Tag Archives: Frederick Rhead

Frederick Hurten Rhead: America’s Greatest Potter?

Frederick Hurten RheadThe suggestion that Frederick Hurten Rhead ‘has a claim’ to be America’s greatest potter was made by an Englishman – Bernard Bumpus – who suggested it in the April 1986 edition of The Antique Collector magazine. For someone based on this side of the Atlantic it was perhaps a bold thing to say, however the key phrase he used was ‘has a claim’; so although I’m sure there are other opinions on who should have that title, I think it’s worth exploring FHR’s work further as little appears to be known about him in his native land. His emigration to the US came when when he was only around 22 years of age, just as his career was developing, so perhaps it isn’t a surprise that he’s a bit of an unknown quantity here.


Foley Faience Queen of Hearts Plaque Frederick H Rhead
Foley Faience Queen of Hearts Plaque Frederick H Rhead

Given his early departure, there are relatively few examples of his work to be found in Britain – it’s really only the Wileman & Wardle pieces that turn up. After serving his apprenticeship under his father, Frederick Alfred Rhead, (at Brownfield’s), Frederick Hurten also joined him at Wileman & Company when the senior man was appointed art director there in around 1897. With his brother Harry, Frederick Hurten became proficient in the technique of tube-lining and decorated many pieces, including the wall plaque shown to the right. The brothers began to train their younger sisters, Charlotte & Adolphine (Dollie) in the process too, with the results being seen in the numerous tiles they produced. Charlotte of course went on to make a career out of tube-lined design, so her success can be traced back directly to this crucial period and her eldest brother’s influence.

SAM_6402Remarkably, aged just 19, Frederick Hurten gained an appointment as art director himself – at Wardle & Co, emphasising  the fact that he was already highly adept at pottery design and decoration. It was a small firm at the time, and there is evidence that he was still under the wing somewhat of his father, however it was here that his trademark style began to emerge (see the small gallery below). As ever, the Rheads kept thing in the family, and it wasn’t long before Charlotte & Dollie also began decorating for Wardle – often decorating lines designed by Frederick Hurten.


Frederick Hurten Rhead - An English Potter in America Book
Frederick Hurten Rhead – An English Potter in America

He was only at Wardle for three years however, before emigrating to America to pursue his career there. There is some speculation as to the reason behind this unexpected move (aged just 22), with Bernard Bumpus suggesting that Rhead’s marriage to Agnes, a worker from the factory floor at the pottery, was not to the liking of his family, so he wanted to make a clean break. In her excellent book ‘An English Potter in America’ (published in 1986), Sharon Dale is of the view that the move was purely a career decision, with Rhead feeling that there were greater opportunities to be had in the burgeoning American pottery industry, rather than the established one in Stoke on Trent. Whatever the reason, it was the making of him, as he went on to have a long and successful career in  the US.

FHR’s first post was at the Vance / Avon Faience pottery in Tiltonville, Ohio, with a former family friend, William Percival Jervis credited as having got him the role there. Rhead picked up almost exactly where he had left off, with tube-lined designs becoming the trademark of the pottery – although common by that time in England, the technique was relatively new in America. There are many similarities between the Avon pieces that he designed and that of Wardle – some examples are shown below. His use of scripted verse on decorations was also retained, and this probably stems from his Staffordshire background in England, where it had been used on pottery for generations.

Jap-Birdimal - Weller Pottery Frederick Hurten RheadBy early 1904, Frederick Hurten Rhead had joined the S.A. Weller pottery in Zanesville (also in Ohio) – probably due to it being a larger concern and therefore providing more opportunity for recognition. His time there however did not involve a senior role; although he was designing, he was not employed as an art director. Sharon Dale suggests that he was not entirely happy there, although his designs continued to be successful. It was the ‘Jap-Birdimal’ range that he is best known for at Weller, and as you can see from the image to the right, his familiar motifs are there. These items attract high prices today, (in America it should be said – they are relatively unknown over here), so keep an eye out for them! Despite this success, he didn’t last a year there and soon joined Roseville Pottery, where he was to stay until 1908.

His major influence at Roseville was not so much in decoration, but in the transformation of the shapes that the pottery produced, with more functional and less elaborate forms being introduced – possibly to allow for easier decoration. He was an artist first of course!

