In order to assist visitors in their search for a particular pattern, a number of basic classifications is used on this website. Some patterns can be easily fitted into a class, for example a simply banded pattern or an entirely freehand floral pattern. Others are not as easy to define, particularly when a pot has, for example, a lustre band combined with a print which has been enhanced with enamel colours. The classification therefore relies on deciding what is the principal decoration of the pot: is it floral, lustre, nursery ware etc? Having decided on this basic class, there may be sub-classes to assist its identification, for example, lustre has sub-classes of silver, copper etc. Always consider the principal decoration in order to locate a pattern when its number is not known. The following are the classifications, together with illustrations to assist understanding:
Abstract and jazz modern
A popular style at the end of the 1920s which continued into the early 1930s. Susie Cooper said on more that one occasion that she produced designs in this style because it was fashionable and therefore commercial, not because she liked it.
There are three sub-classes in this classification:
Plain: Incorporating lines and bands of varying width, particularly popular in the 1920s
Stella: Incorporating ‘Stella’ spots, a regular feature of Gray’s pattern range
Motif: Patterns including a motif expanded the ‘Plain’ range
Banded – plain
Banded ware, incorporating lines and bands of varying width, particularly popular in the 1920s. The examples here illustrate various Gray’s designs from the 1920s through to the 1950s, incorporating techniques such as groundlaying (colour is dusted onto an oily surface), aerographing (colour is sprayed onto the surface using a gun), sgraffito (the pot’s body colour is revealed when the surface colour is scratched away) and shaded banding (where variations in the pressure applied to the brush results in more or less colour being laid).
Banded – with a motif
Banded patterns incorporating a motif expanded the range of simple banded ware. The motif can be: totally freehand painted; an outline print with additional colour applied by hand; a print or a lithograph. Susie Cooper strove to improve the quality of lithographic prints during her time with Gray’s Pottery and achieved great success in this area by the time she had established her own company in the early 1930s. Close examination of the designs produced by Sam Talbot progressively through the 1930s shows that he too mastered the art of developing high-quality print decoration.
Wares are divided into two sub-classes according to whether the pots were produced for royal occasions or not.
Commemorative – royal
The 1911 commemorative souvenirs for the coronation of George V are among the earliest known products of Gray’s Pottery. The company produced further commemorative wares in anticipation of the coronations of Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II, as well as for royal visits abroad such as to North America in 1939 and to South Africa in 1947.
Commemorative – other
A plate marked ‘BCC Jubilee 1907’ is the earliest known piece of Gray’s Pottery. Many commemorative items were produced after that time, depicting organisations such as Rotary International and Round Table, towns such as Carlisle and Haslemere, and people such as Sir Winston Churchill and Pope Pius 12th.
This multi-style class covers patterns up to number 2800, which would date them to before 1923. They will have backstamps up to and including H3 (Click for H3 backstamp detail).The reason for having these patterns as one group is because the number of known patterns currently is only about 100. As the number grows, it is possible that they can be more conveniently placed within the other classes.
William Kent of Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, made earthenware figures from 19th century master moulds up to 1962 – see further information under 1924 British Industries Fair.
The designation of Gray’s lustre colours is not an exact science. Gold is used in most lustre mixes in combination with other metals, organic oils and resins, resulting in a wide range of colour. The effects produced can be described as bronze, gold, copper, purple or pink. The colour can also be modified by the addition of an all-over transparent lustre, called mother-of-pearl, and which produces an iridescent effect.
The letters BC stand for ‘bronze and carmine’, which produced a reddish copper colour. This style of decoration, introduced by Gray’s Pottery in about 1945, is usually enhanced by the addition of some enamel colour or accompanied by a print. Many BC patterns were destined for the North American market and were often supplied under the ‘Old Castle’ backstamp.
This colour can be described as copper, bronze or gold. In addition to conventional decoration, many copper lustre patterns incorporated, or exhibited exclusive, ‘resist’ decoration: a clay compound is applied to parts of the pot before covering all over with the lustre pigment. After firing, the pot can be scrubbed and the areas which have resisted the lustre bond reveal the natural clay body beneath. The small jug and the tray (rear left of the photograph) both exhibit this ‘resist’ technique.
Gray’s Pottery products having a print plus copper bands and lines will be found in the ‘Print only (see below)’ classification.
This class includes many styles of decoration and is typified by the Gloria Lustre range produced between 1923 and 1928. Many items are spectacular limited-edition exhibition pieces, but there are many too that were destined for a much more utilitarian function, despite the known difficulties of general wear and tear on the surface of this type of lustre.
Research suggests that the Gloria Lustre range started at number 2800 and finished at 7200. Within this range a rebus was often added to the marks under the pot and the footring was painted (see ‘Designers, Gordon Forsyth’ section).
This generic colour may have been one of the first to register in AE Gray’s mind during his regular visits to see the ceramics at Manchester’s Art Gallery in the 1880s and 90s. Early examples of Gray’s Pottery pink/purple lustre exist marked with backstamp B, indicating production during the first fifteen years of the company’s existence. This may have been the pre-curser to the wide range of colours developed, culminating in Gloria Lustre.
Silver lustre, or more accurately, platinum lustre, featured in Gray’s Pottery products for a very long time. It was used by itself, as a ‘resist’ decoration (see ‘Lustre – copper’ above for an explanation), in combination with enamel colours and on top of coloured bodies, yellow in particular.
Splashed lustre (also referred to as mottled or splatter lustre) is a characteristic product of the 19th century Sunderland potteries in the north-east of England. AE Gray, having a general liking of lustre, developed a wide range of splashed lustre patterns which were in production right up to the time when Gray’s Pottery became Portmeirion, and even a little beyond. The designs almost invariably incorporate a print, often monochrome, such as The Mariner’s Compass or Ship Caroline, but also coloured motifs, such as Dicken’s Days. Though purple/pink is the predominant colour for the lustre, other colours were supplied including blue and green.
The majority of Gray’s nursery ware seems to have been produced between 1922 and 1935 and is often attributable to Susie Cooper. Other designs incorporating motifs attractive to a small child were created up to 1940. Overall, it must be said that the output of specific nursery ware was a very small part of the business of Gray’s Pottery.
There are three sub-classes in this classification:
Print only: Printed design with no or limited additional decoration
Enamelled: Printed design with substantial additional decoration
Maps: Items with souvenir maps of Great Britain and elsewhere
Gray’s Pottery produced a wide range of souvenir dishes with prints of various parts of Great Britain as well as other countries. Often black prints incorporating highlights of enamel colour and an edge line, they are largely designs of the 1950s.
A much larger image is available by clicking the link under the thumbnail image. WARNING: Very large image (456Kb)
Undecorated and matt
It seems incongruous that a decorating firm sold undecorated ware, but it did! Reflecting the fashion for plain, matt-glazed ware typified by the Keith Murray productions at Wedgwood between 1933 and 1939, Gray’s Pottery produced this type of ware in the mid-to-late 1930s. The acquisition of an interest in Kirklands pottery in Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent in 1936, gave AE Gray the opportunity to produce matt-glazed products for himself. It also gave him the opportunity to introduce many new shapes such as candle sconces, bud vases and jam & toast racks.