A Valued Workman - Billingsley at Pinxton - His Triumph in Porcelain Making - A Lucky Purchase - The Bourbon Sprig Pattern - Characteristics of Pinxton China - Distinguishing Marks "Mr. Coke's Coin " - A Potter with an Ideal - His Vicissitudes
About the year 1796 William Billingsley, of whose life and work at Derby, Nantgarw, Swansea, and Coalport accounts already have been given (page 2264, Vol. 4), joined Mr. John Coke who, two years previously, had commenced to build a china factory at Pinxton, in Derbyshire, and who was no doubt responsible for its finances.
William Dues-bury, of Derby, was very unwilling to lose Billingsley, and a correspondence is still in existence which shows that he made a great effort to retain the services of this potter artist.
A Pinxton plate of early date, decorated with blue cornflowers and foliage, and edged with blue enamel in place of gold
Mr. Coke had discovered near Pinxton a bed of fire-clay, from which he imagined he could make porcelain. This was found to be impracticable, however, and Cornish clay, Lynn sand, and bone ash were imported at considerable expense.
After about three or four years Billingsley, for some reason which has never been explained,
Flate of Pinxton porcelain, painted in colours. The high, sloping rim is painted with a wreath of foliage in green shaded in brown, with sprays of small blue berries on fine red stalks. In the middle is a similar spray of berries
From the South Kensington Museum left Pinxton for Mansfield, where for a short period he made his living by decorating Staffordshire porcelain, which he bought in the white. Later on, he moved to Torksey, in Lincolnshire. He was, no doubt, attracted to this place by the abundance of fine sand suitable for his work, and also by the nearness of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, by which means he could readily obtain the Cornish clay and other ingredients which were necessary for his porcelain.
The Pinxton factory manufactured china for about sixteen years. Mr. Coke left in 1803, having sold the works to Mr. John Cutts, a landscape painter ; they were finally closed in 1812.
Although a somewhat small undertaking, the Pinxton started with rather a flourish of trumpets, but it afterwards shared the fate of many other factories in being frequently in financial difficulties. Billings-ley's art as a flower painter had made him famous, but it would seem that here he was so busy perfecting a beautiful porcelain body which he had invented, that he seldom painted at all.
From the South Kensington Museum
The body in question was of a glassy description, very fine and translucentland superior even to that for which he afterwards became famous at Nantgarw. If a piece of this china is held up in ordinary daylight, and the hand passed behind it, the shadow is distinctly visible ; whereas other porcelains, even of a fine character, require to be held before a strong light if the shadow is to be seen. There is also a greenish tinge in the colour of the body, such as may be seen in Nantgarw and Swansea. After Billings-ley's departure, a porcelain of a thicker and less translucent character was made at Pinxton. It was also more chalky in appearance.
A striking characteristic of Billings-ley's Pinxton is the simplicity of the decoration, and the absence of gold.
There are a few notable exceptions, however, and the later body was ornamented somewhat lavishly with beautiful colours, many designs and profuse gilding. From this we gather that, satisfied with the beauty of his porcelain, Billingsley did not seek to enhance this by decoration.
. In the first illustration will be seen one of a pair of plates which the writer picked up years ago for eighteenpence each, having then no idea of their origin, but being much attracted by their translucence. Later on she discovered one exactly similar in the South Kensington Museum, and found she was lucky enough to have become the possessor of a piece of porcelain from a very interesting but at that time little-known factory.
These plates are edged with a clear cobalt blue enamel in place of gold. As will be seen, this edge is somewhat uneven, and has either been carelessly cut into shape or was drawn out of shape in the oven. Over the surface are scattered sprays of cornflower - known as the "Tournay" or
" Bourbon Sprig " - in blue with green foliage, a very popular form of decoration upon early Pinxton porcelain.
Cup and saucer of Pinxton porcelain, painted in colours and decorated with gilding. In medallions on the front of the cup and in the middle of the saucer are landscapes for the painting of which this factory was famous From the South Kensington Museum
The pattern, no doubt, originated in France as the name suggests, the cornflower in blue and pink being generally found upon that porcelain made for Marie Antoinette, and called porcelain de la Reine.