Rhead was responsible for five key lines at Roseville – Olympic, Crystalis, Fudji, Della Robbia & Aztec, with some examples shown above.  The Della Robbia name of course is well known in England as an influential art pottery based in Birkenhead, which FHR was known to have been a fan of, although the Roseville versions are not really comparable with the output of the earlier English pottery.

In 1908, Rhead left to join his old colleague, WP Jervice, who had set up his own works in Long Island. They shared a common vision and examples from the pottery continue to show familiar Rhead traits, such as tall trees. Whilst there, he also wrote & published ‘Studio Pottery’, which proved an influential and interesting record of the period and practices of the pottery industry. Writing about pottery led him to move to the faculty of the People’s University, at University City in St Louis in 1909, where he began teaching the craft in a newly set up ceramics department. It was here that he produced perhaps his most famous ‘art pottery’ work – a four panel tile, (52cm square) depicting a peacock (shown above). It was produced in conjunction with his wife Agnes and was installed in the house of Levi Burgess in Zanesville – a long time friend of Rhead’s. The panel sold at auction in 2012 (in New Jersey) for £325,660 ($495,000) plus commission.


Arequipa VaseFrederick’s next venture was to set up a new pottery as part of a sanatorium for female tuberculosis victims in the San Francisco area – known as ‘Arequipa’. The idea was to provide therapeutic support to the patients, however despite early success, Rhead wanted to increase the commercial possibilities of the pottery. This clashed with the sanatorium’s motive to keep it small and to contribute positively to the health and well-being of the women, and Frederick was ‘moved on’ in 1913, when he had another short-lived time at the Steiger Pottery in the same area.

Following that, in late 1913 he move to Santa Barbara in California and set up his own business, which became known as ‘Rhead Pottery’. Whilst the quality of the output was well-received, Frederick’s commercial acumen was not considered a match to it and the pottery struggled before eventually folding in 1917. It produced many examples, such as the one shown here and continues to be collectable. Following this, FHR moved back to Zanesville, taking up a role with the American Encaustic Tiling Company (AETCO), and this signalled a move back to working for a larger organisation, rather than a small, independent concern that struggled with combining artistic creativity and commercial needs. He was to stay here for ten successful years, working largely in the manufacture of architectural and bathroom tiles.

Fiesta WareFrederick Hurten Rhead’s large major role was with the Homer Laughlin China  Company in Ohio, where he stayed from 1927 until his death in 1942. It was here that he produced the range that finally made him an icon of American pottery design – Fiesta. This was a dinnerware range that continued to be produced long after his death, and it draws its essence from the popular Art Deco shapes of the 1920s. He went to actively influence the growth of low-priced, domestic tableware across America and remained passionate about it to the end.

Frederick Hurten RheadIn a career that started with producing elaborate art pottery in England to functional, but well designed tableware in America, Frederick Hurten Rhead certainly made a difference. If it’s true that he left Britain to escape the wrath of a disapproving family, there’s no evidence that he was permanently estranged, (especially as Harry followed him over, and he was visited by his father, who tried but ultimately failed to establish his own career in the US). On top of that, FHR forged a successful career in some important potteries and ended his days far more famous in America than any of his family were in Britain. I find it odd therefore that more isn’t known about him here. He’s often confused with his father – obvious perhaps given their shared christian name – but hopefully that will change and he will get the respect he deserves on this side of the water.



The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám & Charlotte Rhead

Edmund DelacOne of the most unusual (and therefore most sought after) Charlotte Rhead patterns depicts her interpretation of a scene from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. This collection of poems was produced by Edward Fitzgerald in the mid 19th Century and was his translation of some verses written by Omar Khayyám, a Persian poet, mathematician & astronomer (1048-1131). It proved very popular when first published in 1859 and influenced a number of significant figures of the time, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and other artists, who contributed their bespoke illustrations to later editions. Whilst it is felt that some of the translations were not entirely accurate and true to the original text, as a collection it is clear why it captured the imagination of artists in the late 19th century, with its romantic & classical themes tying in with the pre-raphaelite and later movements. But how, you may ask, does 20th century pottery designer Charlotte Rhead come in to all this?!

