Spode, Church Street
Spode's craftsmen have been designing and manufacturing some of the finest ceramics ever produced for over 200 years.
The Porcelain and Fine China Companies Ltd. is better known for its world-famous china brands, Spode and Royal Worcester. Based at the Spode works in Stoke-on-Trent, where the company has been producing its fine porcelain and china since the late 18th century, The Porcelain and Fine China Companies Ltd. is the holding company set up for the company's U.K. operations, known as Royal Worcester Spode, and its U.S. business, based in New Jersey and known as Royal China and Porcelain Companies. The company also owns Caithness Glass, acquired in 2001. Among the company's products are its flagship Spode ranges, including the Timeless, Blue Collection, Nostalgic, Elegant, and Festive series. U.S. customers are especially familiar with Spode's famed Christmas Tree design, introduced in 1939, which remains a company bestseller. Over the decades, more than ten million sets of that design have been sold. Many of Spode's other designs stem from the company's early period under founder Josiah Spode I and son Josiah Spode II, and many of these designs are still produced using the original templates designed by the Spodes. In addition to operating the Spode works, The Porcelain and Fine China Companies Ltd. oversees the Royal Worcester works in Worcester, England, which remains one of England's largest producers of fine bone china and porcelain, retaining traditional craft techniques. The company also operates a number of factory shops, including the Spode Factory and Spode Clearance stores, shops for Royal Worcester and Caithness Glass, and a Spode Traditional Cook store. A privately held company, The Porcelain and Fine China Companies Ltd. generates sales of approximately £48 million ($90 million) each year.
Founding China History in the 18th Century
Born in 1733, Josiah Spode was 16 when he apprenticed with Thomas Whieldon, one of England's most prominent potters, where he worked alongside another famed name in English china, Josiah Wedgwood. Yet Spode himself went on to establish one of the world's most renowned names in china and porcelain.
Spode left Whieldon at the age of 21 and went to work with other potters before setting up his first factory in 1761, in the town of Shelton, but soon after moved to Stoke, where he became manager of a factory owned by Turner and Banks, which was likely founded in 1751. Spode took over that site after Turner's death, but did not begin producing earthenware under his own name until 1776.
Spode began experimenting with new formulas and decorative techniques. By 1784, Spode had developed a technique of applying blue underglaze printing to the ceramic surface, an innovation that was to transform the British ceramics industry into one of the world's most important centers for fine china and porcelain.
Spode also had recognized the importance of being close to his core customer base--the British nobility and members of the elite class. In 1778, he sent his son, Josiah II, to open a store in London. Spode's designs met with success in the city, and Spode moved to larger premises by 1884, then again in 1888.
After his father's death in 1797, the younger Spode returned to Stoke-on-Trent to take over the Spode factory. The company's London business was turned over to a friend, William Copeland, a tea merchant, who became the company's chief salesman. Josiah II's later designs borrowed heavily from the Chinese imagery on Copeland's imported tea packaging.
Josiah II proved as much an innovator as his father. Spode began experimenting with the formula for producing china, working with the addition of feldspar. By 1799, Spode had perfected his formula, and is credited with the creation of bone china. Soon after, many of his contemporaries adopted Spode's techniques, and British bone china became a world standard by the early 19th century. Spode continued experimenting with production techniques, developing a new china type, called stone china, in 1805. In 1813 Spode launched a new line of stoneware, featuring blue transfer and polychrome paintings of Oriental motifs, which became known as Spode's Stone China.
Josiah II was joined by son Josiah III--who was forced to retire from the family business after losing an arm to a factory accident. Josiah III took over the business briefly after his father's death in 1827. But Josiah III died just two years later. In 1833, the Spode family sold the business to longtime partner family, the Copelands, led by William Taylor Copeland. Joining Copeland was the company's chief sales agent, Thomas Garrett, and the company was renamed as Copeland and Garrett that year.
William Taylor Copeland, who later became mayor of London, took over the business after Garrett's death, and the company was renamed W.T Copeland in 1847. Joined by his sons in 1867, Copeland changed the company's name again, to W.T Copeland & Sons, which remained in use for the next 100 years.
Throughout this period, Copeland maintained the commitment to quality and fine design of its founders, and remained one of England's preeminent producers of fine china and porcelain. The company became a favorite producer to the British royal family, and other British notables. One of these was Charles Dickens, who after visiting the Spode factory in 1852, included a description of it in his Household Words. A major success for the company, which had seen increasing interest in its products from the United States, came from the launch of its famed Christmas Tree series in 1939, designed by Harold Holdway, whose designs included, among many others, the so-called "Queen's Bird," which had been a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Despite Holdway's never having seen an American Christmas tree, his design captured the American imagination and became a perennial bestseller for the company. By the early 2000s, the Spode works estimated that it had sold more than ten million sets featuring the Christmas Tree design.
Merging in the 1970s
The once thriving British china and porcelain industry, which boasted some 70 major producers by the 1940s, began to decline toward the end of the 1950s. A key factor in the decline was the rise of competition from elsewhere in the world, and particularly from the Far East. This competition forced many of the United Kingdom's smaller potters out of business by the early 1960s. Others, including Spode, sought mergers as a means of becoming more competitive. In 1964, Spode entered merger talks with Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, which would have combined the two most legendary names in British china in a single company. Those talks broke down, however.
