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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 22

Spode/Copeland Transfer-Printed Patterns Found at 20 Hudson's Bay Company Sites

by Lynne Sussman

The Association Between the Hudson's Bay Company and the Spode/Copeland Company

The Spode/Copeland company was the commissioned supplier of ceramic tableware and toiletware to the Hudson's Bay Company throughout most of the 19th century and possibly for some time into the 20th century. The following is an extract from a letter from the Hudson's Bay Company to Copeland and Garrett, dated 17 December 1835. It marks the beginning of the association between the two companies:

Your letter to Mr. Simpson of 28th ult, quoting the prices at which you would supply the Hudsons Bay Co with Earthenware &c has been submitted to the Governor and Committee, and I am directed to acquaint you that the same has been accepted (Canada, Public Archives, Hudson's Bay Company Archives, A.5/11, p. 130).

The earliest invoice for goods provided is dated 15 June 1836 (Whiter 1970: 233, n. 67) and the ceramics listed presumably reached North America the same year. The contract continued throughout the changes in company ownership and name: Copeland and Garrett, until 1847; W.T. Copeland, 1847 to 1867, and W.T. Copeland and Sons, 1867 to the end of the contract.

No documentary evidence has been found regarding the termination of the contract with Spode/Copeland. In the United States, restrictions upon the importation of British goods appear to have curtailed the supply of Copeland ceramics to Hudson's Bay Company posts after the 1850s (Ross 1976: 261). Archaeological evidence, in the form of date-marked pieces, has shown that Copeland was still supplying sizable quantities of ceramics to Hudson's Bay Company posts in Canada in the 1870s. The amount of Copeland ceramics found at Canadian Hudson's Bay Company sites declined in the 1880s and 1890s, and more variety in ceramic wares and manufacturers is evident in material from these later contexts. At some time during the 1880s or 1890s the Hudson's Bay Company began to receive Copeland-made ceramics through the China Hall of A.T. Wiley in Montreal (Collard: pers. com.). Hitherto, all Copeland ceramics had been shipped directly from England to Hudson's Bay Company points-of-entry (depots) and from there to the various posts. The latest Copeland artifact found to date at a Hudson's Bay Company site was manufactured between 1907 and 1937 and was supplied through the Wiley company.

The type of ceramic supplied by Spode/Copeland to the Hudson's Bay Company was almost invariably transfer-printed white earthenware, the most popular ceramic of the 19th century. All of the patterns illustrated in this catalogue were made using this decorative technique. Briefly, the technique entails the following steps: 1) engraving the pattern on a copper plate; 2) applying to the copper plate a pigment in the form of a metallic oxide in an oil base; 3) printing the pattern onto special paper; 4) transferring the design from the paper onto the biscuit-fired ceramic object; 5) glazing, and 6) final firing which vitrifies the glaze and transforms the metallic oxide pigment into the desired colour.

Huge quantities of Spode/Copeland transfer-printed white earthenware have been found at the 20 Hudson's Bay Company sites included in this catalogue. In addition, a small amount of Spode/Copeland plain white earthenware and an even smaller amount of its transfer-printed bone china have also been recovered from these sites. Utilitarian articles of stoneware or coarse earthenware, such as crocks, mixing bowls and baking dishes, have never been made by the Spode/Copeland pottery. The company specialized in manufacturing good quality tableware and toiletware and its products account for the major portion of these wares found at 19th-century Hudson's Bay Company sites.

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