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A Short History of Royal Crown Derby

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The history of the Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company begins with Andrew Planche, a Huguenot refugee from Saxony, in 1750. Fleeing religious persecution, Planche relocated to England, bringing with him his extensive knowledge of porcelain production. In Derby, he established a porcelain factory, manufacturing high-quality pieces inspired by the aesthetics of his native land.

In 1756, Planche partnered with a local banker named William Duesbury, forming what became known as “Derby Porcelain.” Their collaboration proved to be a profitable one, with the company gaining a strong reputation for its superb craftsmanship and a wide range of designs. Each porcelain piece was meticulously crafted, reflecting the founders’ commitment to excellence. Their products became coveted items, earning the patronage of British nobility.

In 1761, Royal Crown Derby’s remarkable royal connection begins with the creation of the commemorative piece celebrating the coronation of King George III in September 1761. Since this momentous occasion, Royal Crown Derby have developed a unique relationship with the British royal family, supplying every British monarch since King George III. Royal Crown Derby web site

During this early period, the company was mainly recognized for its porcelain figures, a product type that would remain a staple of the Derby offering for centuries to come. These figures were widely appreciated for their detailed designs and charming character portrayal, contributing significantly to the company’s fame and commercial success.

In 1773 the company took the name Crown Derby and William Duesbury further enhanced his reputation by purchasing the famous Chelsea china factory, and in 1776 he acquired the remaining part of the once-thriving Bow factory. This made him the leading porcelain manufacturer in England.

Royal Crown Derby Growth and Innovation (1795-1815)

Following Duesbury’s death in 1796, the factory was passed onto his son, William Duesbury II. Under Duesbury II’s leadership, the factory sustained its reputation for producing high-quality porcelain pieces. This period saw the factory create commissioned works for King George III and several other members of the British royal family, elevating its status within the industry.

A rare Derby cabaret service circa 1800
A rare Derby cabaret service circa 1800. Comprising an oval tray, teapot and cover, sucrier and cover, milk jug and two teacups and saucers, painted with pattern 626 of pink rose sprigs within an all-over trellis design hung with gilt floral festoons, the inside of the cup and jug similarly decorated, the tray with a central oval panel fully painted with a floral spray, tray 40cm wide, crown, crossed baton. and D marks in puce. Sold for £5,000 at Bonham, November 2022.

Unfortunately, after Duesbury II’s untimely death in 1797, the factory’s fortunes fluctuated. The company struggled with management changes and ownership instability, which hampered the once flourishing business’s growth. However, its reputation for producing exceptional porcelain remained intact, helping it to endure these challenging times.

King George III granted the first royal warrant to the company in 1775 . This has been renewed by each monarch since, and the royal connection is reflected in the company’s present name. However, the official prefix “Royal” was only added to the company’s name in 1890, after it received a royal warrant from Queen Victoria. This was a significant event that recognized the company’s continued commitment to excellence, leading to the name we know today, “Royal Crown Derby.”

A Derby coffee can and saucer by James Banford and William Billingsley circa 1793-95
A Derby coffee can and saucer by James Banford and William Billingsley circa 1793-95. The can painted by James Banford with a shepherdess weaving a floral wreath, two sheep beside a tree to the right, the can and saucer painted by William Billingsley with a variety of garden flowers densely packed on a solid gold ground, a formal gilded border below the interior rim and around the well, can 6.7cm high, crown, crossed batons, D marks, title ‘Abra’ and pattern 351 in blue. Sold for £4,000 at Bonhams, June 2022.

Robert Bloor and the Transformation of Royal Crown Derby (1815-1848)

In 1815, Robert Bloor, a salesman and clerk for the factory, took control of the company through a lease. The Duesbury family, who had been instrumental in the foundation and growth of the company, were no longer involved in the business operations. Bloor had to borrow heavily to meet the financial obligations of the lease but displayed exceptional business acumen in managing these challenges.

Despite the financial pressure, Bloor proved to be an able businessman. He managed to recoup losses and placed the business back on a sound financial footing. He understood the importance of both the artistic and commercial sides of the porcelain industry, managing to balance both effectively. This balance between financial management and aesthetic appreciation was instrumental in maintaining the company’s reputation for high-quality, beautifully designed products during a period of significant economic difficulty.

