Antique Lamps - English Creamware - Jane Austen's "Neat and Simple"
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Jane Austen started to write “Northanger Abbey” in 1798. It was sold to a publisher in Bath for £10 in 1803 but as he felt it was a bit out of fashion with its Gothic subject, put it in a desk drawer, and there it sat until finally published, posthumously, in 1818.
Jane’s character, Catherine, goes to Bath for the season, the guest of Mr and Mrs Allen. In Bath she is introduced to the rather eccentric General Tilney and his son and daughter, Henry and Elanor. Catherine is invited to stay at the Tilney’s family home, Northanger Abbey.
In this scene, Jane has Catherine seated at the breakfast table on the first morning of her visit -:
”The elegance of the breakfast set forced itself on Catherine’s notice when they were seated at table; and, luckily, it had been the General’s choice. He was enchanted by her approbation of his taste, confessed it to be neat and simple, thought it right to encourage the manufacture of his country; and for his part, to his uncritical palate, the tea was as well flavored from the clay of Staffordshire, as from that of Dresden or Sèvres.
But this was quite an old set, purchased two years ago. The manufacture was much improved since that time; he had seen some beautiful specimens when last in town, and had he not been perfectly without vanity of that kind, might have been tempted to order a new set. He trusted, however, that an opportunity might ere long occur of selecting one” - Northanger Abbey
The breakfast service so admired by Catherine was undoubtedly a Staffordshire creamware service and almost certainly a Wedgwood “neat and simple” breakfast set. At this time, it was simply necessary to dress your table with fashionable creamware, especially in Bath, the very centre of fashion!
It is completely impossible to speak of creamware without first speaking of Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795). Wedgwood was born with pottery clay in his blood! Born into a family of Staffordshire potters and as was the 18th century system, was apprenticed in the potting shop at age 9. He was by nature a business man, shrewd and able to judge the direction of the market.
He had a superb eye for design, was both innovative and inventive and a marketing genius. He served his seven year apprenticeship and in 1758 opened his own factory, then finally, in 1769, opening his famous Etruria factory.
Wedgwood is credited with the invention of creamware about 1770. The newly developed creamware was a fine, light, white earthenware, combined with a cream coloured lead glaze, which produced a bright, sharp and clear, or, tight glaze, as it is known to potters. The glaze was so pure and clear that the pottery needed no further decoration to be appreciated.
But Wedgwood did not stop there and creamware with its smooth clear glaze was soon being produced with tasteful, delicately painted over glaze enamels in the neo-classic style, so fashionable in the late 18th century, or, applied with over glaze transfer prints in sepia, black, blue and puce.
The finesse of the creamware pottery allowed for sharp detailed modeling and beautiful moulding to be produced, many shapes in silver style, i.e. copies of contemporary silver ware. This, of course, was the period of Robert Adam (1728-1792) who introduced the neo-classical style of interior design and architecture and Wedgwood astutely realised that this was the direction that design was going.
Creamware completely captured the market and soon became the major production of many potters, such as Leeds, Melbourne, Spode and literally dozens of makers, both small and large.
As mentioned, Wedgwood was a marketing genius and his masterstroke of 1765 was to present Queen Charlotte, consort to King George III, with a creamware tea service. The Queen was so delighted with the gift that she ordered a complete dinner service, including all the accessories, such as vinegar and oil bottles, pickle sets, cruets etc.
Fame followed and in 1766 Josiah Wedgwood was appointed “Potter to Her Majesty, the Queen”. Josiah wasted no time and with the Queen’s permission, creamware was promptly renamed “Queensware”.
Now, with “Queensware” on the table of the Royal Family, the door to success stood wide open! The demand for creamware was overwhelming and production could not cope with the demand. Sales of creamware rocketed and the whole pottery industry stood in amazement.
Josiah’s fame was spreading, all the way to Russia! He received an Imperial commission from Catherine II, Empress of Russia, who ordered a complete dinner and dessert service in creamware, this service became known as “The Husk” service. When the service was delivered to St Petersburg, the Empress was delighted and promptly ordered a further service!
This service is comprised of 952 pieces and decorated with 1244 beautifully painted views of Britain, each piece painted with great detail with individual subjects of the great 18th century houses and country views. The service is known as “The Frog Service”, as the border of each piece was decorated with a continuous band of oak leaves and acorns for the dinner service and ivy for the dessert service. Into this border was inserted a bright green frog, from which the service takes its name. The crest of the frog was included to denote that the service was for use at the Chesmenski Palace, which was located in an area that was known as La Grenouillière, or, the “Frog Marsh”.
The Frog Service was produced in 1773 -1774, but before its journey to Russia, Wedgwood’s marketing skills once again surfaced. He put the service on show, all 952 pieces displayed in his London show rooms, admission by ticket only! This remarkable service is today housed in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795, just three years before Jane Austen began to write Northanger Abbey. Knowing that Jane Austen advised her niece not to write of anything of which she did not have personable knowledge, I would say that when Jane had her character, Catherine, remark on General Tinley’s creamware breakfast service as “neat and simple”, she knew of the story behind it.
I suspect it was Jane who found the Wedgwood breakfast service “neat and simple”.
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