Andrew P. Ledger. The Bedford Street Warehouse and the London China Trade, 1773–1796. Derby Porcelain Archive Research, vol. 2. Derby, Eng.: Derby Museum and Art Gallery, 2002. x + 490 pp., 5 bw illus., appendices, indices, and bibliography. £40 (clothbound).
Andrew Ledger has accomplished an astonishing task in compiling this extensive archive material for the ceramics historian, particularly the Derby porcelain scholar. His academic background in chemistry, his career in technical and production management, and his long-standing interest in the subject and thorough knowledge of the extant literature make him a natural choice for the undertaking.
The kernel of his report is the well-documented Lygo correspondence. It is thought that Joseph Lygo started working for Derby principal William Duesbury in 1774 and became manager of the London warehouse about 1778 (p. 28). After initial difficulties he gained Duesbury’s confidence, becoming indispensable to the firm’s success in promoting Derby porcelain in the London metropolis. Here, for the first time, is an outline of his career, together with details of his family life and circumstances. The majority of the correspondence is from Lygo to William Duesbury II (whose father died in 1786), with very little in response from Duesbury. Lygo’s letters oVer a deep insight into the business practices—and diYculties—of the third quarter of the eighteenth century.
Derby was the last of the major English porcelain manufactories to have a London warehouse. Before the warehouse opened in 1774, the wares were sold through various London chinamen and other traders. After purchasing the Chelsea factory in 1770, Derby continued the custom of having annual sales, although two sales by Christie’s in 1773 proved unsuccessful, with 75 percent unsold by value. It did not appear an auspicious time to be opening a London warehouse. In April 1773 there was a banking crisis, and the manufacturers in the Potteries agreed to cut prices by 20 percent. Duesbury’s choice of the commercial Covent Garden area, halfway between the city and fashionable St. James’s, was an astute one; clearly, he wanted to attract important private customers.
The transcribed documents are arranged chronologically for each year, from 1773 to 1796, including the Lygo correspondence beginning in 1784. The information was culled largely from the William Bemrose Collection of Chelsea and Derby Documents and Duesbury Papers (in the British Museum and Derby Local Studies Library, respectively) and interspersed with advertisements from London’s Daily Advertiser and Public Advertiser, insurance policies, lease details, and auction-house announcements. The earlier work of Judith Anderson on the Duesbury Papers, the late Nancy Valpy on the Bemrose Papers and London newspapers, and Elizabeth Adams and Harold Blakey on insurance policies have been carefully consulted and appropriately acknowledged. Each year’s entries are meticulously annotated to facilitate consultation of the original documents.
By 1775 the Derby partnership Duesbury and Heath was granted a royal warrant as china manufacturers to the king. In 1779 Derby banker John Heath was declared bankrupt, which seems to have had little effect on factory and London showroom operations, though the matter dragged on into the following year. Meanwhile there were annual auction sales hyped by both Christie’s and the press, and the final sale of Derby’s Chelsea porcelain took place in 1783. Sales in 1784 were down, perhaps due to the dissolution of Parliament in March at the beginning of the season, which led to rioting and civil unrest. Money was extremely tight, as the Lygo correspondence of July shows; the Christie and Ansell sale in May, of which two-thirds appears to have been “bought in” (that is, not sold), was not settled in full until November. The entire matter of promissory notes and credit seems to have been highly erratic; cash flow appears to have been a constant problem; and credit was frequently extended, which made commerce extremely difficult and unpredictable. From 1786 on, archive records and Lygo’s correspondence are prolific—in July, for example, “[W]e have very little business doing here and the Town is very thin of Company” (p. 133), and on August 5, “NB I never knew so bad a week of business as this has been” (p. 134).
There seems, too, to have been a great deal of haggling over prices, particularly with dealers. For example, in September a Mr. Elliott of Bristol offered £35 for a quantity of wares and settled at a trade discount of 26 percent. Between 1785 and 1788 the showroom held trade sales at which the discount offered to the pottery trade was apparently as high as 38 percent; these facts are recorded in detail in an appendix. It is interesting to see from the title page of the trade sale for March 8–9, 1785, that one of the conditions of sale was that “Buyer’s Notes, approved by the proprietor, will be taken payable four Months after date” (p. 360). There was also a 2⁄÷™ percent discount to those who paid “ready money.” There are frequent references to Lygo’s active interest in attracting the Irish trade, including deliberately timing his sales for when the Irish were in town.
