Shelley and its ‘Dainty’ styles

In contrast to my previous post about the many forms of Tuscan china, today’s post is about another Staffordshire company that produced china where much of it is distinctive enough in form to make it easily identifiable even without a clear maker’s mark.

In 1820 a pottery was set up in the Foley district of Staffordshire by the Wileman family but it wasn’t until they built a second factory in 1860 and Joseph Shelley joined them two years later as a salesman that the Shelley story really began.  In 1872 Joseph Shelley and James Wileman became partners to run the china works trading as Wileman & Co.  In 1884 James Wileman retired from the china works which became a Shelley family business (rather confusingly) still trading as Wileman & Co.  It wasn’t until 1920 that the company introduced the Shelley backstamp on their china after losing the battle to continue to use the name “Foley” on their china.  As long as you know the connection between Wileman & Co and Shelley, the change in backstamp names has been helpful in figuring out a rough date for pieces that I’ve found.

A picture of a vintage English china milk jug

My first ‘pre-Shelley’ finds: the delicate fan-shape cream jug…

A picture of a vintage English china cake plate

…and a close-up of the flower pattern on the matching cake plate

This lovely blue and white cream jug and matching plate with the clover pattern were the first pieces I found and they date from the late 1880s.  The jug went to a customer in Australia who was delighted to be able to use it as an accompaniment to her tea breaks.  The plate went in the other direction, over to Maine in the US and I hope its new owner likes it as much as I do!

A picture of a miniature vintage English china cream jug by Shelley

A picture of a miniature vintage English china tea set by Shelley

A mix of delicacy and strength in these ‘dainty’ Shelley china pieces probably from the late 1890s

Shelley china was regarded as both very thin and surprisingly strong.   This was achieved by adding the highest percentage of ground bone of any of the Staffordshire potteries.  This is typified in the ‘Dainty’ shape, which was designed by Rowland Morris, and was put into production in 1896. It was used for 70 years.  The gorgeous little set (above) with the delicate pink colouring is a perfect example of the famous translucency and the ‘dainty’ shape of the cup.  It’s from the late 1890s.  These were the cutest and finest pieces of china I have ever handled and they travelled all the way to California to their new owner.

A picture of a vintage English china tea set

The distinctive ‘dainty’ style of Shelley china

Not all early Shelley china has the identifying backstamp of Wileman & Co or Foley but the ‘dainty’ shape of the cup above and the pattern number on the back of the saucer suggests that it was made by the company in the late 1800s/early 1900s.   The side plate is very similar in shape to the blue and white plate above, albeit a little smaller because it’s a side plate. My US customers seem to like this style as this set also went to the US, but this time to New Mexico.  I wonder whether different styles of vintage china are more popular in certain countries than others.  Anyone have any ideas about what’s popular where you live?

Note: Information about Shelley china gathered from the very helpful:

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