In a little over fifty years’ existence, Gray’s Pottery supplied many different ceramic products to markets at home and abroad. The company launched innovative designs, it led some markets, notably in lustre ware, and it responded to fashion as befits any forward-thinking business. It is therefore not surprising that Gray’s Pottery products come in a wide variety of styles (Illustration 1). This makes it impossible to define the company’s house-style in a few words. Even its byword ‘Hand-painted’, especially apt for its products of the 1920s and 30s (Illustration 2), is not universally applicable in the last decade of the company’s existence, where progressively little or no handwork was to be seen.

Illustration 1
Various Gray's Pottery styles

Based on pattern number research, it can be estimated that Gray’s Pottery produced of the order of 19,000 different patterns. Many are easily identified as being unique but some are variations of a specific theme: perhaps using subtly different colourways, using a different edge-line or using a matt rather than a shiny glaze. Occasionally a pattern was re-launched many years after the initial offering and the same design can then have two numbers.

Few patterns had names. Of those that did, some were included as part of the marks within or alongside the backstamp eg Golden Catkin, Hampton and Guelder Rose (Illustration 3), others were used as a general reference eg Tree, Magnolia and Zebra. See the sub-section detailing names as part of this main section.

Illustration 2
Typical freehand-painted Gray's Pottery
Illustration 3
Examples of Gray's Pottery marks for named patterns

On a practical point, collectors and researchers must be aware that often it can be extremely difficult to read a pattern number on the base of a pot. Generally speaking, the paintresses were paid piece-work and therefore they took the minimum time needed to paint anything that was not particularly important to be seen. If a mark is unclear, consider all the possible options of what it may be – by way of example, look carefully at any figure ‘4’ that you see – it could be a ‘7’ – and vice-versa (Illustration 4)Hand-painted pattern numbers are usually accompanied by the painter’s mark (this detail will be added to the site in the future). Almost without exception, such marks are added after the pattern number and, usually, just below, to the right. This helps when trying to decipher a number which can look valid both ways – eg 8166 could be read as 9918.

Illustration 4
Examples of 'difficult' hand-painted pattern numbers
From the top: 7440, 7072, 4426

As the full pattern listing develops, there will be many gaps. We therefore invite anyone with items of Gray’s Pottery, particularly designs not yet logged on the site, to get in touch. The idea is that you, the collector or researcher, can add your pottery picture(s) to the site. The only condition is that pictures must be of a high quality, preferably include something to easily gauge the item’s size (eg by using a penny coin or a ruler) and that the sender must accept that his/her name will be added as a caption (eg. Cup and saucer by kind permission of So-and-so). In the fullness of time the site should replace the lost pattern books! In the meantime, where suitable pots have not been readily available, some images are scanned from written material, including e-bay listings.

"Matchings" - replacements

Pottery patterns come and go and more often than not, they go and are not resurrected. Rare examples of  patterns being kept in production for many years are Spode’s Blue Italian, in continuous production since 1816 and Portmeirion’s Botanic Garden, since 1972.

Take the example of a 1920s couple who receive a tea or dinner set as a wedding gift. A year later the delighted recipients want to expand their ‘best china’, to add more plates, coffee ware etc etc. This was easy provided the pattern and its shapes were still in the manufacturer’s current sales catalogue. But the time would come when it would be discontinued as a mainstream product. That was where the potters’ ‘Matchings’ service came in.
Many manufacturers, and Gray’s Pottery was one of them, offered to supply additional pots for customers who wanted to expand their collection, or replacement pots for customers wanting to retain the integrity of their matched pottery when they had, for example, broken a preserve pot lid, or found some stains on their serving dishes.

The replacement of pots having long-discontinued patterns often explains why a particular Gray’s Pottery design of a year when, say, the 2nd Galleon backstamp was in use, can be found on a pot with a post-war Clipper backstamp. However, even though AE Gray supported and promoted the matchings system, it’s unlikely that every pattern would be considered for ‘recreation’ after many years. Undoubtedly the value of the specific customer came into play at some point!

The operation of a ‘Matchings’ service was not something to be taken lightly as can be understood from A West of England Retailer in 1926, transcribed opposite.

The Pottery Gazette and Glass Trade Review
1 March 1926, page 450: Correspondence



Sirs, –
Concerning that “black beast” of the china and glass industry, “Matchings.”

It has long been my opinion that one of the really urgent things which could, and should, be tackled by a joint conference of the various Manufacturers’ and Distributing Associations is the possibility of forming what, for lack of a better term, I will designate “A Matchings Clearing House.”

I am perfectly certain that at present the great majority of makers and retailers get worried almost to distraction respecting the matchings which pour in upon them from every quarter and by every post. We all know the sort of thing; for example: “Price for two teacups and one cream jug to match broken saucer, etc., etc.” In the aggregate, vast sums must annually be spent in postages for inquiries, petty orders, “whip-ups,” and so forth, not to mention stationery, office work, and the like. I assume that, as long as the china trade exists, so long will the customer be anxious to match a vegetable cover of a dinner set received as a wedding present fifteen years ago, or the servant who has broken a dish desire to get it repeated without “missus” knowing. Whilst the retailer inwardly cusses all this bother for little or no profit, he knows ‘tis inevitable to the calling he pursues. Whilst the potter frets and fumes when a heavy post arrives laden with matchings from Scotland and matchings from Cornwall, and still more matchings from London, yet he has to try to tackle them as patiently and expeditiously as possible. It is, however, often a slow business, running into three or even six months, and during which the private customer is fussing and fidgetting incessantly for delivery. Now, my contention is that if a centrally situated depot could be established at Stoke-on-Trent by mutual arrangement amongst makers and distributors, where all matchings and inquiries respecting same could be sent, a huge saving in time, patience, work and money would result for all parties.

We hear of railway, banking, and other clearing houses, and I am positive that a matchings ditto, properly run by qualified persons acting on behalf of the body politic of Staffordshire potters, would be one of the greatest boons our trade ever knew.

Instead of sending ten or fifteen parcels of “samples to be matched” to as many different manufacturers by today’s post, I should send one parcel direct to the Clearing House, at an immense saving of packing and carriage charges! Instead of receiving and having to answer forty or fifty letters from customers all over the kingdom daily about relatively paltry matters, the manufacturer would get one bigger budget from the Clearing House. Instead of matching up four cups, A 1021, for Jones, of Edinburgh, and two of the same pattern for Robinson, of Salisbury, and yet another six for Brown, of Cork (separate petty orders dealt with as individual smatterings), he would be enabled to make twelve at one go.

There are many similar advantages too numerous to mention, but which the imagination can easily appreciate. I read recently of some well-known man telling the Staffordshire potters that they must wake up and advertise, etc. Here, surely, is one way in which they can bring into effect a great and long-felt improvement in one of the conditions which is almost unique to the china and glass trade. It would be a saving in every way for consumer, distributor, and maker, and not the least relief would be that of the worry which at present is endured by all parties over what I will repeat in calling the “black beast” of our trade.

I should very much like to see further correspondence on this topic, and, better still, to learn that someone having authority in one of our trade association would bring it within the realm of practical politics. – Yours, etc.,

A West of England Retailer.[wpv-autop]

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