Antiques: Parian Perfection; CHRISTOPHER PROUDLOVE ON HOW A BOOK LOOKS SET TO TRIGGER A PORCELAIN CRAZE

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), May 5, 2007 | Go to article overview

Antiques: Parian Perfection; CHRISTOPHER PROUDLOVE ON HOW A BOOK LOOKS SET TO TRIGGER A PORCELAIN CRAZE


I KNOW one seasoned antique dealer who refuses to have a single piece of Parian in her shop. "It reminds me of death and cemeteries and mourning," she once told me disdainfully. A new book from the Antique Collectors' Club stable is definitely not for her or for anyone who shares the sentiment.

But Parian, Copeland's Statuary Porcelain by Robert Copeland, is set to become required reading for devotees and collectors. There will be no shortage of takers, but the more Mr Copeland's book becomes currency, the more likely it is that the ware will become more sought after and expensive.

It's probably what the Parian market needs. Stark, matt white, marble-like statuettes, often of religious looking subjects, are not everyone's cup of tea. As a result, prices have been stable for as long as I can remember.

Earlier this year Christie's sold a top quality Parian bust of Queen Victoria, made to commemorate the 60th year of her reign in 1897, for pounds 870. Most can be picked up for pounds 300-400, the going rate for decent pieces, while others can be had at auction for around pounds 250-350, sometimes less. It will be interesting to watch what happens following publication of the book.

In the meantime, it's worth buying it if only to answer the long-standing question of who hit on the process to produce porcelain - "the material next best to marble," as the author puts it.

Several firms claimed they were first, the earliest being one Thomas Boote of Burslem in 1841, followed by Mintons. Today it is generally accepted the Spode factory of Copeland and Garrett were the originators and yes, the author's name is no coincidence.

Robert Copeland joined the family firm of WT Copeland & Sons Ltd, owners of the Spode factory in Stoke on Trent, in 1943 and after three years "at the bench" he became manager of the bone china clay department.

He was subsequently marketing director for 10 years and latterly historical consultant and curator of the Spode Museum. He retired in 1997 and spent 20 years researching and assembling the information on Parian.

Even though Copeland and Garrett can claim the honours, interestingly, there were rival claims even within the workforce about who hit on the recipe to produce the distinctive body. Thomas Battam, the company's art director, Spencer Garrett, one of the managers, and John Mountford, a figure-maker, all staked a claim - with little or no documentary evidence to support any of it.

Robert Copeland devotes many pages to the issue and clearly much research of his own and others but, like a good whodunit, it would be irresponsible to give away the conclusion.

Suffice it to say when statuary porcelain, as it was first known, appeared on the market, its success was guaranteed. The highly vitrified, translucent, creamy-white body had excellent moulding qualities.

This enabled modellers to capture the finest of detail and leaving the resulting biscuit porcelain unglazed produced a finished article closely resembling marble - hence its name, after the marble from the mines on the Greek island of Paros.

Parian brought classical sculpture within the reach of the middle classes with their newfound wealth of the Industrial Revolution, and soon just about every pottery company in the country was producing Parian ware.

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