Reviews / Comptes rendus - Lynne Sussman, Spode/Copeland Transfer-Printed Patterns Found at 20 Hudson's Bay Company Sites

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Lynne Sussman, Spode/Copeland Transfer-Printed Patterns Found at 20 Hudson's Bay Company Sites

Elizabeth Collard
Spode/Copeland Transfer-Printed Patterns Found at 20 Hudson's Bay Company Sites. Lynne Sussman. Ottawa, Parks Canada, 1979. 246 p., ill., biblio. ISBN 0-660-10139-4. $10.00 paperbound. (Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History, no. 22.)

1 The Victorian years saw an unprecedented expansion in the British potting industry. It was an expansion prompted by improved production methods and by a rapidly growing market at home and abroad. In these years the major potteries engaged in an almost breathless competition for sales supremacy. Running neck and neck at the head of the race were two Staffordshire firms — Minton's and Copeland's. As one Victorian commentator on the applied arts noted, if Copeland's "lighted upon a first-rate modeller one month" then "an equally clever painter" was sure to be discovered by Minton's the next; if Minton's glaze was "more brilliant" one year, Copeland's china body was "more perfectly white." Any improvement "which for a while seemed tending to concentrate the golden harvest upon one alone, very speedily ceased to be a monopoly and ... the struggled was renewed."

2 The "golden harvest" lay in the volume of sales. Firms such as Copeland's and Minton's early recognized that the Canadian colonies could increase their harvest; both became heavy exporters to this country. In the Canadian market, however, there was one monopoly which was to be Copeland's alone for a considerable period of time. William Taylor Copeland, an astute, competent, aggressive businessman as well as potter, secured a contract from the Hudson's Bay Company to supply its posts with table and toilet wares. The first shipment under the terms of this contract was in 1836 while Copeland was in partnership with Thomas Garrett under the firm name of Copeland and Garrett. For an undetermined number of years this contract was on an exclusive basis, giving Copeland, who severed partnership with Garrett in 1847, what must have been a lucrative business advantage.

3 By the end of the 1840s free trade in Red River territory, where the Hudson's Bay Company had long been established, was virtually a fact, if not a completely acknowledged one. Here at least ceramic wares other than those of Copeland make were available early in the Victorian period from independent merchants. But Hudson's Bay trade extended far beyond this area and the contract with William Taylor Copeland meant his Staffordshire products were in use wherever there was a Hudson's Bay trading post on the frontier.

4 This valuable study of Copeland and Garrett and Copeland wares at Hudson's Bay sites includes five pages of text, a page of pottery marks, notes on the dates of introduction of the patterns illustrated (made available from Copeland records), and 248 excellent illustrations (mainly "pulls" from copperplates preserved at the pottery). It deals with shards recovered at twenty sites.

5 From this archaeological evidence 109 Copeland and Garrett and Copeland under-glaze transfer-printed patterns have been identified. In the identification, as in the notes on the dates when the patterns were in production, the author of the study had the expert assistance of Robert Copeland, great-grandson of William Taylor Copeland and the only family member now connected with Spode Limited. (Spode Limited was originally Josiah Spode's pottery; it came under Copeland control in 1833 and is now part of the Royal Worcester Spode Group.)

6 The study deals only with underglaze transfer-printed wares. Printed wares were, of course, the most popular of all ceramic wares in the nineteenth century. Practically all the shards recovered were of an earthenware body. Although some porcelain wares were available at the Fort Garry sale shop at mid-century and a little later, certainly earthenware formed the vast bulk of ceramic exports to Canada, from Copeland's as from other firms.

7 Sussman has not attempted to analyze the ratio of colours used for the printing on the recovered shards. One would expect that blue predominated, but it might have been interesting to know in what proportion the other colours, such as pink, green, and brown, occurred. From documentary material it is possible to deduce when colours other than blue began to come into significant demand in Canada and it would have been useful to know how the Hudson's Bay importation fitted into the general picture.

8 It has not proved possible to establish the exact date when the Copeland monopoly of the Hudson's Bay trade ceased, but clearly it persisted for some time. It was an association which placed tablewares decorated with Wellington's victories at faraway posts such as Fort Pelly on the North Saskatchewan River and pieces decorated with English garden flowers in Fort Vancouver in territory which later became part of the United States. Table 1 shows at what sites each pattern was found.

9 The study will be useful not only to the material culture historians but also to museum curators, who will use it for identification of unmarked earthenware. A word of caution, however, should be given in this regard. Not all the patterns illustrated were exclusive to Copeland and Garrett or Copeland's. The Milkmaid pattern, for example (pl. 159), was also produced by Davenport, an important exporter to Canada; Andrew Stevenson, yet another Staffordshire potter who cultivated the North American trade, made a Filigree pattern very like the Filigree shown in plate 122.

10 The usefulness of the study would undoubtedly have been extended had there been a map or even some brief geographical identification of the twenty sites from which the shards were recovered. A number of the old Hudson's Bay Company posts no longer bear their original names, while others have disappeared completely. But this is an admirable study which will expand knowledge of the ceramic wares used in Canada.

Elizabeth Collard