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Explore the Osmaston Road Pattern Books with our Curator

Pattern is one of the things Derby porcelain is best known for.  Many Derby patterns are instantly recognisable.  Old Imari and Royal Antoinette are two that epitomise the Derby tradition.  While a few have become very well known, the sheer volume of patterns that have been recorded is quite outstanding.  It is not unusual for a visitor to bring in a pattern I haven’t seen before.  The reason for this can be seen if we look at the Osmaston Road factory pattern books.  These books record over 11,000 different designs dating back to 1878.

Mikado Pattern Book - Royal Crown Derby

The museum archives house the 29 books that record all the tea and dinner patterns produced at the Osmaston Road site.  The designs are recorded in ink or pencil and watercolour.  They are illustrated on either cup or plate shapes with only the occasional exception such as a scent bottle.  Some have been transferred, printed and coloured just like they would have been on the china. This gives us an indication of how they were produced. The patterns are recorded on linen impregnated with paper, which is folded and sewn down the centre and bound with leather-covered board.

The books are in fair condition considering their age.  Most show signs of use, especially in the lower right-hand corner where numerous fingers have turned the pages.  The colours have remained remarkably strong because they are not subjected to fading by light as they have been kept in book form.

 Pattern Book - Royal Crown Derby

The first page in pattern book number 1 is dated August 1878.  This fits in with the first tableware items produced at the Osmaston Road site.  Pattern number 573 is dated August 1880.  This shows that in the first two years 573 patterns were recorded.  This is a huge amount and leads us to wonder if they were all actually produced.  Certainly, many of these patterns are quite familiar, but it is likely that some were only produced in small quantities or even just as samples.  

The very first pattern recorded as number 1 is an Imari style pattern that has become known as Derby Japan.  This is based on an earlier pattern that was first produced in the early 19th century at the Nottingham Road factory.  This also foretells of the huge variety of Japan, later called Imari, patterns to be produced at the factory.  The books contain in total over 700 variations on the Imari style.

 Pattern Book - Royal Crown Derby

It is curious that while most shapes are named, the patterns are recorded by number only.  Relatively few patterns actually have names but they all have a number and this is how they would be identified on the factory.  The number can often be found on the base of a piece.

The type of information that can be found in the books includes illustrations of the patterns, illustrations of shapes and often shape names, production notes and occasionally an artists name.  Some patterns have artists names attached to them.  For example, one might be inscribed ‘flowers by Brownsword’.  If we can find a plate decorated with this pattern, then we can usually attribute the painting to the artist John Joseph Brownsword.  Production notes such as ‘Paris Tea. Print in chestnut brown, B Blue, traced & shaded in red. Burnished gold’ tell us more about how the piece was produced.

 Pattern Book - Royal Crown Derby

The Osmaston Road pattern books were essentially a tool of production.  They provided a reference to every pattern that was produced and a guide as to how to achieve it.  They are now archive items, treasured and protected for the future.  Although stored in the archives, the books are still in regular use.  Today they provide inspiration for our designers and an invaluable source of information for the museum.  

Posted by Jacqueline Smith on 04/07/2018 09:00