Spode – 85 Years of the Christmas Tree.
‘Christmas Tree’ by Spode is probably one of the most iconic and definitely the most festive of tableware to be found and has been in continuous production since the 1930s when it was designed by Harold Holdway (later to become design director), who had apparently never seen a Christmas tree!
Spode itself is a company name that has a heavyweight history to it, founded in 1770 in Stoke on Trent by Josiah Spode (1733 – 1797) who perfected transfer printing in underglaze on fine earthenware during 1783/84 which led to the launch of the 1816 Blue Italian Range which still remains in production today.
The evocative Christmas Tree design wasn’t released until over 160 years later, in 1938. During the 30s Spode started to sell its wares in USA through the sales agent Sydney Thompson of Copeland. Thompson was busy selling Spode China to well-heeled customers who shopped on 5th Ave. Every year Thompson would travel to Stoke on Trent to work with Spode’s Art director Thomas Hassall to create new designs that would appeal to the USA market taking inspiration from their historical pattern books.
Post depression America was booming and ready for a Christmas design, Spode had many festive foliage designs but none that were quite right ….
“I eventually settled on a Christmas Tree as a central motif for my design. The Tree…. Was profusely decorated with gifts, baubles and tinsel adorning the fronts. Thompson informed him that in America Christmas gifts were placed around the base of the tree “this alteration improved the balance of the design by giving a greater weight of pattern to the base of the tree”
Factory legend has it that Harold had no idea what they put at the top of the tree which is why the Spode Christmas tree has a Father Christmas rather than an angel, fairy or star.
A 10” plate was initially produced with the wording “Wishing You a Merry Christmas 1938” printed on the back of the plate and they were swamped with orders, the festive inscription was discontinued the following year, but the design was developed into whole table service. It has been said that this dinner service design had saved the company during lean times and in the last quarter of 1999, the design was recorded as the largest selling casual dinnerware pattern in the USA.
Sadly, the fortunes of Spode changed and in 2008 the company faced extinction, luckily Spode joined the Portmeirion group and the name and iconic designs were saved.
This year marks the 85th anniversary of Christmas Tree, however I first came across the design in the 1980s when a family friend received it as a gift for her Christmas wedding, my mother, a huge fan of Christmas fell immediately in love with it and started her own collection. Growing up, we didn’t have much spare money, but there was a stockist locally and every month or so, when my mother had saved up some spare pennies she popped and purchased a plate, she slowly bought 4 plates for one Christmas then started buying additional pieces to supplement her collection. Nearly 40 years later she has enough festive crockery to dress the table for the whole family, including her son in laws and grandchildren.
My own collection of The Christmas Tree design started the year our son was born, in 2016, my mother gifted me three dinner plates, one for each of us for our own family. I have since found several discontinued items when thrifting, such as the cake platter and candle sticks.
For me, this iconic and evocative dinner service is as much a part of family Christmases as the tree and the Turkey. It can be dressed up for the big day itself with fine crystal drinking glasses and linen napkins or is equally at home with a more relaxed Christmas Eve fondue or ‘picky tea’ on Boxing Day, modern pieces are also microwave and dishwasher save, and also lead free, which means you are not only save in the knowledge that you can quickly clean up, but that this much cherished heirloom design is safe to use.
I have worked with Spode China this Christmas and they have gifted me several pieces in exchange for this blog and Instagram posts – Unpaid/Gifted Promotion.
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