In our next article we shall deal with the true English Lowestoft porcelain; we will now consider the other kind, which has an interest apart from that of mere china in that a mystery surrounds its name.
How the sobriquet" Lowestoft" first came to be applied to this kind of Chinese porcelain will, I fear, never be known. The writer once held the theory that a kind of clay known in China as "loes" might have been used in its composition, and that some other Chinese word had been construed into "toft," but a learned chemist to whom she propounded her theory said it "would not hold water." The collector who would wish to d i s -criminate between the English and Chinese variety of this china must first learn the difference between the two bodies__ a necessary lesson for all collectors of old china. It is not very easy to convey in writing, but, once learnt, the student wonders how she could ever have been puzzled. To understand this it is necessary to consider the methods of the English and Chinese potter.
English v. Chinese Methods In England the ingredients used for the china were mixed, the clay was shaped upon the wheel and then the article was baked. If blue underglaze decoration was desired the piece was then painted, after which it was glazed and again baked. If the specimen was to be decorated in colours over glaze, it was potted, baked, glazed and rebaked. The decoration was then added, and the piece re-fired in a cooler oven.
Chinese "Mandarin" porcelain, often erroneously termed Lowestoft. This vase is hexagonal in form, and has coloured panels and a groundwork of gold tracery
The Chinese potters mixed their ingredients and shaped the vessel upon the wheel. It was then painted in blue, if this style of decoration was desired, glazed, and baked. For overglaze painting the piece which had been shaped on the wheel was glazed and then baked. When the piece had been painted it was fired in a cooler oven. The different effects of these two methods are evidenced in several ways.
English blue-and-white has a painted-on appearance, because the colour was applied to a body made hard by baking; but the Chinese blue-and-white of this period has - if I may use the term - a blue atmosphere, caused by the pigment and glaze having been applied to an unbaked body, which, when exposed to the heat of the oven, spread and tinged the whole, sinking into the body of which it seems to be a part.
Then, again, the method of the Chinese potter is responsible for those " pin-pricks," or tiny holes, which may be seen under the base of cups, saucers, plates, and bowls of Chinese Lowestoft. These are caused by small bubbles in the glaze, which expand in the heat of the oven, and as the body is in a soft state, sink into it, causing tiny holes. Upon real Lowestoft, sand and other impurities may be found in the glaze, but these do not resemble pin-pricks.
As in the English ware, so in the Chinese, there is a blue-and-white called by some people Lowestoft, but known to others as Canton ware. Of this, vases, beakers, and large dinner and tea services are often met. They are decorated with various Chinese designs, the best-known being of the willow-pattern order.
Upon dinner services handles are formed in the shape of masks, which are sometimes slightly gilt. Teapots a n d large covered jugs for hot milk have twisted basket handles. The tea-pot, with a little tray upon which to stand, is a feature of these services, and the knobs which surmount covers take the form of a nut or some Chinese animal. Gilding is frequently found as a border inside cups and upon the knobs, and where it is worn a brownish yellow, paint, which was applied before gilding, can be seen.
A punch-bowl in Chinese Lowestoft. An exact copy of English
Lowestoft; it is, however, of hard paste and a pearl colour, differing in these points from the English porcelain
The twisted handles of these services were copied at Leeds and in the Staffordshire potteries. It is, however, the Chinese Lowestoft, decorated with floral designs in exact imitation of the English, which may puzzle the amateur. The flowers are wreathed and connected by lines and tiny dots in black or red, as shown in our last article.
How, then, are we to distinguish between the two? First of all, by the pin-pricks at the bottom; secondly, by the paste, which is hard, real Lowestoft being soft; thirdly, by the colour of the body, which is pearl white, as compared with the creamy body and greenish glaze of the English; lastly, the absence of sand in the glaze.
The flowers, which closely resemble those on the English ware, are painted in vitreous enamels, which stand out from the surface and have a tendency to chip off and leave a blank. The rose, however, is never painted as the closed flower so frequently seen upon the true Lowestoft, but always as full-blown.
How Chinese Porcelain Became Known as "Lowestoft"
It is very strange that this kind of Chinese porcelain is known everywhere as Lowestoft. I think the key of the mystery might be found in the fact that some pieces of true Lowestoft had found their way to the atelier at Canton of that painter who signed his work " Pai Shih," and inscribed upon it " Ling nan nua che," painted at Canton.
Much Chinese porcelain was brought in the white to this artist and his assistants to be decorated in the styles so much admired in Europe. For this purpose European designs were procured, and were beautifully copied. A flourishing trade in dinner and tea services and punch-bowls was carried on between Canton and America. Captains of ships brought large consignments of porcelain on their return journey, which was called Lowestoft, and about which there never was any doubt as to its place of manufacture.
From our own country orders were sent to Canton for dinner, tea, and coffee services, punch-bowls, and vases. These were decorated with the crest or coat of arms of the family who sent the order, and are in these days of great interest to students of heraldry.
This Armorial Lowestoft, as it is called, was frequently ornamented with only the crest or coat of arms and a simple gold or black and gold border. At other times a border in delicate liquid blue will be found, slightly gilt. Some services were very elaborate, the crest and armorial bearings being included in the scheme of decoration. Dinner services were frequently of large size, including basket dishes and stands for fruit and sweets, pickle-dishes, salt-cellars, and ice-pails. Teapots had twisted basket handles and long, straight spouts.
Still another kind of Chinese porcelain called in this country Lowestoft is that known as "Jesuite" china, from the fact that it was painted with sacred subjects, and was used by the Jesuits in converting the Chinese.
This porcelain is decorated in monochrome, and is slightly gilt. Designs were taken from European prints, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection being favourite subjects. These were, no doubt, copied from very inferior seventeenth and eighteenth century prints, and the Chinese rendering is decidedly painful.
A plate bearing the arms of the Skinner family in Armorial Lowestoft china
From the British Museum
Other scenes copied from prints in Indian ink, and floral designs in the same with a little gilding may be found upon tea services and bowls.
" Jesuite " porcelain, often misnamed Lowestoft. The name is derived from the fact that the ware was painted with sacred subjects, and used by the Jesuit missionaries in their task of converting the Chinese.
These plates represent the Nativity and the Resurrection
From the British Museum
An immense quantity of spurious Lowestoft is now on sale. The collector should beware of specimens decorated with raised white enamel, and with a somewhat bright shade of mazarine blue used as a border and marbled in gold. The bottom of such pieces should be examined for pin-pricks, and no piece should be passed which is devoid of these.
The collector is warned also against vases covered with a groundwork resembling chicken skin - that is, a rough, raised surface in imitation of the Chinese decoration known as "chicken skin," and with panels of flowers and landscapes in Chinese Lowestoft style.
I have 1 a t e 1 y come across such a vase. It had been made in France, was decorated in Chinese style, had a Crown Derby mark, was bought in Australia, and brought to this country.
Chinese Lowestoft porcelain was manufactured from the middle to the end of the eighteenth century, during the reign of the Emperor Chien-lung, 1736-1796. There are, however, a few rare pieces still in existence . to which an earlier date may be assigned.