Friday, August 14, 2015

The History of Johnson Brothers and The Friendly Village Tablescape

Last week, Shawn and I popped into a couple of estate sales and I picked up over 100 pieces of Johnson Brother's The Friendly Village.  I think I may have to hang on to 12 of the dinner plates and use them this year at Thanksgiving but the rest of them, including this 48 piece service for 8, will be you know where.

I don't know about you all, but I have had enough of Summer and I am down right ready for the cooler temperatures of Autumn.  I've been doing a lot of rearranging around the house….I'm in one of those zones where I've got a zillion projects going on, even if half of them are just in my mind that I'm contemplating!   We've also been moving kids out and around.  Three of them are out and the three still at home are moving or rearranging their rooms around.   

Since I am yearning for Fall, haven't posted any tablescapes in a while and just got these Friendly Village pieces I decided to set the table with them.  

Oh great, I just realized that I left the bread plate out of a couple of place settings.  Now I know why I kept staring at this pic (like for an hour!) and it bothered me.  Oh well.  I'm posting it anyway.  Shawn's Dad gave him a book to read and listen to, which I've been doing as well.  It's called Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.  It's powerful.  Powerful enough that we're making our kids listen to or read it as well!  One of the (many, many) things that struck me was the author talking about Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, saying, "If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."   That may not mean anything to everyone, but for me, it means don't wait until it's perfect because if you do, you'll be behind.  It resonated deeply with me because I am a perfectionist to a fault, and have often held my own self back because of it.
Okay, enough psychology.

  I've been dying to use these Ralph Lauren paisley patterned dinner napkins.  I bought them mostly to go with my Rural Scenes dinnerware but when I put them next to the Friendly Village, I realized they were a perfect match!   The cute Bamboo flatware is from Horchow.    Did you know that Horchow was the first luxury mail order catalog that wasn't preceded by a brick and mortar store?  I didn't, well until a few hours ago anyway.  I also learned that he is a Broadway producer.  Wow.  Who knew?  Wikipedia, that's who!

The centerpiece is just a cheap-o glass vase, that I didn't get flowers in but my daughter did, filled with facorns (what I call fake acorns) and more fake stuff…greenery and pheasant feathers.
The cranberry pink on the thumbprint glasses picks up the pinks in the dishes and napkins and the little footed goblets have the prettiest etched grapes and leaves all around them.

Kalyn brought me back the ginormous pinecones from her trip to California last Summer.  She knows I have a thing for pinecones and they seem to have more meaning to me now, since she just moved to Stillwater two days ago. =(

The History of Johnson Brothers 

Although Johnson Brothers was formed in 1882 by two of the four brothers, Alfred and Frederick, after purchasing the defunct Charles Street Works factory at a Hanley bankruptcy sale in 1882, their story began earlier as they were Grandsons to the famous Meakin lineage and shared a heritage in the production of fine dinnerware.  The purchase of the factory marked the brothers first entrepreneurial venture.  

The brothers worked on building a solid reputation for their white ware which they called "White Granite" (many early pieces were marked as "semi-porcelain"), a durable earthenware that had the look of fine china but was tough and chip resistant like ironstone. By 1888 a third brother, Henry, joined the firm and they began production of transfer ware, which the company would become famous for.

The Industrial Revolution combined with the demand for pottery not long after the Civil War, created an opportunity for Johnson Brothers to open up two new factories in Hanley close to the original factory.    

Sometime around 1896 the fourth of the Johnson Brothers, Robert, joined the company and relocated to the United States to further establish a presence in the emerging tableware market.  Americans happily filled their cupboards with Johnson Brothers' tableware because not only were the patterns attractive, but the product  itself was both durable and very affordable.    By 1898 the brothers had a total of five  working factories all producing tableware, the original Charles Street Works and the four additions;  Imperial Works, Hanley Works, Trent Works and the Scotia Road Works in Tunstall. 

In the early part of the 20th century the brothers sons joined the company in an effort to raise sales across Europe and the company's growth continued though became somewhat stagnated during World War I due to increased taxes on the work force, shipping capabilities and raw materials supplies.   During the 1920's, after the War had ended, a new colored clay was introduced.  It came in gray, rose, green and gold and was named "Dawn" and Johnson Brothers resumed their pre-war production rate.  By the end of the decade, several of the Johnson's grandsons had also joined the firm and their tableware was exported throughout the British Empire.

The 1930's  came and saw the original Charles Street factory closed as new, modern technology was implemented where firing was executed by the use of electricity in the new electric tunnel kilns, rather than coal which had been used in the bottle oven kilns.  This led to better quality products, even lower prices and by far better conditions for the workers.  

When World War II came,  production nearly came to a complete halt but sporadic shipments to the United States helped keep the company afloat.  The damage caused by war along with a need for increased productivity and facilities dictated an enormous overhaul of equipment and facilities.  Plants in England, Australia and Canada were purchased for the purpose of decorating, glazing and firing of pieces.

Johnson Brothers gained Royal Warrants from Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother.  During the 1950's award winning designs such as Old Britain Castles and Historic America became popular (and still are) and led to the company being awarded with the Queen's Award to Industry, not once but twice, for their contributions to the British economy.  But, despite the award, the 1960's brought a change in popular tastes and rising competition.  Production costs were spiraling and this led to Johnson Brothers further curtailing their expansion.  In 1968, along with other famous name potters like Meakin (their Grandfather), Coalport, Adams, Midwinter, Crown Staffordshire and Mason's, Johnson Brothers, in an effort to remain competitive, joined the Wedgwood Group.  Some popular patterns and ranges were produced over the following years, including the 1981 introduction of the extremely popular "Eternal Beau", but none were enough to prevent the Hanley Pottery from eventually closing and being demolished in 1995.  At this same time Johnson Brothers reviewed the traditional lines and had to reduce the number of patterns they produced.  In 2000 the tableware division was moved temporarily to the J. & G. Meakin Eagle Pottery Works. 

 In 2003, Johnson Brothers products ceased to be manufactured in Britain and the process was transferred to China, sadly, which as I have said before, saw the end of an era as their is only one pottery left in England today producing transferware.   The Eagle Pottery Works were demolished in 2005.


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