A family business and a little old-fashioned ingenuity led to the production of what became one of the most popular china patterns in England and the United States. Brothers Alfred, Frederick and Henry Johnson knew a good thing when they saw it, and when the Charles Street Works dinnerware factory in Staffordshire, England, went on the market due to bankruptcy, the brothers snatched it up. Soon the brothers' new company, appropriately renamed Johnson Brothers, followed in the footsteps of their grandfather's Meakin dinnerware line and began creating top-of-the-line quality china.
Patterns in Pink
The Johnson Brothers "semi-porcelain" whiteware became popular in their native Britain almost immediately and soon became a hit in the United States where consumers were looking for durability and beauty at a low price. Factories sprung up, and experimentation with design, color and composition took off. New pieces were developed that maintained color through and through if chipped. Brighter and richer colors were introduced into the mix, as well as patterns based on classic-inspired and folk-inspired artwork and photographs.
Out of this period of experimentation came the Old Britain Castles pattern, a series of designs that reverberated back to a more romantic time and appealed to buyers on both sides of the pond. The original engravings, depicting 45 different scenes of British castles and villages, such as Blarney, Cambridge, Canturbury, Nottingham, Stratford and Windsor Park, were drafted by hand in 1928.
Originally produced in blue, pink and brown, the patterns are now produced only in blue and pink. With its soft finish and warm tones, the rosy pink became a favorite choice with collectors and upon first glance, it's easy to see why it has endured. Old Britain Castles pink, inspired by antique engraved photographs, evokes a more simple time and with its charming landscapes, is just as striking hanging on a wall as it is on the dinner table.
A Collector's Dream
Collectors seeking the earliest version of Old Britain Castles should seek out those produced between 1930 and 1937, when the engravings were transferred onto flat copper sheets coated with soft steel. In or around 1937, the process was improved when the pattern was re-engraved onto copper rollers, resulting in faster production and a more precise pattern look. Automation took over in the 1950s and a new semi-automatic decorating machine increased production.
Old Britain Castles, the masterpiece of the Johnson Brothers and a pattern perfected by the Waterford Group, remains one of the most successful china print patterns of all time. While England and the United States saw initial successes, over the years the popularity of the pattern has grown to true international proportions, particularly in Germany, across Europe and in South America.
Collecting Old Britain Castles pink has become a classic and beautiful way to pass on the traditions of times gone by.
For more information on Johnson Brothers and Waterford Group patterns and how to purchase Old Britain Castles, contact:
Waterford Wedgwood USA
For more information on Johnson Brothers and its history, read:
Johnson Brothers Dinnerware: Pattern Directory and Price Guide (Marfine Antiques, 2002)