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Early History of Derby Porcelain

Nic Saintey turns his attention to the early history of Derby porcelain, from its inception in circa 1756 (but possibly 1753), which is shrouded in mystery, until the start of its decline at the start of 19th century.

A Derby Mug (FS17/62), part of the Tryhorn Collection.

A Derby Mug (FS17/62), part of the Tryhorn Collection.

Like every other 18th century English porcelain producer, Derby's roots seem to be shrouded in vague alchemical language and secrecy so the actual date when porcelain was first produced is difficult to establish.

However, whilst William Duesbury's London Account Books seem to indicate he was decorating Derby porcelain in 1753, it is largely accepted that his partnership with Andrew Planche in 1756 was when Derby started and indeed later that year the first auction of Derby porcelain was advertised. Planche's involvement was short lived and he returned to London in the same year.

A Derby Cylindrical Spill Vase (FS17/64), part of the Tryhorn Collection.

A Derby Cylindrical Spill Vase (FS17/64),
part of the Tryhorn Collection.

Much early production was table ware, tea and coffee services, baskets, sauceboats and the like, all of which could also be purchased from China, if your pockets were deep enough. What you couldn't get from China and what was an instant success were figures and figural candlestick groups, much of which was fussily modelled and either mythological, allegorical, pastoral or sentimental in its subject matter.

A Derby Teapot and Cover (FS17/598), auctioned
            in the January 2013 Fine Art Sale.

A Derby Teapot and Cover (FS17/598), auctioned in the January 2013 Fine Art Sale.

Like Chelsea, they aimed for the aristocratic market. Indeed, Derby bought the Chelsea porcelain concern in 1770 and, whilst the latter was in decline, Derby did away with it's main competitor and acquired quite a lot of 'in house' expertise. This Chelsea-Derby period ranged from 1770-84, when the Chelsea premises were demolished. It is probably fair to say that Derby was something of a broad church as indicated by the production of larger ale mugs for those of a slightly lower station.

A Derby Porcelain Candlestick Group. (FS17/595).

A Derby Porcelain Candlestick Group. (FS17/595).

The death of William Duesbury in 1786 led to his son (also William) taking over the reins until his death 10 years later – during this period a rather explosive manager called Micheal Kean soured relationships with the staff until he left in 1811. At this point, Robert Bloor took over Derby and a gradual decline continued. Always short of cash, he was forced to sparsely decorate existing stock. However, he was also responsible for larger 'furnishing' vases and a broad range of ornamental knick-knackery. Although only active for 20 years, he maintained control until his death in 1846.


  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Fine Sale
  • Ceramics
  • Derby Porcelain
  • Chelsea Porcelain
  • Wiliam Duesbury
  • Andrew Planche
  • Michael Keen
  • Robert Bloor

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About the Author

Nic SainteyNic Saintey
Ceramics and Glass

Nic Saintey has been a director of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood since 2003 and heads up the Ceramics and Glass Department. He is part of the team specialising in Chinese ceramics and works of art.

Nic's first career was in the Armed Forces where he served both as a military parachutist and paramedic. He joined a firm of Somerset auctioneers in early 1995 and Bearnes during a period of expansion in June 2000.

His effervescent nature, sense of humour, broad knowledge and experience has seen him appear as an expert for BBC television programmes. He undertakes regular talks to both academic and general interest groups talking on subjects as diverse as Staffordshire pottery and pop culture, Chinese porcelain and the troubled relationship between Britain and the Orient, the English drinking glass and the Donyatt potters.

He is an occasional contributor of articles for national and local publications and is equally fascinated by the stories attached to pots as he is about the objects themselves.

His personal interests include Oriental and domestic pottery, but especially that produced in the West Country.

Accompanied by his Lurcher Stickey, he is a keen Moorland walker (but only in the winter), an increasingly slow runner and a chaotic cook who always eats his own mistakes and, yes of course, he collects pottery!