SA's Only Antiques, Collectables And Decorative Arts Magazine

mintonIt is easy to understand why Queen Victoria found Minton porcelain so appealing and collectable. England was already the world’s premier pottery manufacturing country in 1793 when Thomas Minton opened his company in Stoke-on-Trent. By the middle of the 19th Century, it was finely crafted and lavishly decorated in a mix of many periods--Neoclassic, Renaissance, Gothic revival and contemporary French among them. Seascapes and landscapes, flowers and birds, reclining figures and Oriental motifs had all found their way into thousands of patterns in numerous shapes and styles.

Minton, a trained artist, engraver and designer, used his skills to create bone china in 1799. He popularized the famous so-called Willow pattern. In the 1820s he started production of bone china; this early Minton is regarded as comparable to French Sèvres, by which it was greatly influenced.

The reproduction of cream coloured pottery and white bone china began in 1798, and a knowledge of the shapes and designs is essential as Minton refused to mark his wares at this time. During the mid 1820s the company began to introduce a series of finely – modelled figures in bone china that featured royal, theatrical, political and historical subjects. Other figures were produced in the manner of the 18th century Chelsea and Meissen porcelain, and they similarly benefit from first-class modelling and highly-detailed colourful costumes. The factory also produced figures in white biscuit bone china (unglazed bone china) to commemorate topical personalities of the age, such as William Wilberforce and Hannah More, the great antislavery and social reformers.

Before 1912, the name on the mark was usually Mintons before it became Minton. The word England was added in 1891. The firm became part of the Royal Doulton Tableware Group in 1968, but the wares continued to be marked Minton. Many marks have been used. Thomas Minton set out a century ago to design fine china for the public and wound up founding a firm that found royal favor--which it retains to this day. Fine artists and sculptors were starting to flock to the firm, and by the 1850’s Minton was widely hailed for fine hand-painting and elaborate gilding--artistic excellence that persists to this day.

The Minton royal relationship began in 1840 and was sealed with a warrant in 1856. It continues today. Prince Albert was a regular customer for more than 40 years, even designing a pattern himself for use at his beloved Balmoral Castle in the north of Scotland. Albert died before the project was completed, but the china was produced anyway and made its debut at the palace in 1893. Minton china today still offers the gloriously gilded, exquisitely painted pieces that enchanted both Queen Victoria, who called it “the most beautiful in the world,” and her descendant, Elizabeth II. One of Queen Victoria’s favorites was the “Strawberry Embossed” pattern, no longer in production, which was ordered for Balmoral in 1910 and is still prized by some of today’s royals.

Queen Mary continued the royal enthusiasm for Minton, visiting the factory in 1913 and later commissioning a miniature dinner service, a tiny blue-rimmed set made in 1929 for her dollhouse and still to be found at Windsor Castle.

INFLUENCE OF CLASSIC DESIGN Herbert Minton studied classic designs, including Gothic design and the Greek white marble art statuary used traditionally on the Isle of Paros. Minton became a prestigious name in the industry when his company’s designs won the Bronze Council Medal at the “Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations” held in London in 1851.

MINTON CAMPBELL AND THE ART POTTERY MOVEMENT Colin Minton Campbell, who took over the family’s administration of the factory in 1858, became a leader of the English Art Pottery Movement of the 1870s. The Acid Gold Process that he pioneered in 1863 is still in use.

LOUIS SOLON AND ART NOUVEAU MOVEMENT Sculptor Louis Solon came to Minton in 1870 and created museum-quality pieces by using a process called cappies pâte-sur-pâte. Solon created cutting-edge designs as part of the Art Nouveau movement in the late 1890s.

POPULAR DESIGNERS Company designers created highly popular china patterns, including John Wadsworth’s Haddon Hall in the 1930s, Douglas Henson’s Bellemeade in 1957, and Kenneth Wright’s archival designs in 1993.

Thomas Minton died in 1836 and was eventually succeeded by his second son, Herbert Minton, at a time when factory fortunes were escalating at a dramatic pace. Herbert was naturally keen to maintain the momentum and sought a partnership with Robert Boyle, trading as Minton and Boyle until the partnership dissolved in 1841. In 1845 he entered into a new partnership with his nephew Michael Daintry Hollins which continued until 1868. It was during this period that the factory sought to supply the growing demand for Frenchstyle ‘Sevres’ porcelain and other items that reflected the rococo revival. Herbert Minton was unquestionably the right man in the right place at the right time. Here was a man of vision keen to follow the path of excellence and innovation in pursuit of both beauty in design, without taking his eyes off the account ledgers and the need for profit. It was Herbert Minton’s china that had so enthralled Queen Victoria at the Great Exhibition, and under his guiding hand the company embarked upon the production of Parian ware, Majolica and the encaustic floor tiles which emulated those that had adorned churches and cathedrals since the early middle ages. Herbert Minton was quick to secure the services of eminent designers such as August Welby Northmore Pugin, the godfather of the Gothic revival, and Leon Arnoux, the celebrated French potter who introduced brightly coloured Majolica glazes.

After Herbert Minton’s death in 1858, leadership was passed to his nephew, Colin Minton Campbell. It was indeed fortunate that the new man at the helm shared the same virtues as his uncle, and was keen for the firm to lead by example rather than follow public taste. Campbell was quick to recognise the genius and potential offered by radical designs supplied by Christopher Dresser and reflected in the stunning range of ‘Cloisonné’ vases.

It was Campbell who first acquired the patent rights for the ‘acid bath process’ in 1863, whereby hydrofluoric acid is used to etch a pattern into the glaze prior to being filled with 22 carat gold. However, the ultimate contribution to Victorian ceramic designs was Minton’s pâte-sur-pâte technique (literally ‘paste-on-paste’). Efforts to produce and market this magical ware began in 1870 with the arrival from France of the technique’s greatest exponent, Louis Marc Emmanuel Solon. Pâte-surpâte involved the careful application of successive layers of slip (a form of liquid clay) in order to build up the desired image. The finished results are breathtakingly beautiful, featuring classical maidens attired in diaphanous gowns or small cupids with gossamer wings.

Minton showed themselves to be one of the few English potters that understood and then embraced the Art Nouveau style that had begun to permeate British and European design during the 1890s. In 1902 the company launched their highly original secessionist ware that was inspired by the avante garde approach of the Viennese secessionists - a group of radical designers, architects and craftspeople.

MINTON TODAY Minton China today is owned by WWRD Holdings Limited, a company that also manufactures other china brands including Wedgwood, Royal Albert, Royal Doulton and Johnson Brothers. The famous Minton Willow pattern continues to be a top seller today.


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