Pair of Vases with Parcel Gilt Insects
England, John Mortlock circa 1875
Porcelain with gold leaf
The firm of Mortlock began business in 1746 by John Mortlock I. It remained a family concern with subsequent generations of Mortlocks (all named John or William). Eventually the family partnership dissolved and split into independent firms. The Oxford street operation remained in business until the 1930s.
Charles Dickens’s son, Charles Jr., mentions Mortlock J. & Co. at 204 Oxford Street in his “Dickens’s Dictionary of London, “1879. They were considered the most important china retailer in London in the 19th century. They exercised enormous power and influence over the manufacturers, particularly Coalport-porcelain manufacturer in Shropshire, England which was the center of porcelain and pottery production between 1795 and 1926-insisting the products Mortlocks sold should bear the Mortlocks mark rather than that of the original maker. By 1800 the Mortlocks claimed that the porcelain they produced was “superior to any porcelane [sic] ever manufactured in this kingdom, particularly for its durability and elegance of finishing”.
Mortlocks employed independent decorators to finish its wares and often with rather overdone results with moldings, beading, animal and insect motifs and acanthus leaves jostling promiscuously for attention and their customers loved it.
Mortlock products were of outstanding quality and very expensive. A single plate might sell for 6 months wages of an average laborer’s salary.
In October 1820 two former Mortlocks employees were arrested for a series of thefts from the Mortlocks home in St. George’s Hanover Square 80 pounds sterling worth of china-and a pair of boots- had been stolen and fenced over a two-year period. Following their trial at the Old Bailey the villains were punished. They were sentenced to death.
Mortlocks had several commissions by the royal residences from Queen Victoria, the Duke of York and Queen Alexandra for custom service sets. In 1879 the firm enjoyed a visit from the Crown Princess of Germany.