. For a list of further reading, please consult our Research & Collection Guide.

[1] Griffin, John D., The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881, Vol 1 (Leeds Art Collection Fund, 2005) pp. 17, 27

[2] Griffin, The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881, Vol 1, p. viii

[3] Griffin, The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881, Vol 1, p. xiii

[4] Thornton, David S., ‘The Leeds Pottery Drawing and Pattern Books: Compiled for the Wedgwood International Seminar Visit to Leeds City Art Gallery and Temple Newsam House, 19 July 1969’. (Leeds City Libraries, 1969) p. 2

[5] Thornton, ‘‘The Leeds Pottery Drawing and Pattern Books’, p. 2

[6] Griffin, The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881, Vol 1, p. 116

[7] Griffin, The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881, Vol 1, pp. 115-6

[8] Thornton, ‘‘The Leeds Pottery Drawing and Pattern Books’, p. 3

[9] Thornton, ‘‘The Leeds Pottery Drawing and Pattern Books’, pp. 2-3

[10] Griffin, The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881, Vol 1, pp. 115-6

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