I expect many of you will have purchased a souvenir of your holiday destination, as many of the traders try to entice you with their own particular item. They will be trying to sell us various souvenirs by which to enrich the memories of our holidays, including postcards, china, T-shirts and mugs. The thought of this made me look back historically to what was previously was available for the holidaymaker.
The Times in 1910 stated that the ‘collectors instinct seems to be a curious by-product of the human mind’.
An interesting comment of more than 100 years ago, but what did people actually collect? It was during the Victorian and Edwardian times between the 1890s to 1930 that seaside visitors would generally return home with a keepsake of their holiday – typically in the form of a piece of crested-china.
Historically, this has been classed as the most popular seaside souvenir ever produced, unless you know different! In the late 1800s, this form of trade was known either as a ‘trifle from’ or seaside ware.
There was one famous name that always seems to encapsulate this type of china – that of William Henry Goss, who, with his sons, led this field. It was in the 1880s that Adolphus Goss, who was a traveller for the company of WH Goss, stumbled on the idea of placing town crests on to pieces of china. His father, William Henry, had already developed fine ivory porcelain pots and shapes and, therefore, to combine the two would produce an ideal souvenir.
Before the First World War it was common to arrive at any home and find a cabinet full of these small pieces of china. The mantelpiece or sideboard was also covered in these knick-knacks to bring back fond memories of holiday visits, either to the seaside or any place other than your own hometown.
Travel, of course, was not widespread so the holiday could have even been to the next town or village, so a memento was important of any journey away from home.
The idea of these small pieces of china soon increased so that various shapes were developed like eggcups, shoes and animals. Originally, towns would have a shape that was specific to them. For Bognor, this was to be the lobster pot. However, this ‘one town, one shape,’ limited the number of sales.
The traders began to request a variety of shapes, with their own crests. The idea being to bring the visitor back time and time again and, eventually, a variety of shapes became available in shops.
Hence, we can have lighthouses from resorts where none exist, or bathing machines in the centre of the country. It was the shape and crest that were then important. Other companies soon became involved in this trade, many of which were in Europe. However, the standard of items they produced was not of the high standard of William Goss.
The number and range of items on sale was boundless, and is now the subject of many books, research projects and local historian talks. Each piece of china that is found is lovingly looked at but also when a piece of china is turned over you may find that it was actually made – locally.
Here, in Bognor Regis, it is possible to find a number of pieces made showing either ‘Piper,’ ‘S Piper Bognor’ or ‘T Piper Bognor’.
The Piper family had a couple of shops in the Arcade and the High Street where they would display windows full of all manner of pieces of china – plates, cups and saucers. In 1929, there were a number of cups and places that were produced for S Piper complete with pictures of Craigweil House. This was the year that King George V came here to recuperate. Definitely a case of cashing in on an event – even in 1929.
As trade increased, so production methods improved, allowing companies to produce more elaborate items for the season. Styles became more definitive, such as the Torquay Pottery, which produced items in its own distinctive red clay. Designs varied but each piece would clearly indicate from which town it had been purchased. This company also produced more useful items, so that it was possible to buy the likes of teapots and jugs for use when the visitor returned home.
Other styles include the famous ribbon plates, which were manufactured from the 1880s but continued to be popular for many years. These were produced with a pierced border through which ribbons were threaded. Other useful items such as bread plates were made and inscribed not only with a place name, but also very often with a religious text.
Just recently, a woman phoned me to ask if there had been a pottery in Bognor, as she had a small item which had the word Bognor on the base. The answer was yes and Mr Masters, who resided in Lyon Street, produced it.
His china was quite distinctive in style – many pieces are brown, with green leaves and hops. He had started work in Rye in East Sussex and when he came to Bognor he started work by producing these items, the green depicting hops, a memory for him of his time in Kent, the hop growing area. He died at the age of 83 in 1962.
This is a very wide and deep subject, and I know that I have only scratched the surface here, but today there are so many collectors that it would be impossible to cover the subject comprehensively. Needless to say, when you are on your travels, have a look in antique shops, junk shops and car boot sales for these little gems. Remember also that there may be items with older members of the family.
Today, collecting can be a rewarding experience, although it can also be expensive. Above all, it is enjoyable. Try and collect types, crests, manufacturers, or whatever while learning of its derivation. I hope you can enjoy these ‘little pieces of china in strange shapes’ as I do.