Founded in 1815 by John Doulton and John Watts, Doulton & Co. has long been known for its fine dinnerware, ceramics, and art pottery. It has, over the years, produced more than 10,000 watercolor designs for its pottery. Though it is known as Royal Doulton today, that renowned distinction was far from a reality when Doulton and Watts first fired up the kiln at their Lambeth pottery outside of London.
Out of that pottery, Doulton & Co. first produced industrial stoneware, as well as decorative garden pottery. In 1820, the company began calling itself Doulton & Watts, as opposed to simply Doulton & Co. That was the case until 1854—stamps on pieces made after that time reflect the change.
In the 1870s, John Doulton’s son, Henry, turned Doulton & Co. into an inspired studio of decorative arts. The younger Doulton paired himself up with John Sparkes, the headmaster of Lambeth School of Art. With the aid of students, the duo produced well-regarded art pottery that was shown at the South Kensington Exhibitions in 1871 and 1872...
At this point, the pottery at Lambeth was producing everything from flasks and covered jars to fountains and animal statues. Soon, the company would expand. In 1877, Doulton began the process of taking over a factory in Burslem outside of Staffordshire that had previously been controlled by Pinder, Bourne and Company. It was at the Buslem factory that Doulton became known for its fine porcelain.
During the Victorian Era, Doutlon was Britain’s leading producer of sanitary ware. It also built the first stoneware pipe factory. But in the final quarter of the 19th century, the Doulton factory at Buslem really took off, as the china it produced became especially popular in North America. In 1901, Doulton became Royal Doulton, as King Edward VII bestowed upon the company the right to use the word “Royal” preceding its name.
Around this time, Doulton chemists and designers Charles Noke and Harry Nixon were experimenting with innovative ways to glaze bone china. This research led to colors such as their red Flambé and blue Titanium, as well as styles such as Sung.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Royal Doulton continued manufacturing art pottery out of its Lambeth headquarters, while it produced china at Burslem. Though the two potteries were part of the same parent company, the content from each was distinct, as were the markings that identified the pieces.
In fact, the specificity of Doulton stamps is one of many reasons why collectors love this company. Its pieces are easily identified, and unlike other companies, there are few, if any, inconsistencies in them. For example, from 1902 on, the stamp included a lion atop a crown. Additionally, Doulton’s artists such as Percy Curnock and Charles Hart almost always signed their work, which is an additional aid to collectors.
Like most all manufacturers, Royal Doulton was influenced by the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century and the Art Deco movement a few decades later. World War II interrupted production, and then, by the 1950s, the company’s Burslem branch began referring to itself as Doulton Fine China, Ltd. Less than a year later, the pottery at Lambeth shuttered its doors. Art pottery made at Lambeth remains collectible, especially character jugs and vases.
Production of art pottery, such as a set of jugs based on characters from Charles Dickens’ novels or Mickey Mouse and Disney Princess figures, continues at the Burslem pottery today.
Some of the china patterns that Royal Doulton has become best known for, and are most sought by collectors, include Carlyle (decorative pink) and Old Country Roses, both of which are made by Royal Albert, one of Royal Doulton’s three brands (the other two brands are Royal Doulton and Minton). Indeed, Old Country Roses is the highest selling dinnerware pattern worldwide.
Beginning in 1968, Royal Doulton became a supplier of china to Queen Elizabeth II. It also sent the first china into space on the space shuttle Discovery in 1984.
Interviews & Articles
I think it all started with a small pottery vase my mother obtained from the art pottery shop where she worked in the early 1920s … [more]
I’m the curator of the ceramics bit of the Bowes Museum. It’s a big museum with 30 galleries of which three or four are devoted to… [more]
I’m the curator here at the museum in Rocky River, a suburb west of Cleveland. I look at Cowan pottery from a historian’s angle be… [more]