Shelley Pottery’s Post-War Shapes and Designs
This is a Shelley cup and saucer with a large Cappers Rose floral design and in the Stratford shape with a green handle and gold trim, pattern number 2392, made between 1959-1966.
Shelley pottery during the 1920s and 30s was held in high esteem, not only by the retailers in the United Kingdom, but also by the public that bought it in England and world wide. It was the pottery to grace your table and impress your friends.
The production of those well-loved designs and shapes came to an end with the start of the Second World War; a post-war change back to more traditional shapes and styles meant that the Art Deco shapes would never grace tables again.
The war began in September 1939, and restrictions on the UK home market for decorated ware soon came into force; by the middle of 1942, all decorated ware for the home market was banned. The pottery that was allowed on the UK home market became known as “Utility Ware.” There were several versions, but the most popular was the white china with a clear glaze. Some decorated ware was allowed if the order was classed as a reject or part of a frustrated export order, although it seems there were not too many of those kinds of orders. Decorated ware was still being produced, but was for export only and was mainly shipped to Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Exports were a vital source of income for the UK during the war years.
The majority of the pottery that Shelley produced for export during these years was traditional in both shape and pattern. The popular cup shapes included Gainsborough, Vincent, Richmond, Henley and Dainty. A design called Sheraton was produced especially for export to Canada, in the pattern numbers 13289 Maroon, 13290 Green and 13291 Blue. Shelley advertised this design in the “Pottery Gazette” and “Glass Trade Review” in 1942, stating that “they were still producing good designs even though it was for export,” and that there “was something to look forward to at the end of the war.” It was not until 1952 that the ban on decorated ware for the home market was fully lifted.
A decision was taken by Shelley in the late 1930s to stop the production of earthenware and concentrate entirely on producing fine bone china. This meant a complete change at the factory in order to give the production a continuous flow from the slip-house to the packaging-house, allowing Shelley to produce four main types of ware, each having its own pattern book. Set against each pattern number was the cup shape, a pattern description or litho name and the type of finish to the ware, i.e. gold, colored and whether it had a fancy finish to the edge or handle. The four main types of ware were: Best Ware, Ideal China Ware, Seconds Ware and Special Patterns Ware.
Shelley’s Garden Urn Flowers Trio, circa 1929. The war forced the factory to stop making anything but “utility ware” for domestic use. These designs were still made for export.
Best Ware, as the name suggests, is the best quality ware. The pattern numbers continued in sequence from the earlier period, but as we are looking at the later years it is easier to start with pattern number 13000, dated 1939. The last number in the pattern book is number 14341, which is dated May 18, 1966, and was shortly before the factory was taken over.
Ideal China Ware, as it became better known, was originally designed for export to Canada (the official name was “Canadian Teaware”). The name Ideal China was to be placed on the bottom of the ware in front of the pattern number, but is usually found only on the early numbers. All numbers in this range started with “0.” Although it was originally designed for Canada, it seems that it made its way around the world, as it can be found in most countries that Shelley exported to. This is not a sub-standard pottery—it is the same standard as the Best Ware—but cheaper litho and finishes were applied to the early numbers. The first number was 051, dated February 1, 1938, and the last pattern number was 0721, dated May 11, 1966. Pattern number 051/28 is the best known number in this ware; it is the Dainty Blue pattern on the Dainty shape.
Seconds Ware is as its name suggests; ware which, during the early stage of production has been found to be faulty, either in the glaze or in the china. A pattern or litho and finish is applied, but is considerably cheaper than those applied to the other wares. It is noticeable that on seconds ware, the litho is usually applied to the front of the cup only and to one section of the saucer and plate. The other areas often have a pink and blue butterfly with outstretched wings strategically placed so that it does not look too plain. These methods saved on costs, for it was essential to get a return of some kind from this ware. The seconds ware pattern book commenced in 1919. Prior to this, Seconds Ware was included in the Best Ware pattern book, and just noted as Seconds ware. The first number in the pattern book is number 2000, dated June 1919; the last number is 2751, dated June 24, 1966. On some of the pieces of ware you can find a number two in a circle, or 2nd can be found on the base of the ware. Both denote it as being Seconds Ware.
The fourth type of ware that Shelley produced was Special Patterns Ware, and this is the hardest to find. The pattern numbers in this book relate to special requests from retailers, organizations or individuals. The pattern number started at 1 and finished at 988, dated may 1966. The amount of ware produced for each of these patterns could be as low as 50 pieces or just into the hundreds. In the 1930s, some cafés used the Mode and Eve shapes and had their cafe crest or emblem placed on the ware.
A Shelley trio in the very colorful and ornate Paisley pattern on the Henley shape.
The pieces are marked “Shelley” and “Fine Bone China, England,” with pattern number 14073.