The answer lies (as it often did with her work), in the influence of her father, Frederick Alfred Rhead. He was another of the 19th century artists to have been inspired by The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, and painted his own scene from the book – ‘When the Angel with his Darker Draught Draws up to Thee’, from verse 48 (shown above left). Following this, he went on to produce a stunning vase for Minton carrying the same image in pâte-sur-pâte decoration. This vase (also shown above), as well as the original painting, sold recently as part of the Rhead-Cronin collection – with the vase going for £17,000 plus fees. Any holistic view of her patterns will show that Charlotte was not afraid to re-produce ideas or use inspiration from her family’s illustrations when designing ceramic artwork – from the early home-produced tube-lined tiles and right through her time at the various potteries that she worked for.

Omar mugHer Omar pattern (#4036) was produced whilst she was at AG Richardson (Crown Ducal) in the 1930s, and appeared on a variety of items. It was displayed at the British Industries Fair in 1935 and was something of a departure from the floral patterns that she was best known for at the time. The pattern features a seated male underneath a tree (as per the image at the top of the page), with tube-lined text reading ‘Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough A flask of wine A book of verse and Thou’, taken from one of the more popular verses in the Rubáiyát. There isn’t really a comparable pattern of this style by Charlotte Rhead, certainly on commercially produced pottery, so it is intriguing as to why she produced it when she did. One possibility, and it is purely my own guess(!), is that it was some form of tribute to her father, who died in 1933 whilst Charlotte was at Richardsons. Regardless, it is an attractive pattern and one that if you see, you should buy!


Frederick Rhead’s Gladstone Vase

Gladstone Vase - Frederick RheadFollowing a recent trip that took me past Stoke-on-Trent on my way home, I thought I’d drop in at the Gladstone Museum – partly because I’d never visited it before, but mainly because it was a chance to see Frederick Rhead’s iconic Gladstone Vase at first hand. I’d read about it of course previously, and following the recent Rhead-Cronin auctions in Exeter, where some original artwork for the vase (painted by Frederick Rhead himself) was sold, it was something that I felt needed more of my attention! Unfortunately, I came away a little underwhelmed – not by the vase, which is magnificent, but by the Gladstone Museum and their treatment of it. I shall get on to why later, but should begin with some background……


The Gladstone Vase, as it became known, was designed and executed by Frederick A Rhead in 1877. It was commissioned by a group of ‘Burslem Liberals’, who wanted to commemorate the work of Liberal British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, particularly in respect of his work for Home Rule. Uniquely, Gladstone spent four different periods in office as Prime Minister, however he wasn’t actually in the role when he was presented with the vase at his home (Hawarden Castle) in 1888. By all accounts, it was well received, with Gladstone remarking in a quote from The Times newspaper, “I do think it is a most beautiful work, marking a great step in your development as Potters”. Perhaps this is a reference to the intricate pâte-sur-pâte technique used on the vase, something that was gaining in popularity in Britain having just been introduced by French experts such as Louis Solon, (to whom Frederick Rhead had served his apprenticeship under at Minton).

Artwork for the Gladstone Vase - FA Rhead
Artwork (in watercolour) for the Gladstone Vase – FA Rhead

The vase itself is monumental in stature, standing at around 80cm. It was described in contemporary reports as follows: “In the centre is a symbolic figure of Liberty seated on a dais, and holding in one hand the scales of justice and in the other a broken chain. On the right is Homer and on the left Dante offering a poet’s tribute. Next to the central figure on the left are figures of a vestal in a pleading attitude and an historian recording the deeds done in the name of freedom. On the back of the vase in the centre is a figure of St. George, supported on one side by William Wallace and on the other by Brian Boru. There are figures of Ireland with bowed heads and Poland with mournful look and hair unbound. There are also figures of saucy children and a maiden bringing offerings of flowers. The figures are executed in white on a blackish or bottle green ground, and the general ground of the vase is of heliotrope tint, with quiet ornamentation”.

Frederick Rhead was understandably proud of the work – so much so, that a colour plate of it was used as the frontispiece of his ‘Staffordshire Pot & Potters’ book, (written with his brother George Woolliscroft Rhead and published in 1906).

