John's Pot Lid & Jar Gallery

By John Foumakis

Collecting British Pratt Jars, Pot Lids & Ware

In 1835, George Baxter invented his polychrome printing process on paper. His predecessors in the printing industry viewed his use of as many as 20 or more different engraved plates to break down the picture into its colour components as mastery. With careful registration of each corresponding colour plate on the paper, the desired result was nothing short of magnificence and artistry that today is admired for the precision and expertise of the engravers during the Victorian period.

This was very instrumental around 1845 in the development of colour printing on ceramic wares. One of the firms to recognize the commercial viability of polychrome ware was the English firm of F & R Pratt and Co. of High Street Fenton, Stoke on Trent. The firm was noted for its excellence in production in this field under the direction of Felix Edwards Pratt and his chief engraver, Jesse Austin.

The method that Austin employed was not unlike George Baxter's. Jesse would first make a study of the intending subject, and from this drawing a series of copper plates would be made dissecting the subject into its corresponding colours. These would number three, but sometimes four copper plates. The final outline plate would be charged with either a dark brown or black to complete the process.

These plates would take as long as four months to complete with the various engraver's tools. Each plate would be charged with red, blue or yellow, and this primary colour would blend in areas to produce the secondary colours required. The transfer of colour would first be placed on a tissue and then transferred onto the raw ceramic, which was previously fired into its biscuit stage by means of a stiff brush or roller. After two days of drying, the lid would then be coated with a clear glaze, and the true colours would appear in the final firing. Additional gold detailing would have yet another lower temperature firing to fix the gold onto the glazed surface.

Collector's today value items that have a good registration, where there is no shift in the colour, and the colour is strong. The very early examples have many of these qualities when the copper plates had their freshness, so to speak. Later examples have had copper plates reworked because of continual use and seem to lack the finer details in colour and registration.

Sadly, because of the cost of production and cheaper methods of colour printing, the period in which engravings were manufactured was a relatively short one, about 1845-1880. There are currently around 450 different designs known to exist, and reissues using some of the original plates have been issued up until 1963. The colours and porcelain texture easily distinguish these later editions.

Polychrome pot lids primarily encapsulate history, in both the development of colour printing on ceramics and in the subject matter depicted. They sometimes give us a little insight into their thinking and way of life. More importantly, they transcend their function as a pot lid and have become an art form. They are all a very individual expression of the engraver or artist and capture wonderful moments of Victoriana.

Along with F & R Pratt, the companies of T.J. & J. Mayer, J. Ridgeway and Co., and Bates Brown-Westhead, Moore and Co. are recognised today as the foremost producers of multi-colored, under glaze, transfer printed ware. Amongst pot lids, polychrome wares were produced by the technique described above by these factories, and many of the registrations (scenes) found on pot lids also accompany these wares. Tea sets, dinner sets, tobacco jars, trinket sets, vases and the very desirable advertising plaques have all been found with designs from the factories.

Rare Copland & Co Great Exhibition Pratt Jar.

Mortimer Value £500-£600

Scarce Pratt Jar
Uncle Tom & Eva

Mortimer Value £150-£250

Rare Pratt Lid with mottled edge and gold lined

Mortimer Value £500-£800

Many of the pot lids were produced simply to attract the buying public, and many firms commissioned companies such as Pratt of Fenton to produce lids and containers to advertise their wares. Crosse & Blackwell, John Gosnell, Robert Fiest, S. Banger, Blanch Flower, Hill & Ledger, and Copland & Co. were a few that knew the power of distributing their wares in these decorative containers. Even the American company of Jules Hauel, who achieved success in the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace, commissioned advertising lids by Pratt depicting scenes. Their products contained potted meats, shrimp paste, anchovy paste and various other cosmetic preparations. Many scenes give us obvious clues as to their contents, such as those depicting bears in various pose. Naturally, one would assume they contained Bear's Grease. (Bear's grease served many functions at this time-in cooking, rifle cleaning, leather/boot waterproofing when mixed with bees wax, as a skin cream, hair restorer, etc. Bear grease is still rendered and used today.) Many pot lids were naturally discarded, and many are excavated out of early refuse sites and backyard rubbish holes. One lucky collector found over a dozen pot lids depicting bears. Interestingly, the original purchaser of this Victorian hair preparation had thrown these lids away in a septic hole, which consisted of no more than a large hole in the ground with a wooden seat over it. He obviously was very concerned with his receding hairline and throwing them away in this manner would rid the evidence of his concerns. Much to the delight of the new owner, they are a wonderful and most valuable discovery today.

Others lids are somewhat cryptic, but we can surmise that winter scenes or scenes depicting ice skating and games, may have contained cold cream. Many are not so obvious, but as many manufacturers won awards at various exhibitions, it seemed natural to have pot lids depicting the exhibition buildings where they achieved success.

