Geese, in spite of being far and away the finest centrepiece imaginable for the Christmas dining experience, are neither particularly evocative of courtly emotion nor especially photogenic to the casual observer. As a result they seem to have been largely overlooked by the compilers of early ‘image libraries’ comprising of collected prints and etchings; these sources went on to become the go-to reference works for glass engravers and porcelain decorators (which is why a great many of the images thereon can seem quite generic). Clearly, whilst it was considered fair game to portray love and affection in all its guises, with coquettish ladies, devilish rakes and all the other manifestations, illustrations of ’a woman scorned’ were less in demand; geese - with all their hissing and flapping – would have been the perfect representation in this respect...


Fortunately, later English porcelain decorators were more willing to draw on pastoral and bucolic inspiration, with the rural idyll being a particular favourite of Regency and Victorian artists. Reflections on idealised rural life had always been popular across the whole spectrum of artistic endeavour, and were given new impetus as the industrial revolution gathered pace in Britain, with the newly-urbanised population having a seemingly insatiable appetite for things which alluded to the simpler, more arcadian way of life.


Once the resident artists at one particular porcelain works or another had come up with a favoured design, there was no getting away from it, and if a motif made it in to the pattern books of a particular manufacturer - and proved to be a saleable commodity - it was likely to remain production for some considerable time.


To this end I have unearthed three versions of essentially one design, used to embellish Spode Copeland porcelain dishes finished over a period of at least forty years, from the latter years of Queen Victoria’s reign to the first few decades of the twentieth century; the design features a pair of geese (three plates, each with two geese = the requisite half-dozen).


It seems likely that all three of these plates have been "clobbered", which suggests that they were originally made as export pieces in China with only a basic underglaze blue outline applied at the point of manufacture, and then with additional coloured enamelling being added once they had arrived in the UK.


As far as our inspirational song goes, there is very little variation with regard to the use of geese for the sixth gift - unlike some of the others which have several alternatives evident; there is just one recorded version which is different - the magazine of Clifton College in Bristol publishing the line, in December 1867, as "six ducks a-laying". This same iteration also provides us with two other unique variants with "eight hares a-running" and "eleven badgers baiting" also making an appearance – it seems that the desire to be just that little bit different has endured with students for many years (did someone say ‘interminably” ?)

As you're here, why not take advantage of our Christmas Sale – select anything you want on the entire store, and use the code TWELVEDAYS in the shopping cart to get 12% off the marked price – the promotion runs until January 6th, so take your time and browse through the very many items we have listed.

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