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Books: Hilary Young, English porcelain, 1745-95

Identifying the common circumstances behind the 18th-century ceramics industry

Despite the flamboyant 1760s coffee pot on the front cover, the hero of this book is no particular pot or manufacturer, but the industry itself. Hilary Young has exhaustively sifted the available documentary and material evidence to offer new perspectives on the rise and decline of English porcelain manufacture. Rather than identifying differences between factories and styles, he exhumes the common circumstances behind the whole industry: factory organisation, the movement of ideas, techniques and even individual craftsmen, between manufacturers; the management of the design process; how products were distributed and marketed, and, finally, the role porcelain played in eighteenth-century English society. For these reasons the book’s first appeal is to social and economic historians rather than to connoisseurs. But there is plenty too to interest the enthusiastic amateur, especially a chapter detailing how fiercely guarded designs and techniques were stolen and copied. The new photographs by Dominic Naish of pieces from the V&A’s own collection, are quite beautiful and encourage a visit.

Hilary Young, English porcelain, 1745-95: its makers, design, marketing and consumption (V&A Publications, London, 1999), 240 pp, 58 b/w ills, 46 col. ills, £50 (hb) ISBN 1851772820

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 104 June 2000