“A”, “B” and “C” Marks on Belleek

 

By Eddie Murphy

 

It all began when Linda and I were digging on the old factory tip at the Pottery – this activity, now sadly terminated by new developments which have caused the old tip to be built over, occupied many happy hours of our time while at Belleek.  We (of course) had the Pottery’s permission to do this, and while digging we found lots of pieces of earthenware (mainly mugs) and sundry assorted fragments of Parian ware.  We found two mugs almost intact: one was whole and the other - well let’s say I had to do a bit of restoration on it!  Eventually, amongst all the fragments, we came across a couple of pieces marked with the letter “A” in a circle.  What was this?  Very strange, we were thinking as we found even more pieces - maybe someone had just thrown them there and they weren’t Belleek at all, for this mark (we thought then) had never been seen on a Belleek piece… but then we found a piece with the Melvinware stamp which also had the circled “A”.  It definitely was Belleek!

 

 

Left: Eddie holding forth during his presentation at the Hull Meeting….

Below: Plain White Belleek Melvinware Plate and its marks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took the “A” marked pieces to the meeting in Portsmouth (hosted by Pat and Brian Russell) and presented our finds to the Group’s members.  This generated a whole lot of suggestions as to what the “A” might signify.  One theory that was presented suggested that the “A” stood for “Asylum” as it was known that Belleek made earthenware items for these institutions (The Omagh Lunatic Asylum had Belleek plates made for it).

 

Interesting as this was, the real significance of the “A” was only revealed when Bev Marvell, attending a course on ceramics appreciation run by the Hanley Potteries Museum’s Sue Taylor, came across a very similar circled “A” mark.  One of the lectures that Sue Taylor gave was devoted to pottery in the 1940’s and 1950’s: it transpired that the “A” came about due to wartime austerity in Britain between 1942 and 1952.

 

 

 

 

 

The “A” marked plate with the mark shown in detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “C” marked mug found on the Belleek Tip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, it was all to do with the British war effort!  Belleek Pottery, along with many other factories, was, during the period of austerity, allowed to produce only certain undecorated products (utility ware) for the home market although they were still allowed to make more expensive decorated ware to sell overseas to help Britain’s wartime exports.  The “A”, along with “B” and “C” stood for the type of utility ware produced.  Specifically, the markings signified firstly that the items had British Board of Trade approval to be made and secondly the maximum price at which the item could be sold was set by the letter, “C” being the highest price band, “A” the lowest.  It is an interesting point that the final production of decorated parian ware in the third black mark period and almost all of the “fancy” ware produced in the first green mark (1946-1955) must have been destined solely for export and was probably not made in large quantities because of the Board of Trade scheme, labour and material shortages and austerity measures in general.  This probably makes first green mark parian ware amongst the rarest of all Belleek production!

 

The “A”, “B” and “C” designations were not unique to Belleek.  In 1941, the Board of Trade drew up a list of factories permitted to continue production of this approved utility ware.  The scheme was put into action in 1942.  The selected factories were allocated one or more of the price codes: “A”, “B” and “C”.  They could then make specified undecorated ware for sale at less that the maximum set in each price band.  Those companies not chosen for the scheme either closed down for the duration, moved production to one of the selected companies or went out of business altogether.  The Board of Trade actually mandated the complete closure (at least for the duration) of some factories not selected for the scheme.

 

 

The following types of ware were allowed to be made under the scheme:

(1)      to be made from a white or light ivory body, glazed with a colourless or white glaze.

(2)      to be made from stoneware in the natural colour of the clay and glazed with colourless or brown glaze or with a brown glaze on the outside and a white or colourless glaze on the inside.

(3)      to be made using a natural clay body with a brown glaze or colourless glaze inside and outside or with a brown glaze on the outside and either a white glaze or a colourless glaze on the inside.

 

Within this designation, the following items were included:

·         Cups, egg cups, mugs, beakers, plates, saucers, teapots, coffee pots, jugs, meat dishes and vegetable dishes, sauce boats

·         Cooking ware including pie dishes, rolling pins and bowls, and finally,

·         Sanitary ware including ewers, basins, chamber pots, hot water bottles and their stoppers.

 

Note that the Board of Trade seems to have made an exception to the normal “white only” rule for teapots and jugs to be made in brown – clearly, even while saving the country’s money, they didn’t want to deprive the British of their “brown betty” teapots!

 

As well as restrictions in colour and material, the items were also highly restricted in the shapes they could be made in.  The pieces were stricty utilitarian and decoration was absolutely forbidden.  Markings of any kind were very strictly defined to the extent that even the back stamp could comprise only the company name and the price group letter.

 

 

 

W.T. Copeland Jug stamped “A” made between 1942 and 1952

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Board of Trade’s original scheme, starting in 1942, Belleek Pottery was selected to make ware in price band “C”.  Later, in 1945 Belleek is listed as being permitted to make articles in price band “A”.  There is no mention in the official lists of Belleek being allowed to make ware in price band “B”.  The scheme officially ended in 1952 and the embargo on decorated or fancy items for the home market was lifted.  Belleek Pottery had been one of the lucky companies during this wartime period because many other factories were closed down for the duration.  Our personal belief is that Belleek Pottery stayed open because it was the only major pottery in Ireland.  Being out of the main centre of Stoke on Trent would also have given Belleek Pottery the advantage of not being likely to suffer in air raids, so it was a policy that increased the diversity of supply.  In 1945, the Board of Trade changed the scheme slightly, introducing two new price bands “CY” and “CZ”.  In June of 1945, as the War was drawing to its end, they even relaxed to the extent that selected companies were allowed to make “fancies” (including tobacco jars, ashtrays and bookends) for sale to the home market – I expect joy was unbounded!  Belleek Pottery was not included in this favoured list…

 

As yet, and as expected, we have not found any Belleek items marked with “B”.   We have a mug with no maker’s mark printed with the “C”:  this item we know to be Belleek because we found it on the tip!  Apart from this, all the Belleek examples we have (or have seen) are marked “A”.

 

Unless you know your Belleek shapes, don’t think that pieces with just the “A”, “B” or “C” on them will necessarily be Belleek!  Remember that many factories made this utility ware during the wartime period.  Sue Taylor has given Beverly a copy of the definitive information (Written by Kathy Niblett)about the use of these marks and she has passed this on to us, so if you would like more information, contact Eddie of Linda and we’ll try to help out!

 

- Eddie and Linda Murphy

 

 

Reference: “Ten Plain Years: The British Pottery Industry 1942-1952”, Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

 

 

Go to Belleek UK Group Website