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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  1. What a great pick at the estate sale, Nancy, and a beautiful table. Love the 'facorns' and rest of the tablescape too. The napkins are classic RL (is there ANYthing he makes that isn't swoon worthy?). I love the quote of perfectionism from Reid Hoffman's book - I am that way to a fault as well. I should read it. Beautiful table, as always. Love your style. And your dishes.

  2. Love your table! I am also looking forward to Autumn and cooler temps. Love the history of Johnson Bros, but also lament production moving to China!

  3. Nancy, thank you for sharing all this interesting information. Hope you are enjoying a wonderful summer.

  4. Your new dishes are gorgeous as usual it amazes me how you can fins so many gorgeous sets to buy
    I am not a fall person however those colors all work together beautifully
    It makes me sick to think of all the companies who have closed here and England to go to China!!

  5. Very interesting, a piece of history in the world of pottery, The Johnson Brothers. Love their patterns. Kathleen in Az

  6. Thank You.My pattern since My wedding in 1977.

  7. You always have a beautiful table Nancy and weren't you so fortunate to come across these beauties! I love Fall and cannot wait for it to arrive.

  8. I love all of your table settings. They always make me drool! I love your artistry in putting groupings together.

  9. I found a set for 8 at an antique sale of Friendly Village several years ago and I look everywhere for additional serving pieces. Great history--thank you.

    1. You're welcome, Ann. It's fun finding a full set of dinnerware still intact.

  10. I finally learn something about the Johnson Brothers Company!!! TFS

    Your tablescapes are always so stunning!!!

    1. Glad you learned something new! Thank you for the compliment!

  11. I do love this tablescape even if it is a tad early for thinking about a fall table. The Friendly Village is my favorite pattern for fall. It has a quality of comfort about it that I can't quite explain. Maybe nostalgic would be a good word but it is so much more than that. I came across 16 place settings plus the serving pieces at the VOA over the winter, the set was a lot price so I had to take it all. Luckily it was the last Tuesday of the month and it was half price. Still a good chunk of change but well worth it.

    I do hope you can stop by to visit my blog in the next day or so and leave a comment, I am celebrating my second blog anniversary with a fall table linens give-away and the winner will be announced Thursday on my August 20th tablescape post. I did a mini tablescape using The Friendly Village for an example to show how the Fall linens would look in a table setting. Have a lovely evening.... Candy

  12. I lovely everything about this post, and that tablescape is gorgeous, heartwarming and perfect!

  13. Never too early for fall, and the table is set beautifully - except, IMO, for the dead deer antlers. Not a fan.

  14. Johnson Bros is a favourite maker of mine and I have collected several patterns. Rose Chintz is of course my favourite but I do have several pieces of the Friendly Village too. I also have quite a few of the red rimmed tumblers, wine glasses, sherbets, plates, and other pieces such as a punch bowl with the matching cups. They really make your table setting look warm and inviting. Thanks for sharing, Nancy.


  15. Thank you for this post. I truly enjoyed reading about Johnson Bros. How wonderful you came across these gorgeous china. It was meant to be. It will be perfect for Thanksgiving. I love how beautiful the napkins look with this pattern. I am so happy to be thinking about fall and seeing signs of it.

  16. Hi Nancy,

    Great article about Johnson Brothers. For many years I used to sell many of their patterns, including Friendly Village, in my small department store in Lymington, on the south coast of England. It always sold well. But then, in the early 2000's, I had a customer come up to me to ask where it was made. England madam, we ONLY sell British made pottery, china, and glass. No foreign stuff in here. Then why dose it have a paper label saying that it's made in China. CHINA, I said....There must be a mistake. No, the lady was quite right, the plates, Blue Denmark, had sticky labels saying MADE IN CHINA. I turned the plate over and pointed out the under glaze stamp, Johnson Bros - ENGLAND. There we are madam, as I said it's made in England. I went immediately went to my office and phoned our sales department at Wedgwood to say that some fool had stuck made in China labels on the Blue Denmark plates. She replied, but they are made in China. Well nobody has told us, and it has England on the back stamp. I'll put you through to the sales director at Wedgwood. He came on the phone and I told him that I was very unhappy as I'd been told that the Blue Denmark was now made it China. That's correct, we make nothing on site now. I replied so why do you stamp Made in England on the plate. He relied, where's the made. What do you mean I asked. Where does it say Made In England. On the plate....Read it to me, he asked. So I did. Johnson Brothers England 1882. As I said, where's the MADE IN? I told him that he was being deceitful and was ashamed to put Made In China on the plate itself. This conversation is coming to a close he said, and he slammed the phone down on me. We did carried on selling Johnson Bros china, but once word got out that it was being made in China, sales drop off sharply, alond with Old Country Roses made by Royal Albert, who were by now also owned by the Wedgwood Group.Shortly after the Waterford Wedgwood Group went bankrupt for £750,000,000 (three quarter of a billion pounds) It ended up being bought by a fellow countryman, or men, of yours. Today I have just done as you did, bought some wonderful Friendly Village china, in a Charity Shop. You probably know that it was originally made for export to the U.S. only. That is why the scenes are of American houses and covered bridges. Paul Peters

  17. Hi, Nancy! I am an obsessed Johnson Brothers collector, thanks to my parents' 1957 Friendly Village set, which was their 1st anniversary present and we used for winter holidays, too. I now have their set, my formal Pomona set and my everyday Garden Bouquet set. Now I'm collecting service pieces for patterns I like. I just scored my first Rose Chintz vegetable service bowl with the older pink stamp!

    I live in Arizona and you might be surprised how many Meakin and Johnson Brothers dishware ended up out here in the territorial days. I just saw a Meakin dish recently in a local museum after it was found in an archaeological dig.

    I'm glad I found your blog!


  18. Hi there, we just uncovered a complete 6 piece set of The Friendly Village from grandma's estate. there are a total of 76 pieces. How do I value it and where can I sell it? Any ideas?

  19. I love all that I have just read on here, google The Friendly Village, to find some information about the collection I just bought, its an amazing find to me, a combination of "what I think might be 2 sets " all are brown mailbox and Pat Pending, but not a chip or crack and peices Ive never seen before. Can't wait to set my table with them..Thank You Nancy

  20. Saved as a favorite, I like your site!

  21. Just to let you know the covered bridge is the covered bridge that is at the Flume Gorge in Lincoln, NH. I work there. I just found 2 bowls today at a junk shop, so excited to find them.


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