Under Bloor’s guidance, the company produced works that were richly colored and elegantly styled. One of his most significant contributions was the introduction of the Japanese Imari patterns to the company’s designs. Imari designs are characterized by their vibrant colors and intricate mix of geometric and floral patterns. These designs quickly became extremely popular, contributing significantly to the company’s financial stability and reputation during Bloor’s tenure.

The Imari designs, in particular, have had a lasting impact on the company’s product range. Their popularity endured into the present day, and these designs are still prominently featured in the Royal Crown Derby’s collections.

However, despite the success of Bloor’s tenure, the period after his death in 1845 saw significant changes for the company. Thomas Clarke took over the reins, but only for a brief three years. In 1848, the Cockpit Works were sold, and the factory was closed.

The legacy of Robert Bloor, though, was substantial. His financial acumen saved the company from potential ruin, while his appreciation for aesthetics led to the creation of designs that are still celebrated today. His era at Royal Crown Derby was one of resilience and innovation, two qualities that continue to define the company’s character.

King Street Factory and the Renewal of Royal Crown Derby (1848-1964)

The King Street factory period marks another significant chapter in the history of Royal Crown Derby. After the closure of the Cockpit Works in 1848, the year that also saw the end of Robert Bloor’s tenure, there was a considerable shift in the company’s operations.

The Cockpit Works had been a significant part of Derby’s porcelain industry, but its sale in 1848 led to the cessation of operations at the site. However, Derby’s porcelain legacy was not destined to end. In the same year, a new era dawned with the establishment of the King Street factory.

Victorian Royal Crown Derby campana-shaped vase decorated by Desire Leroy
Victorian Royal Crown Derby campana-shaped vase decorated by Desire Leroy. By Appointment to HM The Queen and Royal Crown Derby England and date mark for 1899. Sold for £18,500 at Reeman Dansie, April 2018.

The King Street factory was a pivotal force in the continuation of the porcelain manufacturing tradition in Derby. It was here that many of the company’s historical patterns were revived and produced, carrying forward the rich design heritage established by previous generations.

Robert Bloor had introduced the colourful Japanese Imari patterns, a design theme that continued to be a staple at the King Street factory. These patterns, with their intricate blend of geometric and floral designs, remained a symbol of the company’s artistic excellence. This continuity reflects the King Street factory’s commitment to maintaining Royal Crown Derby’s aesthetic identity while advancing its techniques and product offerings. The period of the King Street factory up until the end of the 19th century was marked by the production of some of the most iconic pieces of Crown Derby porcelain.

Modern History of Royal Crown Derby (1964-Present)

The modern history of Royal Crown Derby is marked by changes in ownership, expansion, and a renewed focus on the global market, while maintaining its commitment to traditional craftsmanship and design.

In 1964, Royal Crown Derby was acquired by S. Pearson and Son, joining the Allied English Potteries Group, which later incorporated another renowned British china manufacturer, Royal Doulton. This merger marked a significant milestone in the company’s history, bringing together several of Britain’s leading names in fine china production.

The turn of the 21st century saw another shift in the company’s fortunes. In 2000, a buy-out led by Hugh Gibson, a former director of Royal Doulton and a member of the Pearson family, made Royal Crown Derby an independent and privately-owned company once again. At the Osmaston Road works, the company continued its operations, employing around 300 people in 2006 and upholding its long-standing reputation for producing fine bone china of the highest quality.

The company’s trajectory changed again in 2012, with the acquisition by Steelite International, a world-leading ceramic manufacturer led by Kevin Oakes. This marked a significant shift in the company’s strategy. Steelite, with its strong presence in the hospitality market, introduced Royal Crown Derby to new sectors of fine dining. This strategic diversification, combined with Royal Crown Derby’s legacy of British-made quality tableware, led to partnerships with prestigious hospitality brands globally.

In 2016, Kevin Oakes, with over 40 years of experience in the British ceramics industry, personally acquired Royal Crown Derby. Oakes has played an integral role in the company’s recent success. His entrepreneurial vision and desire for expansion have helped the brand achieve greater global exposure for its world-class design and superior quality. Under his leadership, Royal Crown Derby has continued to innovate while staying true to its traditional roots, merging centuries-old craftsmanship with modern market strategies to carry the brand into the future.

Royal Crown Derby Official web site
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