The home of the Cartophilic Society of Great Britain

China connections 1

China connections 1

Strangely, we still think of our tableware and ceramic ornaments as “china” to this day.  And yet that term was never intended to be it’s name. It comes entirely from the land of its manufacture.
This material, strong yet beautiful, was used in its home land for many years before it was introduced to other areas of the globe. Nobody knows how it came to be invented, or even the year the original piece was produced, but it is estimated that the first piece was made “somewhere between 25 and 225 AD”, which is a period of 200 years! 
The making is quite a process, the item is made, then has to be heated to a very high temperature to render it usable. The end result is to make an item that both looks strong and beautiful, but this process is only ever a temporary state, as you find if you accidentally drop the piece on a hard surface. The miracle is that so many early pieces have survived. 
The basic colour is also just a kind of greyish brown. All other colours have to be either obtained by using different materials or by adding pigments. And the pigment does not show its “true colours” until it has been heated. 
There are two periods of manufacture you may have heard of if you watch programmes like The Antiques Roadshow. 
One was the Tang period, during which many pottery models were produced with slip glazes, that ran down the figures in stripes. However this period was when tea drinking really took off, so you start to see teapots and drinking bowls being manufactured in great numbers. 
Another was the Ming period, during which blue and white started to be combined in the decoration. At this time, the pieces started to be exported, and this had a major impact on its popularity when one of the ships full of cargo was captured, and the contents sent to auction. Suddenly, everyone wanted to own a piece of this new material for themselves. And the race was soon on to find out how to make it within Europe. 
It took less than a hundred years for the secret of its manufacture to be cracked, but the problem was that the cost of production and labour was much less over in China, so having the wares imported was actually cheaper than making them in Europe. And also the Chinese manufacturers soon gained a reputation for being able to reproduce any design the buyer wanted, whether this be a family crest or a hand drawn pattern.  
Once pieces were being manufactured in Europe, trials began over here. The first successful factory was at Chelsea, in the mid 1740s, and that was very closely followed by the Bow Factory, which was the subject of our featured card on Sun, repeated above. Royal Worcester started in 1750/1751, and Wedgwood less than a decade later. 
Any card collector with an interest in this subject should investigate R J Lea, who issued five sets showing assorted pieces of worldwide pottery and porcelain. They are striking to look at, with their decorative metallic borders, but also a valuable resource as the backs are descriptive and they show the mark each factory used on its products. The first set of fifty cards cover English manufacturers, and the rest are from all corners of the globe. You may even be find the original albums which were intended to house the cards, though these are scarce now. And more about R J Lea will appear in our newsletter, out on Friday.

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