To FOB Members the term printed pottery essentially means the process whereby decoration was transferred to fired but unglazed earthenwares from inked tissue paper. The design was first created by an engraver on a sheet of copper which was then inked with a cobalt blue compound. With the surplus colour cleaned off, a sheet of damp soapy tissue paper was laid over the copper engraving and the two put through a press so that the engraving transferred to the tissue which, in turn, was laid, inked side down, on the ware to be decorated. The tissue paper with its inked image of the engraving was firmly rubbed down and the tissue then floated off, leaving the image of the engraving on the surface of the ware. A comparatively low temperature firing drove off excess oils, after which the ware was dipped in liquid glaze and fired again, this time at around 1100 degrees centigrade. The high temperature of the glazing oven was the reason why the majority of early under-glaze printing was blue - cobalt was the only colour able to withstand the heat of the oven. The advantage, however, was that the printed pattern remained safe so long as the glaze remained intact.
For FOB Members these wares have a fascination which takes many forms. Firstly, of course, blue-printed earthenwares form a major and important part of our cultural, social and manufacturing heritage. They put us in touch with a stratum of society that many of us can identify with. By comparison with eighteenth century porcelains, even under-glaze printed porcelains, blue-printed earthenwares are a more homely product while still remaining aspirational.
The fact that many of the earlier examples of these wares are totally lacking in any obviously identifying marks, like a manufacturer's name, lends a fascination to the hunt for possible attributions, through similarity of shape or the chance that one piece in a hundred may bear that elusive maker's mark. With no copyright laws, manufacturers were often happy to copy other makers' designs and unwilling to put their own name to their work, for whatever reason.
Sarcophagi and Sepulchres at the Head of the Harbour at Cacamo
Many designs were copied from contemporary published works: topographical views, both UK views and views from India, the Ottoman Empire, America and elsewhere, botanical specimens, literary and historical subjects, etc. all found their place. Some collectors try to find examples of the source prints to exhibit alongside the wares. Others concentrate on the early wares, those produced largely in the eighteenth century. These are, of course, over 200 years old now, and this gives them a special fascination.
The variety of earthenware objects decorated in underglaze blue was vast, from enormous meat dishes to tiny butter boats. The quality of the best wares is evident as soon as you pick them up. The more you learn about them, the more satisfying they become.
Nursery Plate showing Father Mathew preaching. c. 1840.
Father Theobald Mathew (1790 - 1856) was a celebrated Irish cleric who dedicated his life to saving the poor from drink. He preached much in Ireland, then in Liverpool, Manchester, London, and also in the United States. A statue of him was set up in Cork (c1860). It is recorded that he persuaded 100,000 in Galway over a period of two days to take the pledge. In this picture he seems to be preaching mainly to women. The men perhaps were less eager to listen.