I was inspired to write this post by one of our customers who runs The Buttered Cat tea room. It Soh also posts beautiful images of her vintage china on her Facebook page along with really interesting pieces of information about English china makers, tea drinking and lots of other lovely afternoon tea-related things. One of her recent posts was about the mysterious allure of gold in vintage china. Like her, I’m also not a big fan of gold-coloured items in general but I agree that there’s something really appealing about gold patterned tea cups and plates! Maybe it’s the added luxury feel that they give a piece of china or maybe it’s their dazzling tone and colour, which is amazing given that some pieces are 60 or 70 years old.
I was also reminded of something that I’d read in my Memories of the Staffordshire Potteries book (by Mervyn Edwards) about the careful process of storing and applying gold to tea china. Mervyn interviewed a former employee of the Midwinter pottery who used to fetch the gold from a shop in town and take it back to the factory.
The gold was suspended in oil and stored in large tins or bottles which were rotated slowly and continuously to prevent the gold dust from settling at the bottom. It was usually women workers who were employed as gilders, applying the gold to the china. When they needed some gold, they would go down to the storage area where the gold would be removed from a safe and a small amount was given to them to take back to the workshop.
The gold was expensive and so the women had to be meticulous about applying it carefully. If a piece was broken while it was being decorated or if they drew an incorrect line, the gold had to be wiped off quickly with a rag covered in turpentine. The rags were gathered up and taken back to the shop in town to see if any of the gold could be retrieved! I imagine that applying the gold was quite a prestigious job in the potteries although it was probably also quite stressful too. Some of the decorators were paid per piece decorated. I don’t know if this applied to the gilders too but if it did it must have taken a long time to be proficient enough to apply the gold quickly without making mistakes.
I’ve selected some of my favourite gold pieces here (some of them contain 22 carat gold but I think on other pieces it’s not real gold unfortunately!). I’m going to pin some more on Pinterest too. Come on over and take a look!