The Gladstone Vase - Frederick A Rhead
Gladstone Pottery Museum Display of the vase

What is disappointing therefore is that the vase seems now to be something of an afterthought for the Gladstone Pottery Museum. Whilst I don’t wish to unfairly criticise what is an otherwise excellent visitor attraction, I do think that they could do more with this particular item. Currently, it sits within a (very good) tile exhibition, and has been placed on a simulated Victorian mantelpiece in a simulated Victorian front room – with the fireplace featuring some nicely decorated examples of art nouveau tiles. There is no information about the vase – in fact no reference even to what it is – anywhere in the display. NB. I’ve included my own image here of the vase in situ, (apologies for the poor quality of the photography!). Having contacted the museum following my visit, I received a not particularly inspiring reply – essentially saying that the vase has been used ‘as a suitable thing to put on a grand fireplace rather than because the item has a special relevance to the museum or the topic of tiles’.

Whilst I understand that the Gladstone Vase has no direct links to the Gladstone Museum, (they just share the honour of being named after the same man), it does seem a bit of a waste of a stunning piece of work to simply be using it as an ornamental prop. It’s impossible for example to see the reverse side of the vase, (as described above, with St George, William Wallace, saucy children(!) et al). This design doesn’t appear in any published images of the vase, so who knows what it looks like, (apart from the museum cleaners, obviously)? Coupled with the fact that there is no information on display either, I imagine the majority of people walk past it none the wiser. To give the museum credit, their response to my email did say that they would look to include some information on the vase in a ‘flip-book’ beside the display. If you’ve ever been to the main Pottery Museum in Stoke however, you may have noticed that they don’t seem to be particularly interested in the the work of the Rheads either – the examples of Charlotte’s work are small in number to say the least – so perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised by the approach at the Gladstone Museum.  I’m speaking of course as an enthusiast of Rhead pottery, and appreciate that many other people are indifferent to it. The reason I am disappointed however, is that in whatever way it’s looked at, the family all came from the Potteries, produced countless examples of quality work between them, took their craft successfully to America – and yet they appear to be largely ignored by the museums of their home town.

Frederick Rhead’s Gladstone Vase has been loaned to the museum in Stoke by the Gladstone family for several years now – perhaps it is time for to go somewhere where it will be more valued as a display piece. I’m sure it wouldn’t be left on a shelf in the V&A.

The Rhead-Cronin Collection: Tiles

As a follow up to my previous blog on the recent Rhead-Cronin sales in Exeter, this post will focus on the remarkable tube-lined tiles that came up for auction as part of the collection. I think I’m right in saying that it set a new record for the sheer number of individual Rhead decorated tiles sold in a single sale. It must certainly have set a record for the highest hammer prices in a single sale! In all, there were 44 individual tiles (some sold as combined lots), with the ‘cheapest’ selling for £190 and the most expensive for £15,000.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the tile collection was that it backed up Bernard578_£190 Bumpus’ theory that the majority of these items were produced as gifts for friends and family of the Rheads, rather than for commercial sale. Whilst there were examples that have been seen before, such as some of the Dutch figures and the galleons in sail, there were many that were completely unknown previously, including one of a baby boy that can only have been a personal gift to mark a Christening. We know that several tiles were found following the death of Charlotte’s sister Dollie in 1981, (at her home in Stoke-On-Trent), but this particular set of tiles had remained in the family, in Devon, so were all new to the market. They were perhaps even more unique, as some were actually signed by Charlotte to the back – something Bumpus had not come across during his extensive research.

Charlotte & Dollie Rhead
Charlotte & Dollie Rhead

For those who were not aware that Charlotte Rhead ever decorated tiles – she is, after all, better known for her pattern designs on vases and chargers etc – some background. It was her father, Frederick Alfred Rhead, who encouraged her (and Dollie) to decorate tiles at home, whilst they were still relatively young. He provided the ‘blanks’ for them to practice on, and they essentially learned the basics of tube-lining on these items. Charlotte of course went on to specialise in the process, however Dollie was just as skilled at it and later covered for her sister during for a spell at Burgess & Leigh. We know from the tiles in this sale that they were all (probably) produced around 1910, since some are dated as well as signed. It was during this period that Frederick was involved in the ill-fated Barker, Rhead venture, with his partner F.H. Barker at the Atlas Tile Works. Whilst they concentrated mainly on printed tiles, they also produced some tube-lined art nouveau themed tiles for local shops and businesses. Barker,Rhead was to fold in around 1910, but it seems that the sisters continued to decorate tiles beyond that, certainly until circa 1912, when Charlotte joined Frederick at Wood & Sons. During this period, she also worked at other tile manufacturers, but this most likely involved producing more ‘simple’ designs for commercial sale.