During the Victorian period, it became very fashionable to mount pot lids in circular, ebonised frames, thus preserving them and sparing many from breaking (which is often seen when they are found in old refuse sites). Many of the paste jars are nearly always unearthed in early dumps, which would account for their scarcity and the reason why so many are damaged and seldom found in perfect order.

Their popularity as decorative items would also explain why so very few pot lids had additional advertising on the actual lid face itself. Many of these pot lids with advertisements are recognised as amongst the earliest examples, extremely rare and command premium prices. An advertising of Clayton's Bears Grease achieved over $8,000 in recent years. With current popularity very high, one can only assume a perfect example may reach five figures.

Polychrome ware is finally gaining the respectability it deserves, which it initially did not command as it was produced as utilitarian ware. Fortunately, its recognition as an important form of art was recorded as early as the 1920s when Howard G. Clarke first published a book on multi-coloured printed ware. Clarke initiated a clever categorization and allotted each scene with a corresponding number. The scenes are split into several categories, such as subjects with bear motifs, personal adornment subjects, portrait subjects, exhibition subjects and so on.

Since Clarke's initial recording, there have been some further studies and publications on the subject. Abe Ball's, Price Guide To Pot Lids and other Under-glaze Colour Prints on Pottery to this day stands as one of the most definitive books on the subject. Many collectors can attribute their knowledge to Abe's book, but since it is now 23 years old, many omissions and errors have been noted. Fortunately, a new book by Professor Keith Mortimer, Pot Lids and Coloured Printed Staffordshire Wares has every polychrome lid recorded, a rarity guide and a price range achievable at auction. It lists all authenticated and known varieties (borders, sizes, colours, etc.) and gives the value and rarity of these varieties.

My interest in polychrome Staffordshire pot lids was essentially fuelled by the throwaway society prevalent in today's western civilization. Our present day packaging is little more than a mass-produced, mechanically-made holder, catering to thousands of buyers, whose care appropriately extends to more than its disposal in the nearest refuse tin.

Pot lids challenge present day logic, that something made for temporary use could be so decorative and so well made. They perhaps represented a memento of a purchase, and it is no wonder that many were kept, framed and adorned the many walls of Victorian homes, as they do amongst many collections today.

Some of the more available varieties of pot lids can be purchased for under $100, which represents wonderful decorative value. My advice to new collectors, or simply those who wish to purchase some examples, is to choose those that have strong colours, and if they are common varieties, then stay away from examples that have damage or repairs. Lids with original pots can increase the value by 20% or more if the pot has a complimentary decoration like marbling, trade names or gold embellishments. Plain white bases make little difference.

Antiques have always been one of my immense sources of pleasure and fascination since I was a mere eight years old and when jobs were relatively few in the late 1970s. It was a natural progression for me to open an antique shop here in South Australia. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has similar interests in collecting pot lids. Happy collecting, John Foumakis.

LINKS:  If you have any WARE that you wish to indentify or even appraised, please click the link here to be directed to David & Helen's Prattware Pottery Site

Wanted to Buy!

John is constantly on the look out for quality items. If you have any items at all that may be of interest or similar to the items pictured on this page, please contact him. Or alternatively, if you would like a free appraisal he would only be too happy to oblige.

Very Rare, Harriet Beecher Stowe produced by the Mayer Factory to commemorate
her visit to the United Kingdom in 1856. She was the author of Uncle Toms Cabin
Mortimer Value £1000+

Another view of the same jars. Quite possibly commission by Jules Hauel of Philadelphia who won several prizes at the Great Exhibition

Crystal Palace or Great Exhibition of 1851 Jars. They come in three sizes and are regarded as rare. Although many seem to have been exported to the USA. Mortimer Value £1000-£1500 but several sold for less in recent times

Rare Samuel Banger Shrimp Sauce Manufacture Pratt lid which
comes in two sizes. This being the smaller. Mortimer Value £350-450

Hill & Ledger Royal Australasian Sauce. Commonly found in Australia.

Mortimer Value

Crimean ware scene depicting the "Fleet at Anchor".

Mortimer Value

Crimean ware scene depicting the "Battle of Alma". Dated 1854

Mortimer Value

Commission item made to order Turquoise ground with gold embellishments make this a very desirable item.

Mortimer Value

Pratt, Mayer & Ridgway Jars

Original John Gosnell Cherry Tooth Paste Pot Lid and base with contents. advertising sleeve and underside label

Underside of lid showing "Directions for Use". All Pot Lids with original seals and labels are very rare

Pratt, Mayer & Ridgway Pot Lids