Instead, the Copeland family sold the Spode works and name to the United States' Carborundum Company in 1966. Under Carborundum, the Spode works, which continued operating as W.T Copeland & Sons, under the leadership of Ronald Copeland, joined two other china producers, Hammersley China and the Royal Windsor Pottery.
In 1970, in honor of Spode's 200th anniversary, the company changed its name back to Spode. Ronald Copeland retired the following year, marking the end of the Copeland family's nearly 200-year association with the company.
In the mid-1970s, Carborundum decided to exit the pottery business and announced that the Spode works were for sale. Wedgwood once again stepped up as a suitor for the company, but once again was unable to agree on the purchase price. Royal Worcester, another venerable British porcelain maker, emerged with its own bid. After rejecting Royal Worcester's initial bid, Carborundum agreed to spin off Spode into a new company, Royal Worcester Spode, held at 55 percent by Royal Worcester and 45 percent by Carborundum.
Royal Worcester had been in business even longer than Spode. In 1751, Dr. John Wall led a group of 14 local businessmen in establishing a pottery workshop in Worcester. The company opened a showroom in London in 1854, and two years later, Robert Hancock, working at the Worcester workshop, invented a technique for printing on porcelain. In 1783, the workshop was acquired by Thomas Flight, who turned its operations over to his sons, John and Joseph. In that year, a rival workshop was founded in Worcester by Robert Chamberlain. The Chamberlain and Flight companies merged together in 1830, becoming the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company.
The second half of the 19th century saw the Worcester factory expand tenfold. At this time, the company focused its production on figurines and vases, with a range of some 2,500 decorative pieces. In 1862, the company adopted the name of Royal Worcester. A major success for the company came with the launch of its Painted Fruit series in 1880.
Royal Worcester grew by acquisition as well. In 1889, the company acquired the Grainger Porcelain Company, which was later closed and moved to the main Worcester site. In 1905, the company purchased Hadley & Sons Art Pottery, also based in Worcester.
In 1914, Royal Worcester supported the British war effort through the production of hard porcelain for use in hospitals, schools, and the like. Similarly, during World War II, the company began producing spark plugs and electrical resistors. Following the war, after returning its production to decorative porcelain, Royal Worcester went public, listing on the London exchange in 1953.
Porcelain and China Leaders in the New Century
Royal Worcester acquired complete control of Royal Worcester Spode in 1978, after Carborundum's takeover by Kennecott. By then Royal Worcester had begun developing a
Crystalate acquired Royal Worcester in a hostile takeover in 1983 and began taking bids for the Spode and Royal Worcester porcelain operations. In 1984, Crystalate agreed to sell the division to LRC International, a U.K.-based producer of rubber gloves, paint rollers and paintbrushes, and contraceptives. Soon after its acquisition, Royal Worcester Spode launched its largest-ever collection of dinnerware, adding some 60 new patterns, in large part to step up the company's sales in the United States, which represented just 30 percent of its total revenues.
Yet a major reason behind LRC's acquisition of Royal Worcester Spode was its interest in acquiring Wedgwood as well, then merging the two groups together to form the United Kingdom's leading porcelain group. LRC's bid for Wedgwood failed, however, after being rejected by the British mergers and monopolies commission. In 1988, after Royal Worcester Spode slipped into losses, LRC sold off the division to Derby International, which also owned the Raleigh bicycle group.
Under Derby, the U.S. branch of the china and porcelain group was split off as a separate and independently operating company, renamed as Royal China and Porcelain Companies, in part to better differentiate the Worcester and Spode brands in the U.S. market. Yet the U.S. business continued to work closely with its U.K. counterpart, renamed as The Porcelain and Fine China Companies Ltd.
Both the Spode and Royal Worcester brands remained among the world's most well-known porcelain and china brands into the dawn of the 21st century. The Porcelain and Fine China Companies began extending its operations in the 2000s to include a wider range of complementary decorative items. For this reason, the company acquired Caithness Glass Ltd., based in Perth, in Scotland, from Royal Doulton, adding its decorative glassworks. The company also launched a line of Spode-branded candles in 2004--the low price of the candles was designed to introduce and lead consumers to Spode's higher-end core products.
A new suitor for Spode's ownership appeared in the early 2000s as well. In 2001, the Portuguese ceramics group Vista Alegre reached a partnership agreement with The Porcelain and Fine China Companies, which included the acquisition of a 25 percent stake in the company. That agreement included an option for Vista Alegre to acquire full control of Royal Worcester Spode by as early as 2005. Regardless of its owner, The Porcelain and Fine China Companies retained the legacy of two of the world's most important china and porcelain brands.
Principal Subsidiaries: Caithness Glass Ltd; Royal Worcester Spode Ltd.; Royal China and Porcelain Companies Inc. (U.S.A.).
Principal Competitors: American Greetings Corporation; Waterford Wedgwood PLC; Villeroy und Boch AG; Longaberger Co.; Kyocera Fineceramics GmbH; Rosenthal AG; Lladro S.A.; Pamesa Ceramica S.L.; Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd.