Crown ware is the name given to the range of goods introduced at Royal Worcester in about 1870. These were produced in a type of heavy earthenware which was extremely durable and therefore very suitable for hotel and domestic tableware. It was the nineteenth century’s equivalent of today’s oven-to-table ware – very strong, but heavy and opaque rather than delicate and translucent as is porcelain. The most popular shape for the tableware was called Athens. The range was originally known as Vitreous Ware, and the factory mark for these wares show the Royal Worcester Vitreous ribbon. It ceased production in 1930, when it was replaced by the hard porcelain oven body, which had the advantage of being translucent.
The Vitreous body was a highly fired and vitrified earthenware, somewhat like the so-called ‘ironstone’, and was made in huge quantities for table services used by hotels, restaurants, military institutions, commercial companies, and railway and shipping lines. Many of the services produced for these organisations carry crests or names, and many institutions had their own special design. A large amount still survives and it is not uncommon to find services comprising over 100 pieces coming onto the auction market, which surely speaks volumes for the durability of the Vitreous body.
In addition to the hotel and domestic tableware, the Crown ware body was also used to produce small ornamental goods, from the mid-1910s until the late 1920s. These included vases, boxes, powder bowls, Toby jugs, bird figurines, and small male and female figures. Ultimately, these pieces failed because the colours and patterns were onglaze, lightly fired and soon wore off in use. Some of the Crown ware shapes used for these pieces had been used before and were used again for wares made in the bone china body.
Many of these ornamental items were designed by Frederick Gertner, one of Royal Worcester’s most important designers. Worcester born and bred, and trained at the Worcester School of Art and the Victoria Institute, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art’s School of Sculpture and became an Associate of the RCA. He worked for the company from 1915 until his death in 1960, being responsible for most of the shapes introduced during that period.
Times were hard for the company in the 1920s, and in an attempt to maintain its reputation for luxury goods, lustre ware was introduced in 1924. Vases and bowls on Crown ware bodies were painted underglaze with scenes such as castles and ships, mottled with stippled green near and under the base. On top of the glaze the pieces were lustred in pearl and gold. The painting and lustre work were taught by Daisy Rea, one of the factory’s best painters, to her sister Grace and to Elsie Gibbons.