As previously mentioned, during the war Shelley concentrated on the traditional shapes for export. Once decorated ware was allowed onto the home market again Shelley continued to use those traditional shapes, since designing new shapes straight away would have been a costly exercise. Examples that were popular before the war and continued after include Gainsborough, Henley, Richmond, Ripon, Regent, Oleander and ever-popular Dainty shape. The Queen Anne shape reappeared in the 1950s, but the type of lithos that were being used at that time were not complementary to its shape, so the revival was short-lived. Shelley started to introduce new cup shapes in the early 1950s, including a redesigned Cambridge (where the ring handle was replaced with a more open type handle), Ludlow, Boston, Lincoln, Stirling, Stratfor and Warwick. Two miniature shapes were introduced in 1956: the Westminster and the Cathedral. The miniature cups and saucers were in the giftware and could be purchased boxed or unboxed. The last cup shape to be introduced was the Avon shape in January 1964, but within two years the take-over of the factory began and this shape was never given the opportunity to become popular.
The lithos that were placed on the ware were of traditional style, and it was not until the mid-50s that several floral and contemporary designs became popular. Of the floral lithos, the most popular one was Wild Flower, pattern no. 13668. This litho was produced on most cup shapes and was a best seller for many years. A contemporary design that became popular was the Lyric litho, pattern no. 13778. Around the same time chintz patterns were also coming to the fore. Shelley produced around a dozen chintz patterns during this period, some of the more popular being Rock Garden, Primrose Chintz, Summer Glory and Melody and Maytime (both pre-war). In the early 1960s, abstract patterns were introduced—Cleopatra, Aegean and Apollo—and although the impact on the market of these designs was mixed, several floral patterns remained popular.
Shelley teacup and saucer in the Primrose Chintz pattern on a Ripon shape.
To bottom has the familiar “Shelley” marking and the pattern number 13589.
The giftware range was a selection of boxed items. Besides the miniature cups and saucers, there were tankards, individual cream and sugar with a tray, smokers’ companion sets, beakers, pairs of small ashtrays, large ashtrays, butter and sweet dishes. Several other pieces were also available. During a conversation I had with the former decorating manager for Shelley, he told me that he can remember that concern was expressed as to the feasibility of the boxed giftware. This was because the boxes in which the ware was placed actually cost more than the pieces of pottery themselves! In the end, there was no need for anyone to worry, because after they were shown at the International Gifts and Fancy Goods Fair, they continued to be a good seller for many years.
Shelley also produced ware that could be classed as scenic ware. This was where a scene or view was placed on different pieces. It would be as easy to say that you could get these scenes and views on any of the pieces that Shelley produced. The reason for this is that there was not a pattern book that listed this type of ware, only a Scenes/Views book that showed the various scenes or views from around the world. Australia was well represented, with views from many areas. Those that spring to mind include Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Parliament Buildings, Canberra and the Jenolan Caves. A lot of this ware was produced for the tourist trade.
A piece of Shelley’s Nursery Ware line, featuring a little girl with birds and the verse “Little Blue Bird, How He Sings—So Happy On My Plates And Things”
To piece is signed by the artist, Mabel Lucie Atwell, circa 1940.
Shelley also produced Mabel Lucie Attwell ware, but there is no pattern book in existence as it was misplaced around the time of the take-over. Mabel Lucie Attwell had started working for Shelley in 1926, producing various pieces of ware. This continued after the Second World War, although on a much smaller scale. Several of the children statuettes—The Golfer, Our Pets, I’s Shy and Gardener’s Boy—were manufactured, and the little elves sitting on or hiding behind something were still in production. A range of nursery china was still available, ranging from cups and saucers and tea plates to fruit bowls, egg cups, mugs and beakers. In 1949, during a Royal visit to Stoke-on-Trent, Princess Elizabeth was presented with a set of Mabel Lucie Attwell nursery china for Prince Charles.
Since the end of the war, Shelley had been able to hold their own on both the home and overseas market. New technology was starting to change the face of the pottery industry, and some of the smaller family-run firms were finding the costs of these changes beyond their means. A powerful financial holding company called Pearson & Sons Ltd. started to acquire some pottery firms and a company was formed called Allied English Potteries (AEP, as it became known) to cover Pearsons’ interest in the pottery industry. In the middle of 1966 AEP acquired Shelley China Ltd., and a firm that had been owned for four generations of the same family ceased to exist. It took almost 18 months to complete outstanding orders, and once this had been achieved the Shelley name disappeared completely; even the name of the factory was changed.
The official reason given for the acquisition of Shelley by AEP was that AEP wanted to increase its bone china output, and the skilled workforce at Shelley, together with the good reputation it had maintained, made it an attractive proposition. If this was the case, why did AEP stop producing Shelley ware? A question to which I cannot find an answer!
Chris Davenport started collecting Shelley pottery in 1988. His mentor was the former decorating manager at the factory from 1949 until 1966, and he also became good friends with Alan Shelley, the last surviving member of the Shelley family to work in the family business. His book is titled “Shelley Pottery – The Later Years.”
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