Porcelain has been made in Derby for around 250 years. The first factory, in Nottingham Road, was opened in the middle of the 18th century. Derby flourished under the management of William Duesbury, who bought out and eventually closed down his rivals at Bow and Chelsea


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Decorative Arts > Ceramics > Feature: Derby Figures

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Derby Figures


 The figures produced by the three factories in the Derby area are among the most collectable pieces of ornamental British porcelain.

 Porcelain has been made in Derby for around 250 years. The first factory, in Nottingham Road, was opened in the middle of the 18th century. Derby flourished under the management of William Duesbury, who bought out and eventually closed down his rivals at Bow and Chelsea. Derby received the Royal Warrant in 1775, which gave it the right to use the crown mark on its wares.

 The first half of the 19th century saw the factory's fortunes gradually decline, and the Nottingham Road works closed in 1848. However, six workers kept going in premises at King Street, named the Old Crown Derby Works. Though never large, the factory prospered, making tea, dinner and dessert services and ornamental wares in the old Derby shapes and patterns.

 In 1875, a new, much bigger factory, financed by a group who had been involved with Royal Worcester, and were entirely independent of King Street, was opened in Osmaston Road under the name Crown Derby. Here, too, the traditions of early Derby porcelain were revived, and the company was granted the Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria in 1890, after which it was known as Royal Crown Derby. Royal Crown Derby bought the King Street works in 1935, and continues to make porcelain to this day.


 The high quality of potting and decoration has made Derby porcelain collectable from the very beginning. This is particularly true of the figures and figure groups made by all three factories. Those made at Nottingham Road were inspired by the products of the Meissen factory in Germany - the factory advertised itself as 'The second Dresden' - and were decorated in pale pastel colours.

 Derby figures were usually produced in pairs, including the popular Derby Dwarfs, based on the grotesques at the Mansion House in London, and winsome shepherds and shepherdesses. There were also larger sets, based on the seasons, or the four elements.

 These continued to be made in the 19th century in King Street, when they were joined by figures based on fictional characters such as Falstaff or Doctor Syntax, entertainers and old Chelsea figures. Figures are still made by Royal Crown Derby today, and new ones have continually been added to the range, in both traditional and contemporary styles and dress. This was particularly true of the years between the wars, when figures modelled in a loose art deco style were very popular.


 Derby figures have been collectable for so long that you'll rarely find them - and this is particularly so of 18th-century ones - offered for sale anywhere but in general or specialist antiques shops or in auctions.

 You can get a feel for recognizing Derby products by visiting the town's museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, both of which have large collections. Early Derby figures have been cleverly faked in the past, and sometimes these can be very difficult to tell from the real thing; the best way to avoid an expensive disappointment is to go to a reputable dealer.

For a full graphic page showing the Derby Marks

 Numerous marks have been used on Derby porcelain. The earliest, an incised 'Derby' in flowing script, is very rare. From 1782 the painted mark usually included a crown, often with crossed swords in loose imitation of the Meissen mark. The name Bloor implies a date between 1820 and 1848.

 The King Street factory was known and marked as Locker & Co Late Bloor until 1859; as Stevenson, Sharp & Co from then until 1863 (although some items continued to bear this mark until 1866); as Stevenson & Hancock from 1863 to 1866, and as Sampson Hancock from then until the merger with Royal Crown Derby in 1935. From 1866 on, the same mark was used; crossed swords with a crown above, letter D below, and initials S H on either side.

 The printed mark of the Osmaston Road factory had the words ROYAL CROWN DERBY added in 1890. Many - but by no means all - Royal Crown Derby pieces are also date-marked with the year of decoration; this took the form of a cypher from 1880 to 1937, and Roman numerals (starting at I) from 1938.

 Read articles and references: Good standards are Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).

At auction: Derby Porcelain Figurine Seated Piper c. 1770-1775 Value USD$3000 w/ slight damage to hat

Derby Porcelain N 301 Figurine Seated Piper, 6 1/2"h, c. 1770-1775.

Seated with hands in playing posture on the pipe & with the bag under his left arm. Arbor flowers & dog on base.

Incised "N301/3" on base underside. On the Haslem list as "301 Pair, Sitting Pipe & Guitar, 3 sizes". On the Bemrose list as "301 Pair of Bagpipers, 3 sizes". The Haslem list probably dates to the Chelsea merger of 1770 since prior to 1770 it was not usual procedure to incise the numbers on the bases of figures. The Bemrose list was compiled for use in lawsuits between Duesbury & Kean in 1819. Trusting the older list The Piper was likely sold with a seated guitarist figure, probably a lady. It is also notable that the piper bears considerable & perhaps derivative resembelance to the male figure in Bow's Piper & Companion. The Haslem list also indicates 3 sizes - giving the second as 6 1/4"h & the third as 5 3/8"h & does not specify a size for the first.

There is some loss to the plume of our figure's hat leading to the surmise that the first size is likely 6 3/4"h to just under 7"h. The figure is shown in plate 75 on p.82 of John Twitchett's Derby Porcelain London (1980) where he notes that the piece was part of Dr. Hedges paste comparisons Oxford University report.

The figure has the somewhat understated decoration characteristic of earlier pieces. The base is also incised with "C.S". There is damage with minor loss to the arbor flowers on both sides & to the plume on the hat already noted & shown in the photos. No other damage. A quality early Derby figure.


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Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (3rd Ed)
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Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain
by Wm. Chaffers


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by Janet Gleeson