Collecting Articles and Features

Thomas Whieldon and his Tortoiseshell Wares and Tortoiseshell Pottery

Thomas Whieldon was born in 1719 in Fenton, Staffordshire and is one of the most famous potters of his era. Whieldon is credited with the industrialization of pottery manufacture and was one of the first potters to successfully produce creamware. In this feature we take a look at his famous tortoiseshell wares and tortoiseshell pottery, a style that’s unique and instantly recognizable.

A Staffordshire creamware Whieldon type plate circa 1760 tortoiseshell glaze
A Staffordshire creamware Whieldon type plate circa 1760 tortoiseshell glaze. Sold for £380 at Gildings Auctioneers, May 2020.

What is Tortoiseshell Pottery?

It’s basically pottery that’s been glazed to resemble the shell of a turtle. The effect is created by using an earthenware or creamware clay body and applying a dark brown, green and black palette which is then glazed. As the glaze melts, it runs and creates the distinctive tortoiseshell effect. Tortoiseshell was fashionable in the 18th century and tortoiseshell style pottery was already being made in Staffordshire such as by William Greatbatch, and by potteries in Liverpool and Leeds. However, before Whieldon developed his technique, the colour effect was created by sprinkling the un-fired wares with powdered lead oxide and calcined flint with a trace of manganese oxide.

An 18th Century Staffordshire Whieldon type tea caddy
An 18th Century Staffordshire Whieldon type tea caddy, the square body of shouldered form decorated with Chinoiserie panels with figures in garden settings, the shoulder with a band of temple type building, the whole in tortoiseshell glaze in green and brown, unmarked, height 12.5cm. Sold for £620 at Fieldings Auctioneers, September 2020.

Thomas Whieldon created a new techniqie for the creation of the design and  Tortoiseshell wares. They were first mentioned by Thomas Whieldon in his Account and Memorandum Book of 1749. Whieldon formed a partnership with Josiah Wedgwood from 1754-1759 and Wedgwood mentions that tortoiseshell was important but in decline in popularity by 1759.

A rare Set Of Six Thomas Whieldon Creamware Pottery Plates of Tortoiseshell andd Green Splashed Glaze
A rare Set Of Six Thomas Whieldon Creamware Pottery Plates of Tortoiseshell and Green Splashed Glaze. Sold for £350 at Morphets, June 2009.

Whieldon-type, Whieldon-style and Attributed to Thomas Whieldon

Thomas Whieldon has become synonymous with the tortoiseshell colouring and glaze that many pieces have been attributed to him when they may have been made at other potteries. Principally by William Greatbatch who served as an apprentice to Thomas Whieldon at Fenton Vivian before setting up as an independent manufacturer. In recent years auction houses and galleries have been using the term Whieldon-type, and Whieldon-style when they are unsure if it directly attributable to Thomas Whieldon.

A Whieldon-type teapot and cover decorated with a coloured tortoiseshell glaze and applied with a flowering stem
A Whieldon-type teapot and cover decorated with a coloured tortoiseshell glaze and applied with a flowering stem. Sold for £180 at Woolley and Wallis, November 2005.

At the time Thomas Whieldon’s pottery was highly sought after by the aristocracy and soon became fashionable among the upper classes. Today, examples of Whieldon’s tortoiseshell ware can be found in some of the world’s most prestigious museums. In recent years the prices for Whieldon tortoiseshell wares and pottery have decreased but they remain a significant part of the history of English pottery.

Related
Thomas Whieldon pieces at the V & A.