James Plant Ceramics - Part I


James Plant English Aesthetic Movement Two-Handled Genie Vase with Hand-Painted "Persian" Floral Decoration (LEO Design)


The history of James Plant & Sons English ceramics is, shall we say, "contested." Although the vase designs and decoration are firmly rooted in the 19th Century—Christopher Dresser-inspired shapes, hand-painted "Persian Orientalist" decoration, and an 1890's Aesthetic Movement attitude—certain English collectors contend that such wares were created during World War I, when Liberty of London sought to find a replacement source for Gouda-type (Dutch) ceramics (which could no longer be imported, due to the war).

Here's what we do know about James Plant & Sons.  There are records of multiple "James Plants" working in and around Hanley, England—the heart of "The Potteries," Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.  In 1900, a "James Plant" factory was known to make tiles for the booming Victorian architectural tile trade.  The company was purchased by "Grimwades," a larger manufacturer who was snapping-up smaller ceramics workshops in the area.  Up until the end of World War One, James Plant continued to make tiles.

It seems (according to the English collectors, mentioned above) that the James Plant works (now a division of Grimwades) began to tinker with Gouda-inspired Dutch hand-painted ceramics during World War One.  Liberty of London, the fabulous London Arts & Crafts department store had lost its ability to import Gouda Pottery from the Netherlands.  James Plant (which then was only producing tiles) was keen to enter into the "art wares" market—a sexier and higher margin business than tiles alone.  Designer Thomas Thorley, assisted by Edward Banks, helped move James Plant & Sons in this new direction after World War One—inspired by the hand-painted ceramic delicacies of Gouda in the Netherlands.

While I do not dispute this history—which is provided by passionate collectors, far more knowledgeable in the subject than me—I do find several points curious.  First, why would ceramics made in the late Teens and Twenties (after the World-Changing "Great War") be looking-so-far-back for their design inspiration (30 to 40 years earlier)?  Maybe this lack of foresight helps explain why James Plant stopped making art pottery in 1934.  And second, wouldn't it be likely that companies would have moved-into (been pressed into) manufacturing items for the war effort?  I would think that England (savagely affected by the War) would stop making frivolous consumer luxuries (like pretty vases) and start turning-out ceramic bedpans for hospitals and teapots for the mess halls.  Not only did the English factories have more important things to make, they also had a much-diminished consumer base for whimsical niceties.

The handsome James Plant vase, shown above, is hand-painted with a lyrical Persian floral decoration. Two delicate handles on the conical vase complete the Romantic (19th Century) look.  Click on the photo above to learn more about this handsome piece.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com)

We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248