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

Adam Barham, Assistant Librarian in the Art Library, takes a look at the rare Leeds Pottery Drawing & Pattern Books…

The Leeds Pottery Drawing & Pattern Books are among the most unique items stored at Leeds Central Library. Compiled by the Leeds Pottery company for production and sales purposes, these volumes are a valuable 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 Pottery 01
A creamware jug produced by the revivalist Leeds Pottery, taken from Leodis.net

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. In the early 1800s it used over 9000 tonnes of coal a year and exported to distant places such as Russia and Brazil, and by 1851 it employed over 400 workers. [2] Unfortunately the popularity did not last: business suffered in the later 1800s due to increased competition and the company closed in 1881. [3] Production was restarted in 1888 by a ‘revivalist’ company which used old Leeds Pottery designs; this company closed in 1957.

The Drawing Books

The Leeds Pottery Drawing Books contain designs and drawings of Leeds Pottery products, all rendered in pen and ink or watercolour. The books were compiled by the Leeds Pottery for use in the factory; they acted as a product record and provided guidance for the company’s potters and decorators. There are only twelve known Drawing Books: 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 on their compilation date. 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. [4]

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An ornamental creamware vase, from Drawing Book No. 1

The Drawing 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. There are also eye-catching designs for decorated pieces; these feature floral patterns, geometric borders and images of people, animals, mythical or historical scenes

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Designs for decorated pieces, from Drawing Book No. 1

The Drawing 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’.

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A tureen labelled as ‘made for Paris’, from Drawing Book No. 1

The Pattern Books

The Leeds Pottery Pattern Books are a set of books containing engravings of the company’s wares, along with a key or index of product names. The books were probably used by Leeds Pottery agents for advertising and sales purposes. The majority of the engravings are based on illustrations from the Drawing Books. There are also 11 engravings of teacups copied from an unknown source – possibly another Leeds Pottery Drawing Book that no longer exists. In certain volumes the index is issued in German and French as well as English.

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Engravings of mixed items – Pattern Books

The Pattern Books are all different versions of one core volume – the impressively titled 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. Leeds Central Library has a copy of the first edition, dated 1783, along with several reprints of this edition. The first edition contains 184 engravings. We also have copies of an expanded second edition dating from after 1794 to c.1814. The second edition contains all the engravings from the first edition, plus an additional 85 images.

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Engraving of an ornamental piece – Pattern Books

The Pattern Books are fascinating 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, c.1814 version of the Pattern Book

However, the Pattern 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 Pattern Books 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.

This article draws information from several sources; chiefly J. Griffin, The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881. 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, John D., The Leeds Pottery, 1770-1881, Vol 1 (Leeds Art Collection Fund, 2005) p. viii

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

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