Bev Marvell: 10th April 2012
This is an introduction and explanation of the purpose of the Belleek Painted Numbers.
Occasionally hand painted numbers are found on the base of Belleek items, mainly teaware. As the early Belleek records were lost (fire destroyed most of the factory records in 1930) we have no original documentation to explain why these numbers are present.
Similar hand painted numbers are found on other manufacturers’ wares, their purpose varies depending upon the manufacturer and period, but they are used to indicate one of the following:
The Research team of the Belleek Collectors Group UK determined to establish by scientific means:
To achieve this aim, Belleek from private collections, the Internet, auction previews and antique fairs has been examined and recorded in a database.
Thank you to all who have contributed
I have to particularly thank those collectors who have enthusiastically sent me information and photographs and allowed me to open up their display cabinets to handle their most prized pieces. The ownership of some pictures included in this research was not identifiable and so I must also thank these unknown, but valued, contributors.
To-date 441 ‘encounters’ (an encounter may have contained a single or several items, i.e. a tea service) have been recorded with painted numbers/names. 114 different numbers have been seen. In the main these included items of teaware (plates of all sizes, cups and saucers, creams, sugars, tureens, teapots and tea kettles, trays and comports, etc..), but other items such as candlesticks with similar decoration to teawares were also found. For a full discussion and analysis resulting from the collected data please refer to the paper published in the Belleek Collectors Group (UK) Newsletter No 25/1 April 2004.
Belleek, unlike other major manufacturers, does not keep numbers unique to a pattern shape. Belleek numbers are also relatively rare (because most Belleek is plain).
The number defines the applied hand painted decoration for the pattern type (shape). It is therefore a decoration number and supports proposals made by both Neville Maguire and Tony Fox. This number is consistent for all item types in the same pattern; i.e. plates, cups and saucers, teapots of the same pattern and same decoration all show the same number.
This is also supported by descriptions in the 1904 catalogue, against some prices for Grass, Lace and Thorn is a number (and sometimes a brief description of the decoration colour), obviously the decoration affected the price. Also, the 1937 catalogue has illustrations of patterns with various decoration ways against which there are ‘D’ numbers which correspond to the painted numbers. (These ‘D’ items should not be confused with the ‘D’ numbering scheme adopted by Degenhardt)
Numbers mainly appear on tea, dessert or dinnerware, dressing table and toilet sets, utility jugs and platters. They have not yet been recorded on completely non-utility decorative items such as vases, baskets or figures. As numbers are mainly applied to items that could be considered part of a ‘set’, they were probably useful to ensure the set matched.
So far, numbers found range between ‘1’ and ‘849’, but most examples have a number between ‘1’ and ‘9’. Numbers are found on items from 1st Black to 2nd Green period, although after 3rd Black they become exceedingly rare. They are found on all body types that I have been able to examine (parian, earthware and china, no stoneware or terra cotta), painted in various colours, nearly always immediately underneath the Belleek printed mark. Occasionally the number is preceded by ‘No’ (1st Black period only) or ‘D’ (1st and 2nd Green period). There are also items where instead of a painted number there is painted name, 3 different names have been seen so far; ‘HEATH’, ‘BLYTHE’ and ‘Brentwood’.
These decoration numbers must have been recorded in a log somewhere at Belleek because they are consistent. Indeed, Degenhardt states ‘..no doubt records were kept…founders of the pottery…were sticklers for detail’.
The numbering system was started sometime in the 1st Black period, was gradually used less and dropped sometime in the 2nd Green period.
Of the encounters recorded with numbers, 74% were from the 1st Black period. The 1st Black period also gave 63% of the unique number/pattern combinations. There seems to be two distinct intervals when numbers where used; 1st/2nd Black and 3rd Black onwards. There are no common numbers used between these two intervals.
Numbers are usually painted in black (56%) or brown/tan (29%). If another colour is used (say green, red or blue) it is usually the same colour that was last used during decoration…but not always!
When I first started recording numbers I hadn’t appreciated just how subtly different some decoration ways could be. I puzzled why 2 items with apparently the same decoration had different numbers – however, always on closer inspection there would be a subtle variation in the colour and/or areas painted that did in fact make the decoration different.
The 2 ribbon plates illustrated both have the same areas painted in blue, number but ‘126’ is bright blue whereas number ‘136’ is mid blue.
Variety of decoration ways (numbers) per pattern
Whilst Belleek does not seem to have allocated decoration numbers numerically, early pattern shapes with more common decoration ways seem to start in the range 1 through to 9.
Some patterns exhibit a large variety of different numbers. For example, Thorn '1', ‘2’, ‘4’, ‘5’, ‘6’, ‘7’, ‘8’, ‘9’, ‘10’, '11', ‘12’, '13', ‘14’, ‘16’, ‘19’, ‘22’, ‘23’, ‘24’, ‘25’, ‘31’, ‘33’, ‘38’, ‘42’, ‘44’, ‘49’, ‘54’, ‘72’, ‘82’, and hence decoration ways. The gaps in numbers on Thorn items recorded so far are in themselves interesting, is it reasonable to believe that Thorn numbers ’3’and ’15’ will eventually show up?
The 1904 catalogue shows Thorn ‘No 10’ was considerably cheaper than ‘No 14’ and ‘No 42’. From the pictures shown of Thorn cups and saucers in various decoration/number ways you can see why - ‘No 10’ is only decorated in cob, whilst the others are coloured and gilt!
Patterns that do not have numbers
No numbers have yet been found on the following patterns:
It is very surprising that no numbers have been seen on Echinus considering the number of decoration ways found on early sets.
Cob lustre applied to specific parts of the decoration (not just a wash to a cup interior or saucer centre) may have number, any apparently plain item with a number has probably lost its cob lustre.
Usually all items in a set are marked with the appropriate number, but not necessarily on large sets.
Exceptions to the ‘rules’
A handful of items have been recorded that have a different number than expected for their decoration. For these items I suspect:
A monogram and/or crest on an item does not affect the number allocated, the number always reflects the underlying decoration way.
Distinction should be made between a decoration way and a special individually painted item such as found on the Sheerin views of Ireland service or pieces with Johnston or Allingham sisters flower studies. These ‘tour de force’ scenic or study paintings are more than a decoration way and show individuality, they do not have numbers.
Suspect any item that has the wrong number for the recorded pattern type and decoration way. I have seen quite a few examples of married cups and saucers where the numbers are different, initially the decoration way may look exceedingly similar, but on close inspection there has always been a subtle difference.