Charlotte Rhead
Charlotte Rhead (c.1910)

The Rhead-Cronin tiles all appear to have been home-produced, as most are in their original oak frames, suggesting that were intended as gifts. Some of the examples in the sale came with original artwork, such as watercolours or sketches – often produced by Frederick, but also some by Charlotte’s brothers and uncles. It’s clear that Charlotte used these pieces of art as the basis of the tile decoration, so it again points to them being a ‘leisure’ pursuit at home rather than commercial work. A natural conclusion to seeing these tiles all together, is that they essentially form Charlotte’s apprenticeship – her talent is obvious and one can see from these examples how she went on to have a successful career. She was 25 years of age in 1910, and just about to begin designing patterns full-time at Wood & Sons.  Although some may seem quite basic and child-like at first glance, the tube-lining technique on tiles was not an easy thing to master. The more elaborate tiles are proof that she became an expert.

L Rhead signature on a tube-lined tile
L Rhead signature on a tube-lined tile

The sale also included some tiles decorated by other Rheads – notably Frederick and Louis, but it is Charlotte’s that grab the attention for me. Of course, it may be that some of them were actually decorated by Dollie, but I believe the majority were Charlotte’s.  As I’ve mentioned already, some of the tiles are signed – either with L Rhead (the ‘L’ being for Lottie, as that it is what she was known as at the time), or just the initials ‘L.R.’ I find the L Rhead signature most interesting, as it is the original of  the familar facsimile signature seen on her professional work later on. These tile signatures are in her actual hand, unlike those on the later pieces. The fact that several tiles in this collection had some form of signature on them highlights their importance in relation to other examples found previously – there can be no doubt as to who produced them, and when.

I’ve included a gallery of my own pictures below featuring most of the tiles sold, along with their hammer prices. I am indebted to all at Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter, and especially Nic Saintey, for giving me the opportunity to view & photograph the Rhead-Cronin collection prior to the sales. It was a great experience and I thank Nic for all his help.




The Rhead-Cronin Collection

Pair of facing ladies in caps Lot 547Now that the dust has settled on the remarkable sale of the Rhead-Cronin collection, I thought I’d take the opportunity to pick out a few of the highlights. The second of the two auctions ended this time last week, at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter, and it’s probably fair to say that the collection exceeded expectations all round.

Christening Mug for Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin
Christening Mug for Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin

To give some background for those unaware of it, the collection was made up of a large number of items produced by several different members of the Rhead family, including paintings, engravings, ceramics and assorted ephemera. It had belonged to a  late nephew of Charlotte Rhead, Richard Harry Rhead-Cronin, who had lived in Honiton, Devon. His mother was Marie Rhead, Charlotte’s sister, who because she was not involved in the artistic pursuits of her family, was relatively unknown – (Bernard Bumpus mentions in his book that Frederick Alfred Rhead and his wife Adolphine had six children, but does not mention Marie by name). The items put into the sale had been held by this branch of the family for many years, so essentially, they were all new to the market. From a collector’s point of view, any ‘undiscovered’ pieces such as these are the holy grail. I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Exeter for a sneak preview of the collection prior to the sales and it was a unique experience. To see the breadth of items included, not to mention the quality of the majority of it, was (and excuse the hyperbole) staggering!

The first sale took place in December 2013, and consisted of items that are perhaps more familiar to casual collectors of Rhead pottery. There were several Crown Ducal pieces, as well some nice early Wood & Sons Bursley examples. Perhaps the most appealing lot was a Burleighware Fruit Set, which appeared to have been designed by Adolphine ‘Dollie’ Rhead (another of Charlotte’s sisters), as it featured her facsimile signature to the reverse side. I’ve previously blogged about this set – click here to read it, but it is of particular interest as the pattern has never been seen before. The set (minus the ginger jar shown below) had a hammer price of £210 – which was a bargain for whoever got it!

