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18th century Worcester porcelain history

The Worcester porcelain works were founded at Warmstry House in 1751 by a group of 15 parties.  Dr Wall, who was a surgeon by trade, was a key founding member and the early ware took their name from him.

To give the early wares produced at Worcester context we need to understand what porcelain is and why it was so revered in mid 18th century England.

Hard paste and soft paste porcelain

There are two types or porcelain bodies – hard paste and soft paste.  Hard paste porcelain is ‘true’ porcelain as it is made from Kaolin clay and soft paste porcelain is an imitation of this.

Hard paste porcelain traces its roots back to the East and is the medium that the Chinese employed to such great effect during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), mostly at the kilns of Jingdezhen.  These Qing (pronounced ching) dynasty wares are extremely important as their designs hugely influenced the designs of porcelain in the West.  This came about through the mass export of porcelain from China in the 18th century and the rising consumption of tea.

Demand for Chinese porcelain

Due to the huge demand and value of Chinese porcelain, wealthy and enlightened gentlemen began the quest of making porcelain in the West.  The first successful experiments in Europe were carried out in 1709 at Albrechtsburg castle in Meissen by Johann Friedrich Böttger and Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus.  Key to their experiments was the discovery of kaolin clay.

As there are very few deposits of kaolin clay in the United Kingdom, chemists and alchemists made it their goal to imitate it.  One of the first was Benjamin Lund who made soft paste porcelain from 1749-1752 in Bristol.  His recipe was made of soap rock (from Cornwall), clay (from Barnstable) and sand (from the Isle of White).  It is this recipe that Worcester purchased in 1752 and continued to refine.

18th century Worcester porcelain – early wares

Early shapes at Worcester were based on the designs of silver vessels and mostly decorated with Chinoiserie designs (French for Chinese-esque) which reflect the exotic and desirable status Chinese wares had at the time. These wares were painted in Famille Rose and Famille Verte colours (again, another Chinese copy/influence).  They were painted with a range of styles including flower and birds (early to mid 1750’s), Chinese and Japanese styles (late 1750’s-early 1760’s), to the sophisticated London styles of the 1760’s and 1770’s.

The wares they produced in this early period were often tea services and other articles for domestic use such as tea canisters.

Cobalt blue ground wares

Some of the most sought-after wares produced by Worcester have splendid deep cobalt grounds, often either solid blue or scale blue (resembling the scales of a fish).  These grounds were then decorated with Japanese style decorations, birds or flower groups.  Other coloured grounds are also produced in yellow, pea green, turquoise and claret.

From 1754-1755 the shapes of the items produced became more fluent and based less on the designs of silver.  Many of these pieces either have an underglaze of cobalt blue, are decorated over the glaze in enamels or decorated with black transfers over the glaze.

Printed 18th-century Worcester wares

The overglaze printing process was first introduced by Robert Hancock in 1755.  Later, in 1760, transfer printing began using cobalt blue pigment underneath the glaze.  The transfer printed wares bear a variation of the crescent mark, being filled with horizontal lines.  As the copper plates used to make the transfers began to wear they would require re-tooling, and consequently another set of hatched lines would be added to the mark perpendicular to the other.  Painted wares were largely phased out around 1780.

1776 saw the death of Dr Wall and thus an end to the Dr Wall period.  New managers came into the business, firstly with William Davis until 1783, then by Thomas Flight and his two sons (1776-1793).  Martin Barr joined in 1793 creating the Flight Barr and Barr period.

Identifying 18th century Worcester porcelain

Although production started in 1752, until 1758 the most common marks you will find are painter’s marks which can often be found underneath the terminal of the handles.  A cursive ‘W’ for Wall may also be found until 1783.  In 1758 an underglaze blue crescent mark came into use, but this was eventually phased out in 1793.  They also used a square ‘Chinese’ mark which can be found on the finest pieces often decorated in colours and gilt.

Un-marked early Worcester can be identified by illuminating the item with a strong torch or light.  When the light is transmitted through the body you will notice a green hue to the body.  From 1760-1793 there are normally bubbles in the glaze.

Another tell-tale sign of Worcester is the triangular footrim, and the small glaze free line that runs around the inner circumference of the base.




Are you looking for a valuation of your piece of 18th century Worcester porcelain?  If so then we can help. 

Email details about your item to [email protected] or call us on 01260 218 718

Alternatively, use the form to send us information about your item and we will reply with a valuation.

Selling Your 18th century Worcester porcelain

We can help you sell your 18th century Worcester porcelain and get the best possible price for it.  We sell both through auction and private sales, using the route which will earn you the most money.

For more information please look at our Services page.

Why use Mark Littler

  • Access to every auction house in the UK.
  • By selecting the auction house that is best suited to your items we significantly increase the final sale price.
  • Our private sales earn you on average 35% more than by selling at auction.
  • We handle everything on your behalf from valuation to sale.
  • We’re independent, so offer unbiased and impartial advice.

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Are you looking for a valuation of your 18th century Worcester? If so then we can help.

Email details about your item to [email protected] or call us on 01260 218 718

Alternatively, use the form to send us information about your item and we will reply with a valuation.

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