The years 1842 to 1883 saw the first really effective scheme whereby manufacturers in the UK could prevent their designs being copied by British commercial rivals. It dealt with the shape and decoration of everyday objects and materials, rather than with innovations in how they worked. At that time this was a new concept, but it was one that would have a long-term influence on design and commerce in this country.
Our database has nearly 300 ceramic items, almost all carrying the registered design mark. A small number of unmarked items are included where it is known that the design was registered. Except for these few, the mark is shown in an additional image, often with further views showing relevant details.
Registered design marks on ceramics may indicate patenting of the basic shape of the item, or of its moulded or printed decoration. The examples of marks shown in this introduction are printed, but in other cases the mark may be impressed or moulded. When the mark takes a three-dimensional form like this, it strongly indicates that it is the shape and/or moulded decoration of the item that is protected.
When the mark is printed the patented aspect is more likely to be an applied printed pattern. However, this is a rough guide only . For example, some fine bone china wares with registrations for shape were probably judged unsuited to a three-dimensional mark and were given a printed one instead.
In most cases we don't specify whether the registered design mark applies to shape or decoration. One way to find this out would be to consult the original registration documents now housed at the National Archives in Kew – which task we leave to individual researchers. Please refer to the National Archives’ website via the link included here for more information.
Indications as to whether an individual registration is for shape or pattern can also be found in Geoffrey Godden’s New Handbook of British Pottery & Porcelain Marks, which lists the proprietors of the designs as gleaned from the original records, with in each case a brief description of the subject of the registration. A similar listing, giving the proprietors of the designs but no descriptions, forms Appendix B of J P Cushion’s Pocket Book of British Ceramic Marks.
Cushion’s listing contains the design numbers allocated by the government department responsible at the time of registration, but not required to be marked on the article. These numbers are not included here because
- where applicants lodged several designs at once, the precise design registration number in question is not apparent without recourse to the original records, and
- knowledge of this number is not essential to the researcher to begin looking into a specific item or to access the correct document at the National Archives.
The National Archives Design Registers, a new online exhibition featuring 300 mid-Victorian ceramic designs and other curiosities.
- Britain’s hidden heritage: The untold story of The Design Registers 1864-1871, Supplement to April 2006 issue of Homes & Antiques Magazine
- British Parliamentary Papers : Industrial Revolution : Design; Reports of Government Select Committees 1835-1853, in 4 volumes (see especially vol. 1 re. Design Registration), Irish University Press, 1968-1971
- Cushion, J P, Pocket Book of British Ceramic Marks, Faber & Faber, 1959
- Godden, G, New Handbook of British Pottery & Porcelain Marks, Barrie & Jenkins, second revised and enlarged edition, 1999
- Godden, G, Staffordshire Porcelain, Granada Publishing Ltd, 1983