Burleighware 'A Rhead' Fruit Set
Burleighware ‘A Rhead’ Fruit Set

Charlotte Rhead Watercolours - Native American SquawsOther highlights included a lovely Bursley Ware ewer in the 456 Pomona pattern, selling for £240 + fees and a pair of water-colour sketches of Native-American squaws, attributed to Charlotte Rhead, which formed the basis of a design for tube-lined tiles that she completed later, (£480 + fees). As you can see from the image on the left, the ‘Aztec’ pattern that later appeared on Charlotte’s design for Crown Ducal is evident. Finally, there was an interesting teapot, designed by Frederick Hurten Rhead for Wardle in around 1900 (£65 + fees). Again, these items do not come up for sale often and would no doubt have attracted interest from American collectors, given that he spent the majority of his working career over there.

Hidden away towards the end of this sale was a small collection of family photographs and small watercolours, one of which was by another of Charlotte’s sisters, Katherine. The gems in here were the photos though, as they included early ones of Harry and Dollie, but most intriguingly one of Charlotte herself. I think it was taken in around 1910 when she would have been 25, and she has a small dog on her lap. Photos of Charlotte are very scarce – she was notoriously a shy and private person. All the photos that we do know of show her not looking directly at the camera, and in this one, she (sort of) is!

The second sale, which took place in January 2014 contained the more unusual (and valuable) items, including a great number of pictures and sketches as well as some framed tube-lined tiles and museum quality ceramics. Although the focus of this site is clearly ‘pottery’, it’s worth recording some highlights from the pictures sale, as there were some great examples. Having never really paid much attention to the art produced by the family, I must say I was blown away by some of the paintings in this collection. Having always associated Frederick Alfred Rhead with pottery, it was a surprise for me to see the quality of some of his paintings – perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a shock given his undoubted talent, but I think it was because I just hadn’t seen it before. The sale also featured some work from Frederick’s brothers & children. For some examples, see the small gallery below, (all prices shown are excluding commission):

FA Rhead Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Vase The ceramics section of the sale was perhaps the most exciting (for me anyway), and it got away to a stunning start, with one of the first lots reaching a hammer price of £17,000 – against an estimate of £1500 – £2000. It was an amazing pâte-sur-pâte vase by Frederick Rhead, probably for Minton, depicting an angel holding a large bowl and some text around the bottom taken from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is in fact linked to one of the pieces of art shown above, from which it draws clear inspiration – the question is, did both pieces go to the same buyer?! Following that lot, I think everybody in the room realised that any bargains were going to be few and far between, with many hastily re-assessing their budgets for bidding on the rest of the sale. Or perhaps that was just me……

Bretby Vase - Charlotte RheadOne of the biggest surprises of the collection was a vase by Bretby – not a name one would associate with the Rhead family. It featured a galleon in full sail, which (funnily enough) is something that you would link to Charlotte Rhead. So, why did Charlotte decorate a Bretby vase? I still don’t know and it has baffled other collectors that I’ve spoken to. Nic Saintey of Bearnes has asked the same question in his excellent series of blogs – answers on a postcard please! This vase sold for just £200 plus fees, perhaps reflecting some damage on it, but in hindsight, this looks like a very good price. The chances are that there isn’t another one anywhere else in the world.

Wardle FH Rhead Vase The main part of the sale contained a large number of tube-lined tiles, mainly by Charlotte, which I shall write about in a later blog as they deserve further discussion. For now though, I’ll finish with this lovely vase produced by Frederick Hurten Rhead for Wardle. It is a tube-lined decoration featuring two turtles and the words “Two tired turtles trying to trot to Tutbury”, signed and dated to 1902. This was just before he left to begin life in America, so was possibly one of the last examples of his ‘English’ work. It sold for £1,150 plus fees. Again, it would be intriguing to know where this ended up – did it stay here or follow Frederick across the pond?


As I’ve mentioned above, I’ll write more soon about the Rhead-Cronin tiles, but in the meantime I’d like to thank everybody at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (especially Nic Saintey) for giving me the opportunity to get up close with the collection. I will be eternally grateful!








Pâte-sur-Pâte at Wood & Sons

Wood & Sons Pate Sur Pate BackstampNot long after Frederick (Alfred) Rhead took up his post as Art Director at Wood & Sons, in 1912, he introduced new ranges of ‘fancy’ lines to go with the everyday tableware that he and the firm were producing; (the term ‘fancies’ was one used at the time to describe the more decorative pieces). These included the tube-lined Elers and Trellis patterns, but also a range of items that were made using the more difficult pâte-sur-pâte technique.