With regard to the wares themselves, there is a dearth of detailed information, but we do learn that dessert and tea services were among the best sellers and that tea services should be complete. It was important that a variety of patterns be in stock for their clients to choose from, although apparently frequent shortages of stock occurred, as Lygo is recorded asking repeatedly for goods that had failed to arrive. On March 26, 1789, there are complaints about teapots flying apart when boiling water was added. A September 2, 1790, reference to this problem stated: “We . . . season the Tea pots in a Tin Kettle . . . I always caution the customers to warm the Table China well before the fire” (p. 222). The previous year there is a mention of the Flight family of Worcester selling Paris porcelain “des[s]erts painted with small coloured sprigs and gold edge for £12 per Set and 10 p Ct discount, from them, if so it is cheaper than anything we have done of the kind” (p. 196).
Foreign imports were a problem to the trade as witnessed by Lygo (May 23, 1793): “There was a Sale at the Custom House last week of French China of many hundred lots which I think has took all the money from the Trade and filled them with Goods” (p. 265). Although not strictly part of the present report, the correspondence concerning the establishment of a shop in Bath by Richard Egan (who had married Ann Duesbury) in 1792 provides insight into the provincial china trade. Lygo sent a full range of Derby wares to stock Egan’s shop while also organizing the staffing and setting up the business.
The appendices form a major part of this study: warehouse tenants and the premises are frequently mentioned by Lygo, supplemented by insurance policies, indentures, and a smattering of daybook entries concerning rent and sundry payments. The China Club (1785–1788), established as a cartel to protect fixed retail prices; trade buyers; trade directories; trade sales; and a sales summary are each given a separate appendix with notes. Regarding auction sales, it is highly unlikely that “some possible trade names are recorded as apparent buyers in the auction catalogues, but those could be buying-in names” (p. 371). Traditionally, Christie’s auctioneers recorded only the name of a buyer and sometimes an underbidder; if a lot remained unsold (that is, bought in), then typically the highest bid was recorded in a separate column and no name was entered. The warehouse sales indicate an annual turnover of about £5,500, and further analysis by product group indicates that sales to the trade on credit (detailed in the daybooks) were about 60 to 70 percent of the total, whereas the percentage of vases déjeuners and cabinet pieces was surprisingly small, representing some 3 to 6 percent. The market for these various categories of wares is discussed.
This detailed survey is concluded with indices of documents, people, and subjects. As Ledger states in the foreword, “This Report is offered, not as an interpreted narrative history, but as a reference work of primary source material” (p. x). In this he has succeeded magnificently.
Ceramics historian and lecturer in eighteenth-century ceramics
Former Head of European Ceramics, Christie’s London
Judith Anderson, “The Duesbury Papers,” in Derby Porcelain, 1750–1798, edited by Gilbert Bradley (London: Heneage, 1990); Judith Anderson, “The Duesbury Papers: A Personal View of the Management, c. 1785–1796,” Derby International Porcelain Society Journal 2 (1991); Nancy Valpy, The Bemrose Papers: Documents of the Derby Porcelain Factory (Derby, Eng.: Derby Porcelain International Society, 1992); Nancy Valpy, “Extracts from Eighteenth Century London Newspapers,” English Ceramic Circle Transactions 11 (1982–83), 12 (1984–85), and 14 (1990–91); Elizabeth Adams, “Ceramic Insurances in the Sun Company Archives, 1766–1774,” English Ceramic Circle Transactions 10, pt. 1 (1976); Harold Blakey, “Sun Fire Insurance Records, 1774–1782,” Northern Ceramic Society Journal 9 (1992); and Harold Blakey, “Fire Insurances and Ceramic History, Including Extracts from the Sun Fire Office Policy Registers, 1782–1793,” Northern Ceramic Society Journal 10 (1993).