A Very Interesting Copy of the Portland Vase
The inscription on the vase is the earliest record of the partnership between Thomas Mountford and Uriah Thomas, moving up the date of their operation by more than two months. Although The London Gazette informed readers that the partnership was effectively dissolved on July 20, 1881 this vase makes clear that the process was in the works at least since May of that year. Clearly, in presenting the vase to James Dynon, whose family owned an export business that supplied much of the pottery from Staffordshire to Australia, Mountford and Thomas were hoping to gain favor with him and expand into lucrative foreign markets.
A Presentation Copy of Wedgwood’s Portland Vase for James Dynon, Esq.
Dated May 5, 1881
Mountford and Thomas, Marlborough Works, Hanley
Glazed Earthenware, 11.5 inches high.
Marks: Painted in Gold, “To / James Dynon Esq / from / Mountford & Thomas / Marlbourough Works, Hanley / May 5th 1881”
By the time the present vase was inscribed to Dynon, George Mountford had a long career in the pottery industry that likely resulted from family connections. Born about 1816 to potter William Mountford, he began working in the industry by age twenty-three and rose through the ranks as a pressmolder, oven man, manager, and finally a manufacturer, by 1863. The firm Mountford and Thomas was the result of a number of short-lived partnerships that George Mountford was involved in during the first half of 1881. Beginning with Hall, Miller & Mountford (which lasted until March of that year), the firm was reformed as Hall, Mountford and Thomas, an operation that lasted only through July 1881. Mountford & Thomas was the longest lasting of these firms and in operation until April 1888. In contrast to the frequency with which Mountford appears in the public record, Uriah Thomas’s career is more elusive, with virtually nothing of note in the record before his association with Mountford.
The genesis of James Dynon’s involvement in the ceramics trade began with his father, John Dynon, who by 1867 had operated a “large and commodious premises” supplying “a large and well assorted stock of china, glass, and earthenware… at prices not to be equaled.” John Dynon was active in the trade as early as 1860, when his name appears in shipping notices as an importer. By 1865, he was importing glassware, earthenware, and—specifically mentioned for the first time—china, presumably porcelain. Although it was not until December 1878 that the firm began to advertise as John Dynon and Son, James Dynon is recorded as returning from Liverpool, the primary export site for all the Stoke-on-Trent potteries as early as 1872 and was likely a part of the business even before the change of name.
The firm’s connection to Hanley, where Uriah Thomas and Mountford worked at the Marlborough works is evident by April 1881, when the John Dynon and Son partnered with Fraser and Co., to sell ceramics by the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company, glass and objects from Boulton and Mills of Stourbridge, and ceramics from Powell, Bishop, and Stonier of Hanley, Staffordshire. Although Fraser and Co. operated the stand at the Melbourne International Exhibition in the British Court, it was Dynon and Son who were described as the “sole agents” for Worcester Royal Porcelain, and who provided the instructions for the terms of sale. In reaching out to Dynon, Mountford and Thomas were likely swayed by the firm’s reputation as well as the fact that by 1880 they were /advertising as “government contractors.”
By December 1881, the firm had grown significantly and operated three locations:
11 Pitt Street, Circular Quay
Lonsdale Street Melbourne, and
Gresham Street, London [where the firm is listed as J. Dynon and Son]
By no later than 1886, either the Lonsdale Street location in Melbourne had moved, or an additional shop on George Street had been opened. In addition to his import business, Dynon served as an Alderman and was a well-respected member of the community. Dynon’s career as an importer obviously served him well. A notice of his will in The Ballarat Star on March 17th 1915 valued his estate at 28,796 pounds in real estate, and personal property valued at an additional 9,386 pounds.
The vase is a unique production that demonstrates not only the work of Mountford and Thomas but also that speaks to the desire of Staffordshire potters in the nineteenth century to connect with broader international markets. In addition to helping document the work of Mountford and Thomas’s partnership together, the vase is an important key to documenting their contribution to the continued production of Wedgwood’s Portland Vase design. It may also be the only extant marked piece of pottery from this short-lived firm.
In presenting Dynon with a copy of Wedgwood’s celebrated Portland Vase, Mountford & Thomas clearly were aligning themselves with the most exceptional of ceramic works and hoping to capitalize on the associations of quality and technical perfection that the vase held for audiences. Interestingly, whereas many other firms—Neale and Company (ca. 1795), Samuel Alcock (by 1840), and Adams and Bromley (by 1850)—copied the vase directly, Mountford & Thomas adapted the original design somewhat, creating a distinctive arrangement of the handles that differentiates the firm’s work with that of their competitors. Instead of placing the masks at the bottom of the handles, the firm shifted these to the handles themselves and altered the shape of the handles to create a graceful curve that terminates close to the base of the rim. Curiously, although the form is cast, there are few extant examples of this model that have been located.
See notice of dissolution between William Hall, George Mountford, and Uriah Thomas: The London Gazette, July 29, 1881.
[The House of Commons], First Report of the Commissioners. With Appendix (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswood, 1863), 15. “I was a flatpresser for 24 years; then I was a manger; and now I am a manufacturer.” According to the report, Mountford owned an Earthenware Manufactory in Fenton. This account probably oversimplifies his career arc as he was listed in 1851 census of Church Gresley as an “oven man.” The same census identifies his father William, a widower, as a former potter living with Mountford and his family. A transcript of this is available at: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~brett/gresley/gresley51_5.htm
The London Gazette, March 8, 1881.
The Argus, September 11, 1867.
See, for instance, The Argus, October 25, 1860. Although the listing is vague “9 crates,” it is clear from this and subsequent mentions that he was beginning trade as an importer. By 1862, he was mentioned specifically in connection to earthenware. See: The Star, September 17, 1862.
“Saturday, April 23, Melbourne International Exhibition, British Court. Worcester Royal Porcelain Company’s Exhibits,” The Argus, April 22, 1881.
Lorgnette (Melbourne), January 29, 1880.
[Advertisement], The Sydney morning Herald, December 31, 1881. For the name “J. Dynon and Son” see: The Export Merchant Shippers of London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Wasall, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Glasgow, Greenock, Edinburgh, Leith, Hull, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Stockton-on-Tees, Middlesborough, West Hartlepool, Gateshead, Sunderland, North and South Shields, Bristol and Cardiff (London: Dean and Son, 1882), 208.
The Ballarat Star, March 17th, 1915.
Mountford & Thomas’s Portland Vase appears not to have a large production run as only one additional example has appeared at auction recently. Without the inscription, and with no other marks on the vase, attribution was impossible and the vase was listed simply as “Pate-sur-Pate Portland vase White on Coral” without a suggestion of either date or origin. Yet, owing to the distinctive treatment of the handles, as well as the applied masks at the top, it is undoubtedly a product of the Marlborough Works.