In Bernard Bumpus’ book Pâte-sur-Pâte – The Art of Ceramic Relief Decoration 1849-1992, he describes it (somewhat long-windedly!) – as an ‘elaborate and expensive method of decorating porcelain in which a translucent cameo-like image was built up by the application of many thin coats of porcellaneous slip’. Having served as an apprentice to the man who introduced the pâte-sur-pâte method to England – Marc Louis Solon at Minton – it’s perhaps no surprise that Frederick Rhead was a keen advocate of the practice, and his attempt to produce a new range at Wood & Sons was something of a re-invention. His aim was to provide more affordable wares than those originally available in England, whilst retaining the craftsmanship and decorator’s skill in producing quality decorative pieces.

Wood & Sons Pate Sur Pate Bowl Frederick Rhead

In 1913, Woods published a catalogue of selected lines, entitled ‘Pâte-sur-Pâte – A Notable Revival’, which contained around a dozen different patterns produced in the technique. Although they were only intended as examples, it appears that they were well received, as the firm went ahead and produced some for commercial sale. In order to attract those who may have been turned off by the impression that pâte-sur-pâte items were expensive, the catalogue went as far to state that the items were to be sold ‘at prices well within the reach of the average man’, [with the decoration] ‘being executed entirely by hand by a staff or trained artists under the direction of Mr Rhead. Every piece is signed by Mr Rhead, a guarantee of perfect execution and careful and artistic production generally….’

Bernard Bumpus (this time in his books on the Rhead family), suggests that the Wood & Sons pâte-sur-pâte wares were simply a variation, albeit a more elaborate one, of tube-lining, rather than a match for the quality of the original Minton pieces. This is probably a fair point, although given that they were aimed at ‘the average man’, it’s no surprise. Whilst Frederick himself was highly skilled in the technique, (as can be seen in the image below, showing his version of ‘The Flatterer’s Net’, from Bunyan Pilgrim’s Progress), it wouldn’t have been cost-effective or practical to produce items commercially that required such effort to decorate.

Frederick A Rhead pate sur pate plaque depicting the Flatterers Net from Bunyans Pilgrim's Progress
Picture courtesy of Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood

Whilst we know that the Wood & Sons pâte-sur-pâte range had some success, with production continuing until the early 1920s, it is still relatively hard to find these days. Pieces appear every now and then, so it is worth looking out for. It’s easy to identify of course, given that all the information is in the backstamp – an unusual thing for Frederick and Charlotte Rhead at Wood & Sons! I have recently acquired the lidded jar shown below, which is a great example of the difference between the pâte-sur-pâte and tube-lining methods. The pattern on this jar definitely feels more delicately applied than a tube-lined piece and it isn’t difficult to see that it would require extra time and time to produce.

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The Cosy Pot

726 Fruit Trellis Cosy Pot Charlotte Rhead

One of the more curious items to have come out of the Wood & Sons / Bursley Ltd era was the ‘Cosy’ pot – a supposedly non-drip teapot that came in various colours & sizes.

The design itself was patented worldwide by Edmund William Abram in 1921. He claimed that it was ‘the perfect teapot’, although it was eventually also marketed as a coffee pot so as not to narrow the market for it. By all accounts, it was non-drip, although I must confess I haven’t tested it!

The licence to manufacture them was initially given to a number of potteries, but Wood & OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASons produced the majority; (Booths and Pountney’s of Bristol were amongst the other companies that manufactured the pots).  Abram’s company – Abram Allwares Ltd – unfortunately went into liquidation in the mid 1920s and Wood & Sons took over the patent registration. They continued to produce them until around 1932 and the ‘Cosy’ is usually found in some of the more popular patterns, such as Frederick Rhead’s Trellis, Chung, Yuan and Mikado, as well as Charlotte’s Seed Poppy and Bursley pattern 726 (shown at the top of the page).

Orange cosyThey were made in different sizes – the example shown at the top is the smallest one, standing at approx. 12.5cm (5″) high, intended presumably as a ‘tea for one’ pot. I have seen two other sizes (6.5″ & 8″ tall), but understand there may also be larger ones. The bigger pots tended to come in plain colours – one of them being a very bright orange, but they can also be found in pretty dull shades of brown. The examples that fetch the best money are understandably those in the tube-lined patterns, such as Trellis & Seed Poppy. I think it’s odd that a complicated design such as Seed Poppy was used on such a functional item; the majority were given the standard, plain tableware designs. Perhaps it was just a marketing thing, with the colourful versions being used in advertising and at trade fairs – I suppose that would explain why they are harder to come by.

