A SPARROW BEAK JUG CONUNDRUM – an article by Eric Knowles

A SPARROW BEAK JUG CONUNDRUM – an article by Eric Knowles

 A Sparrow Beak Jug Conundrum

In a previous article I discussed the merits of collecting small porcelains especially after downsizing or simply living in a relatively modest size home.

Having suggested several types of porcelain forms, of equally modest size, it occurred to me that I had been somewhat remiss in failing to mention the humble whilst often splendid English porcelain sparrow beak jugs of the mid to late 18th century.

Until our shop in Tunbridge Wells, sorry ‘Royal’ Tunbridge Wells is finally up and running in early 2020 – due to a series of frustrating hitches which I will simply gloss over at the moment – working at the Kent home of co-owners is somewhat demanding when it comes to a growing lack of space and the need to forever watch your feet!

The storerooms are groaning with the sheer volumes of good quality glass, porcelains and much more whilst the logistics of registering, cataloguing and photographing every single item that will feature in our online website has to be seen to be believed. This often means a living room carpet playing host to a constant stream of fabulous objects in need of research and cataloguing at a rapid rate of knots before the next day’s consignments arrive, either in our van or by post.

Having arrived one morning, after my two-hour drive around the notorious M25 , I found four various sparrow beak jugs awaiting to be catalogued. Most appeared to date from about 1760 to 1780; three were definitely Liverpool and the fourth posed a question…Having a much whiter body than the others it featured a polychrome Chinoiserie pattern of a seated gentleman, but with no evidence of feet, beside a table with the reverse showing a skeletal tree in iron red and a top rim with a scallop type narrow band in the same colour.

Having done some further research at home I came across a near identical character sporting the same exotic hairstyle in Maurice Hillis’s landmark book 'Liverpool Porcelain 1756-1804' and what’s more this gent was also conspicuous by his lack of feet. The Chinese figure was also hand-painted in coloured enamels, but on a Liverpool porcelain coffee can, featuring a similar iron-red narrow band and made in the factory of John Pennington in about 1772-1780.

However our sparrow beak jug possessed a relief moulded ‘S’ within an incised circle on the base which, needless to say, had us all thinking why an ‘S’ on what, I had potentially perceived, to be a Liverpool porcelain jug? Now, I am not one to name drop but over the years I have been able to claim several ceramic luminaries as either friends – or at least acquaintances – and several having been introduced to me by my parents as long-time members of the Northern Ceramic Society.

One couple I have come across more often than most just happen to be Lyn and her husband Maurice Hillis – yes the very same! Consequently, I decided to go direct to the ‘Font’ and telephoned Lyn and Maurice for their thoughts. Having sent images of the jug and the mark, Maurice came back to me and was quite adamant that the jug was not Liverpool and in the back of his mind felt sure that he had seen this jug before, about 15 years ago. This was at an exhibition held at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and titled ‘Caughley in Colour’. After nipping upstairs, he returned with their copy of the catalogue and ‘Bingo’ the same jug was featured but with no mention of the relief moulded ‘S’ mark and which Maurice readily admitted to not come across such a mark before.

Most Caughley porcelains carry an underglaze blue ‘S’ or a ‘C’, which is often confused with a Worcester crescent mark, or are impressed ‘Salopian’ (remembering that the factory was located in Shropshire which today is often abbreviated to ‘Salop’ on postal addresses). However, the use of a relief moulded ‘S’ does beg the question could our jug be unique or do others exist?

Any reader/collectors who know of any other Caughley wares with this same mark are invited to get in touch with yours-truly here at scottishantiques.com

Good Luck and thank you Maurice and Lyn!


Eric Knowles FRSA

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