Today is St George's day – England's patron saint. It is also the birthday of my friend Pete (Happy Birthday Pete) and William Shakespeare. When I was in New York in January, a friend spoke over dinner of a Moore & Co plaque with a transfer of William Shakespeare. I'd never heard of a Shakespeare transfer on any item of Sunderland pottery. I tried to visualise what the image on the plaque might look like. Most likely, I thought, like this...
But when the photos arrived, they smashed all my expectations. Shakespeare looks altogether more handsome. The transfer is nice and large, and beautifully titled. I love the way the lustre band on the bottom border curves round underneath the tunic to accommodate the image. Click on the pictures to enlarge.
So when was this plaque produced? The obvious date is 1864 for the tricentenary of Shakespeare's birth (in 1564). Taking a look at the plaque dates page, we might have expected the plaque to be slightly earlier. But note that Moore & Co produced a similar plaque in 1859 for the centenary of Robert Burns' birth (see the portraits page). So it looks as if fine plaques of this form continued to be produced right into the 1860s.
Thinking about the date of this plaque has made me question the date of another. On the dates page, I've suggested that the Garibaldi plaques below were made to commemorate his stay in Tyneside in 1854. Wikipedia writes that Garibaldi 'arrived on March 21, 1854. Garibaldi, already a popular figure on Tyneside, was welcomed enthusiastically by local workingmen, although the Newcastle Courant reported that he refused an invitation to dine with dignitaries in the city. He stayed in South Shields on Tyneside for over a month, departing at the end of April 1854. During his stay, he was presented with an inscribed sword'.
All of that seems clear enough, so what's the problem? Take a look at the pair of Staffordshire figures below (taken from Castle Antiques website). Yes, they are a proper pair, made to celebrate Garibaldi's visit to London in 1864, which coincided with the tricentenary of Shakespeare's birth.
Britain got quite carried away by the association. On April 24, 1864, David Maginnis gave a sermon in Stourbridge entitled 'Of Great Men: with special reference to Garibaldi and Shakespeare'. The sermon was subsequently published. I also found this print from the National Potrait Gallery Archive.
The bard says, 'Come I say, old fellow, don't go and snuff me out, get it over before the 23rd.'
The hero replies, 'Ah! I wonder whether my countrymen will remember me three hundred years hence!'
So do our Shakespeare and Garibaldi plaques form a pair? I'm afraid not. The Garibaldi plaques are stamped 'Dixon Co', and the Shakespeare plaque 'Moore & Co'. It's open to question whether the Dixon plaques could have been made to celebrate this later visit by Garibaldi to the UK. The Dixon (Garrison) pottery closed in 1865. If they were produced in 1864, that would have been within the pottery's dying breaths. My gut feeling is that the earlier date of 1854 is more likely.
Of course, the Shakespeare plaque is so rare, there may be an equally rare Garibaldi, by Moore & Co, out there somewhere to pair.
Stephen Smith lives in London, and is always happy to hear from other collectors. If you have an interesting collection of plaques, and are based in the UK, he will photograph them for you. Free advice given regarding selling and dispersal of a collection, or to those wishing to start one. Just get in touch...
This website is indebted to collectors, dealers and enthusiasts who have shared their knowledge or photos. In particular: Ian Holmes, Stephen Duckworth, Dick Henrywood, Norman Lowe, Keith Lovell, Donald H Ryan, Harold Crowder, Jack and Joyce Cockerill, Myrna Schkolne, Elinor Penna, Ian Sharp, Shauna Gregg at the Sunderland Museum, Keith Bell, Martyn Edgell, and Liz Denton.