There is nothing like doing research on pots to learn little known trivia. In his book Manufacturing Processes of Tableware During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Robert Copeland explains in the Appendix of the book under Pottery Trade Sizes how the potter working with raw materials dug from the ground learned to be intensely practical. According to Mr. Copeland, who I had the pleasure of meeting while attending the Northern Ceramics Society summer school in Chester several years ago, the ever practical and sinful Burslem potters in the seventeen century when they ran short of clay dug some clay from the road. Thus the term “potholes” was born!
Most journeymen, journeywomen and some of the masters potters in the early days of the Staffordshire pottery industry were illiterate. A system for establishing wages had to be simple and easily understood. The method adopted was based on the “dozen” for which one price was fixed for a single size of each object, so that to obtain that price a maker needed to make twelve articles. The price per dozen held for all the other sizes made of the same design, but, in order to obtain that price either more smaller articles or less larger ones had to be made. The “count to the dozen” was determined by the number of pieces of a given size would fit on a standard size of work-board in the case of clay articles, or which would fit into a warehouse basket, in the case of fired ware. This information all becomes important to the appraiser when appraising a set of 19th or earlier china because of the variance in sizes of plates and other pieces. While plates were generally 10″, 9″, 8″, 7″, 6″, 5″, and 4″ manufacturers often increased the actual diameter of the plate charged them to the customer, and paid the maker at the lower price so often a 10″ trade plate might measure 10 1/2″. All this also affected how the tradesman and the potter was paid. This is a very interesting book and one collectors of porcelain and china would find beneficial in understanding the processes that go into making and sizing of dinnerware of the 17 and 18th century.
For example, a plate made by Royal Crown Derby may measure 9 3/4″ with none of the replacement patterns showing a 9 3/4″ plate. There is a maker’s name, but no pattern number and a red mark. Royal Crown Derby did not use a pattern name or number on pieces made in the early 1800’s. They used a number in their pattern books. Therefore, in a recent appraisal I was able to date the piece with the help of the Royal Crown Derby company, in Burslem, but could not identify the pattern by name. This is one of the challenges that face an appraiser and keep the profession interesting.