As celebrations abound for the most famous of all seamen, another great British admiral was being remembered in spectacular fashion at the Nottingham auction rooms of Mellors & Kirk on June 16. The subject of a fierce engagement between collectors was the so-called Rodney Jug.
Its whereabouts in the 20th century had hitherto been a
mystery but this historic Derby jug is discussed at length in John
Haslem's .The Old Derby China Factory published in 1876.
It takes its name from the finely enamelled mask and the gilt
inscription April the 12th 1782, the date Admiral, George Brydges,
1st Baron Rodney (1719-1792) famously routed the superior
Franco-Spanish fleet off Dominica.
It is also brilliantly painted with large groups of densely packed
flowers by Edward Withers who worked first at the Chelsea factory
before moving to Derby when William Duesbury took it over in 1770.
The celebrated flower painter left at least once - during his
absence he worked in London, Staffordshire and for a japanner in
Birmingham - but returned to porcelain and died in Derby.
The jug was a special commission. It was made for the use of the
Loyal Club, a Derby friendly society founded in 1777 whose members
included Withers and other painters at the Derby factory as well as
jewellers and related tradesmen.
For almost a century the club met monthly at several Derby inns
where the jug was used for serving ale. Haslem observes, apparently
without irony, that the jug's survival "speaks favourably of the
general sobriety of the members", that when not in use it was hung
from a nail in the wall and "to this may be ascribed a little
scratching of the glaze…" Some rubbing to the gilding and some
light scratching to the flower painting remain its only
Haslem continues "On each removal of the club to fresh quarters,
the safety of the "old Rodney" as the jug was affectionately
called, was a prime consideration with the members, and it was
generally entrusted to the care of Mundy Simpson, one of the
painters, to whom it would almost have been death, without the
benefit of clergy, had the precious relic come to grief…"
The Loyal Club was dissolved in 1862 or '63 when its prize
possession was bought for £2 by a former member, one Mr Ward - the
name on a handwritten label still affixed to the base. As that
label suggests, it was exhibited at the Midland Counties Fine Arts
and Industrial Exhibition of 1870 and can be seen in a period
photograph pasted into Alfred Wallis' own copy of his slim work The
Pottery and Porcelain of Derbyshire, that survives in the
Derbyshire Record Office, Matlock.
The basic form, derived from a Meissen model, was made in three
sizes - at 10in (25cm) this is the largest - but only a very small
number are decorated as 1782 commemoratives. Despite, or perhaps
because of, their rarity, some confusion has arisen as to which jug
was the 'original', an issue exacerbated by the long disappearance
of the present jug.
At a London sale held by Mr Phillips in 1871, Haslem himself
corrected the auctioneer, pointing out that the example about to be
sold was not the one "used until lately by a club of Derby china
Nor was the border decoration to the Rodney jug sold by Neale
& Son of Nottingham in 1909 as part of the Bemrose Collection
quite the same as that which appears in the photograph of 1870. It
did, however, make the highest price in the sale, selling for
£117.12.0 to Albert Amor - an interesting comparison with a Chelsea
Red Anchor life-sized boar's head tureen, sold for £105. In the
same sale, a slightly smaller Rodney jug sold for £63 and is now in
the Schreiber Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The last published whereabouts of the Loyal Club jug was in the
19th century when it was owned by a Mr Ratcliffe of Walton Hall
near Burton on Trent, so its re-emergence after a century in
obscurity represented a major ceramic rediscovery. Nigel Kirk said
it had been with his vendor for some years.
Such a well-documented piece of local history made this an obvious
target for Derby Museum (represented at the sale by London dealer
Liane Richards of Mercury Antiques) but, after an initial flurry of
bids way above the self-consciously modest £2000-3000 estimate,
competition settled down to two combatants in the room, the agent
of a porcelain collector and a collector for whom the historical
and naval significance was as important as its William Duesbury
& Co. mark. It sold to the latter at £36,000 (plus 15 per cent
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