These notes provide information for new and occasional collectors, to make your collecting more informed and enjoyable.
Wileman & Shelley China and “Semi-porcelain” Products
English Bone China is a white, hard, translucent form of porcelain, so named because it contains a high proportion of roasted, ground and sieved bone meal. Articles were formed by throwing and turning, by pressing, or by casting. They were dried, bisque fired at about 1250 degrees C, backstamped and clear glazed and then glost fired at about 1050 C. Next they were decorated, variously by applying transfers, lithographs (decals), hand painting and gilding, before a final enamel firing at 800 C.
Wileman and Shelley used bone china for their smaller items, such as cups, saucers, small plates, pin dishes, and crested miniatures. After 1945, transfers and lithographs increasingly replaced hand painting, which had become very expensive.
“Semi-Porcelain” is fine light-coloured earthenware, white glazed and fired, then decorated. It was used for larger items such as dinner plates, serving dishes, trays, some tea and coffee pots, jelly moulds, jugs and vases.
Table Wares: These included cups, saucers, plates, bowls, trays, tea, coffee and chocolate pots, jugs, serving dishes, pots and cruets. Tea sets ranged from one person sets on a tray to sets for twelve, with various options and with various tea pot sizes. Trios (cups, saucers and plates) were available separately. Note that the large bowls in earlier tea sets were for slops, before pouring a second cup, not for sugar.
Cup and Saucer Shapes: Wileman and Shelley gave names to most of their cup shapes. Between 1872, when Wileman & Co. was established, and 1966, when Shelley Potteries closed, over 125 identified cup shapes were produced, some in a number of different sizes. Each cup shape had a “correct” saucer shape, but there were far fewer saucer shapes (about 25) than cup shapes and only a few cups shapes had their own unique saucers. Plain-rimmed round cups always went with plain-rimmed saucers, nipped-rimmed cups with nipped-rim saucers and cups with moulded pattern went with similarly patterned saucers.
Some cup shapes were made for many years (eg. Dainty from 1896 to 1966) and some for only a few months due to production difficulties, unpopularity or replacement with an updated variation (eg. Princess from Sept. to Dec. 1933).
Patterns: Wileman and Shelley used thousands of decorative patterns, usually identified by number and sometimes also by name. This information is usually shown near the company backstamp. For cups, some patterns were designed for specific cup shapes and some patterns were used on a number of shapes (e.g. Daffodil Time on 5 different shapes). Hundreds of different patterns were used on some popular cup shapes over their production life (e.g. Gainsborough with over 400 between 1899 and 1966).
Grades of Shelley China:
- Best or First Ware: The highest grade, produced with rigorous quality control and inspection.
- Ideal China: Stamped as such on the base of earlier items. Best quality, but with patterns intended for export.
- Special: Special patterns, colour-ways, crests or monograms for special customers. Pattern numbers in the range 100 to 988.
- Seconds: Wares with slight imperfections, sold at a reduced price, often decorated with simplified “Seconds” patterns (plain washes or lithos with little or no hand painting). Pattern numbers in the range 2000 to 2571, sometimes also marked 2 or 2nd.
Wileman and Shelley Earthenware Products
Many beautiful and decorative items were produced in earthenware, from a clay body, often naturally coloured. Articles were shaped by throwing and turning, pressing, or moulding. Earthenware was fired at about 1050 to 1200 degrees C (above about 1200 C clay vitrifies and becomes stoneware). Items made from earthenware included vases, pots, bowls, candlesticks, clock cases, dressing table sets, toilet sets, jardinieres, umbrella stands, jugs, jelly moulds, wall plaques, etc. Earthenware items made as table ware to be part of china settings were often called “Semi-porcelain”. See the Earthenware Photo Gallery for examples.