Mintons spanned the years 1793-1968, almost 200 years. During that time, they produced a wide-ranging variety of different styles and techniques in ceramic manufacture, some are extremely pretty, some are extravagant. New techniques were introduced and they worked with some highly skilled, innovative and vigorous designers and artists.
During these years, the historical background was turbulent. Two world wars and before that, the Napoleonic wars. It was the expansion of the British Empire and wide-ranging global exploration from reaching the spice islands to reaching the poles.
The story of Mintons is primarily a story of the main characters who lived and worked there. They shaped the development of the company just as surely as they shaped the pots the company made.
Thomas Minton – 1765-1836 Founder of Mintons
Thomas started his career in Caughly, Shropshire, as an apprentice engraver. Here, he worked on copperplate founder engraver willow – 1793 own factory early mostly earthenware domestic blue transfer engravings used for transferware. He may also have started to work on the willow patterns for which he became famous.
In 1785, Thomas Minton set up his own factory in Stoke-on-Trent. White glazed earthenware pottery and blue transfer-printed wares were the main output in the early years, producing mostly tableware. And he got himself married in 1789 to Sarah. Later, his son Herbert was to carry on the family ownership of Mintons in 1793.
There seems to have been a lot of collaboration among some of the potters at this time. They sold many of their pots to other potters and outsourced some of the work, as well as bringing in outside experts. Spode acquired his Willow design and in fact, Thomas designed a new willow design for Spode. The ones produced in Shropshire can be differentiated to some extent as they do not have the bridge and fence in the foreground.
Joseph Poulson for fine china
Joseph Poulson owned a china factory a short distance away, and he and Thomas Minton went into partnership in 1796, which extended the product range to include fine bone china. Poulson died in 1808 but Minton continued to produce china at the Poulson works until 1816.
In 1824, Thomas Minton had a new factory built and renewed the manufacture of China.
The Hendra Company
A great example of co-operation was the formation of a group of potters in the Hendra Company (named after a Hendra Common in Cornwall). Transferring the quality clay from Cornwall was an expansive business and by combining their costs the members saved money and increased their profit. Members included Wedgewood, William Adams, as well as Poulson and Minton himself.
When Thomas died in 1836, his son Herbert took over the reins.
In 1845, Herbert joined Michael Hollins to found Minton, Hollins & Company. Herbert knew many leading architects and they produced many hard-wearing and decorative tiled floors and walls suitable for churches, for public buildings and palaces – as well as the more simple homes. They used a process to produce “encaustic” tiles.
Encaustic tiles are ceramic tiles where the pattern is built up by inlays of differently coloured clay rather than a surface glaze. Although usually only two colours are used, there may be as many as six inlaid clays. One benefit is that although the tile may be down, the pattern remains. They can be glazed or unglazed.
Sadly, the Victorian love of modernising extended to medieval tiles on the floors of many churches. Medieval floors were torn up and encaustic tiles laid down – often against strong protests by men like William Morris. But you can find examples of fine encaustic tiles in such places at the United States Capitol and St. Georges Cathedral in Southwark, England.
The company displayed its wares globally – and you can find examples of the displays at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
Under the leadership of Herbert Minton, the company branched out into oriental design, Turkish pottery and Chinese cloisonné.
Herbert Minton also produced statues made of a hard, white unglazed porcelain. This was called Parian ware and their famous white Parian marble. They employed some well-renowned sculptors like John Bell and Hiram Powers to introduce a range of figures – many life-size.
Leon Arnoux from France joined Mintons in 1849. He was responsible for many new products and stayed with the company until 1892. He was innovative, skilled and interested in ceramics historical aspects as well as developing new techniques.
Arnoux developed a tin-glaze and the metallic oxide enamels to decorate these “Majolica” pieces. He also formulated the coloured lead glazes and the kiln properties to produce colourful Palissy ware – now also called Majolica. There were highly successful, improved upon, copied by other companies and exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London of 1851 (only two years after Arnoux had joined Mintons), and then in Paris in 1885, at the Exposition Universelle.
Links with Royalty
Queen Victoria paid 1,000 guineas for a dessert service – mixed bone china and Parian ware, which she gave to the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. Mintons became known as the place to buy ceramics for wealthy residencies, head of state and more.
Arnoux also worked to produce background colours (Blue and pink) similar to those essential in Sevres porcelain. While Sevres pink was named “Rose Pompadour”, Mintons named theirs “Rose du Barry” after another of Louis XV mistresses in the mid-18th century.
In addition, Arnoux wished to revise a lead-glazed pottery named Henry ll ware. This was originally made in France in St. Porchaire. It was very much sought after at the time and even now, its rarity makes it valuable – it is likely that only 60 pieces still remain.
Christopher Dresser was becoming interested in ceramic design. People regarded him as perhaps the top British designer of the time – around 1867.
He had traveled to Japan and his work developed an Oriental flavour, which was popular then. Although there are many works which might be his, others we cannot be so sure of.
Colin Minton Campbell
When Herbert Minton died his nephew took over, equally innovative and productive.
Solon – father and son
Arnoux also introduced Marc-Louis Solon who was responsible for developing the pate-sur-pate technique at Sevres. This is where the design is built up in layers of liquid clay or slip, each drying before the next layer is added. Solon’s son, Leon, designed “Secessionist ware” which became increasingly exaggerated in style.
This was made at the turn of the century and the early years of the 20 century. The majority of the work was earthenware single or twin items rather than full table services – and the price range allowed the less wealthy to acquire these items.
Post-war, the exaggerated shapes gave way to more conventional styles and after WW2, the Staffordshire pottery industry was in decline.
Mintons merged with Royal Doulton which was itself taken over by Waterford Wedgewood in January 2005. The main factory was demolished and even a Mintons museum was destroyed as part of “rationalisation”.
The Mintons Archive was rescued and is now to be found in Stoke-on-Trent.
The company changed its name many times over its 200 years of existence. From Thomas Minton in 1796 up until 1873 when simply “Mintons” or “MINTON” was used.
The pattern numbers were preceded by “No” before 1805 but not afterward. Then, there are many quite pretty designs and you can see these here. Some reflect the times like a gun in 1940 and an aeroplane in 1941 – and V sign in 1942!
Buying Minton Wares
You can find some very pretty plates for as little as $9.99 and some more unusual shapes for around $100. I found a pretty little coffee pot for $239 (both eBay and Etsy have a wide range of antique Mintons offerings, including a selection of interesting picture tiles).
Mintons has provided us with a variety of interesting and unusual designs as well as some very pretty tableware. During its 200-year span, some very fine and innovative artists and designers collaborated and worked there. In fact, the spirit of collaboration certainly helped them to attain both commercial value for their customers as well as a wider customer base. You are fortunate if you own some Minton ware – plates, tiles or Parian statues.