Whilst the pots are not hard to spot given their shape, if you come across one anywhere and are unsure about its authenticity, then it’s worth checking the backstamp – they differed from the standard Wood & Sons or Bursley Ltd marks in that details of the Abram patent are printed in some detail, as well as the name of the manufacturer. An example of a Wood & Sons stamp is shown in the gallery below.

If anybody has actually made a pot of tea in a Cosy – I’d love to hear how it went…..



Frederick Alfred Rhead – A Letter to America

Frederick Alfred Rhead
Frederick Alfred Rhead

Having recently acquired an original letter, written & signed by Frederick Alfred Rhead himself, I thought I’d share the details of it here. It is dated 16th December 1916, in the midst of the first World War and was sent to William Richards Castle Jr – the then editor of the Harvard Graduates’ Magazine in the USA.

Frederick had been having previous correspondence with Castle regarding some drawings he had sent him for possible inclusion in the Harvard magazine – this letter seems to be a follow up, but it interestingly also provides some insight into how Rhead viewed the ongoing war, as well as giving an eyewitness account of the Zeppelin air raids that occurred over north Staffordshire in November 1916. He would have been around 60 at the time of writing the letter, and employed as Art Director at Wood & Sons.

The letter was written from Frederick’s home address in Vale View, Porthill; a district of Newcastle-Under-Lyme. The Rheads had moved back to this house in around 1910, after having lived there previously.Rhead Letter 1916

The full letter reads as follows:

Dear Sir, I am favoured by your letter, and flattered by your appreciation of my drawings sent with the “Punch” collection. My chief regret is that I had no better ones by me. The larger one, however, I think is interesting as illustrating a quotation (which I enclose) which seemed to be almost miraculously appropriate to the present situation, seeing that it was written forty years back. [NB. I don’t have this ‘enclosed’ image, so I’m not clear what he is referring to!]

We English are very grateful for American sympathy. Your letter – with its long list of influential people on your committee – a list including the best intellects of one of the most intellectual cities in the world: – has given the keenest pleasure in many quarters.

The people here – both in the Provinces and in London, are thinking chaotically. I have not met a single person of any age or sex, who is not firm in the resolution to fight on, if need be in the face of tribulation and indigence: – until the menace of militarism is destroyed utterly. But we are frankly puzzled about the Germans. We cannot arouse any hatred of them as a nation. We are so accustomed to regard them as a simple and “motherly” race, that their ferocious conduct of the war upsets all our preconceived habits of thought in regard to them, and we wonder whether they will ever revert to the status of decent cosmopolitan citizens, with a reasonable regard for the right of “the other fellows”. Most of our boys are at the front (many will remain there) and most of our girls are nursing in the hospitals or making munitions.

I have seen over 20 bombs fall from a Zeppelin on a congested district. Some of them fell only a few hundred yards away, and the noise was hellish. I looked next morning, expecting to see whole streets swept away. The damage to property was amazingly small. Only one man was slightly hurt by a flying splinter and a poor old lady with a weak heart died from shock. This Zeppelin was brought down as it crossed the coast, after being crippled by attacking aeroplanes on its way back.

If the drawing I sent should be reproduced, I would much like to have a print.

With all best wishes for the success of the Bazaar, and all seasonable greetings to yourself and colleagues.

I am sincerely yours, Frederick A Rhead


From what I understand, there were two Zeppelin attacks in 1916 – one on January 31st and the second on November 27th; presumably Frederick was referring to the November raid, as it occurred only a few weeks before he wrote the letter. This seems to tally with the fact that the Zeppelin involved in that attack was eventually shot down in the North Sea (close to Great Yarmouth), as mentioned by Frederick.

I have to say that I love this item! Holding an original letter hand-written by somebody you admire gives a certain thrill at any time, but the subject here is doubly fascinating as it give snapshot view of real events that not many people around today will have knowledge of. It also gives us an impression of what kind of person Frederick was as he entered his sixties – worldly-wise, insightful, patriotic and pragmatic. It sounds like he was a nice man.