The history of Royal Crown Derby is one of changing fortunes in the ebb and flow of time and taste. It began some time before 1750, when the Huguenot, Andrew Planche, established the first china works in Derby. His exquisite figures led to a fortuitous link with William Duesbury, who eventually became the guiding light in a very successful partnership manufacturing china of the highest quality.
By 1770, Duesbury had acquired the famous Chelsea China Works and the Bow moulds which resulted in the gradual transfer of a number of extremely skilled craftsmen to Derby. It wasn't long before Duesbury could claim - with some justification - that his Derby factory was the 'second Dresden'. The opening of a London Showroom in 1773 marked the begnning of the widespread recognition of the excellence of Derby porcelain.
King George III recognised the uniqueness of Derby porcelain in 1775 when he granted the factory the rare honour of being able to incorporate a crown into the backstamp. Much later, in 1890, Queen Victoria also gave Crown Derby her seal of approval not only by awarding the royal warrant, but also by granting the title "The Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company".
After his father's death in 1786, William Duesbury II set about making the Derby China Works the finest in Europe. Great developments were made in body, glaze, potting and decoration and the factory benefited from what was probably the most talented group of ceramic artists ever assembled. A tremendous variety of objects - all lavishly decorated - has made the 1786-95 decade one of the most desirable and interesting for collectors and students alike. Artistic talent included Boreman, the water-colour landscape genuis; figure painters Askew and Banford; and the exceptional talents of flower painters Withers, Billingsley and Pegg.
When William Duesbury died in 1797 at the early age of 34, many of his remarkable team left the factory which led to a temporary decline in the fortunes of Crown Derby.
It was Robert Bloor who restored the Derby porcelain reputation when he took control of the factory in 1811 and began to build a team of very fine painters.
Many rich and elegant services were produced at this time and shapes tended to be larger and more flamboyant. Typical of the period are the lavishly decorated Japan, or Imari, patterns whose deserved popularity continues in various forms to the present day.
Confidence in the Crown Derby name was underwritten in 1877 by the opening of an impressive new factory at Osmaston Road, Derby. This was the beginning of a period of growth and diversification which has continued to the present day.
Many new shapes and decorative techniques were added to the traditional Derby styles. Raised gilding and piercing, together with the rich colours of Persian and Indian art all played an important role in developing and widening the appeal of the range.
Royal acclaim followed in 1890 when the company was appointed 'Manufacturers of porcelain to Her Majesty'.
In the same year, the gifted artist Desire Leroy arrived at Osmaston Road to form a studio dedicated to creating new standards in gilding and hand painting. His ambitions were realised most notably in the form of elaborate gilding and jewelling on service plates, vases and ornamental pieces.
Royal Crown Derby was acquired by S.Pearson and Son, the Pearson family company, to become part of their Allied English Potteries group. Brian Branscombe was appointed Art Director, and established the new Graphic and printing departments. Pearson subsequently Bought Royal Doulton. The company was then merged into the larger group.
The first Royal Crown Derby paperweights, five birds and a rabbit, were launched at a reception at Chatsworth House. These models were to develop into one of the most important ranges of china figures in the world of collecting.
Hugh Gibson, a former director of Royal Doulton and member of the Pearson family, leads a buy-out of Royal Crown Derby. Once more the firm becomes an independent and privately owned concern, during the year in which it also celebrates 250 years of manufacture of porcelain in Derby.
The paperweight range celebrates its 21st birthday, with a special stopper for the year, and a new collection of five birds and a rabbit.
With the retirement of long time owner Hugh Gibson Royal Crown Derby enters an exciting new phase in its illustrious history when it is acquired by one of the world’s most successful ceramic brands, Steelite International. The company, of course, remains firmly committed to the highest quality UK manufacture and sets its sights on launching into a new market with a new brand ‘Royal Crown Derby Entertains’ providing fine bone china tableware to major hotels restaurants and hospitality venues throughout the world.