Belleek Masonic China
Belleek Masonic Tableware by V.W. Bro. Jim Wilson
The following article was printed in the Impartial Reporter in 20th June 1867;
"Masonic Plate Pattern - Brother R.W, Armstrong, Belleek Pottery, has made a handsome design for Masonic plate service, illustrating the Masonic lectures of the three degrees; and has presented Ederney Lodge 819 with a set. The designs are ingenious and artistic and the whole work is of great merit. Mr Armstrong has taken the wise precaution to protect his work by registration."
Ederney 819 Dinner Plate
This dinner set is still in the possession of Lodge 819 and in addition to the symbols, each plate has "EDERNEY 819" printed on it.
Various examples of Masonic table craft are to be found in various locations. For example a tureen is displayed in a showcase in Grand Lodge Hall in Dublin. This piece is also decorated with craft symbols, including those of the higher degrees, part of a service for District Grand Lodge of Cambridgeshire. Magherafelt Lodge 211 also possess a dinner service with the lodge number printed on the plate.
Tureen in Grand Lodge Hall
Stewartstown Lodge No 479, Co Tyrone has a Masonic plate on display. W. Bro. Rodger Paynton, Leicester, England sent me a photograph of a Masonic cup and saucer which he bought at an antique fair around 1995.
Masonic cup and saucer
Also in the Freemason's hall in Leicester there is a dinner plate which has the same indentation and stamp as the Ederney plate. A lodge in Co. Down also owned a full dinner tableware; this was sold sometime ago for fund raising. From my research the Masonic tableware was designed and manufactured 1878.
The mark or illustration on the underside of the plate gives the following information - (see drawing)
Regarding the parcel number, I checked with the Manager of Belleek Pottery, who informed me that the above mark would have been recorded in the order books. From the parcel number, more information could be obtained. Unfortunately the order books around this period were lost in an accidental fire. However the original template (transfer) of the Masonic plate is still on public display in the reception area of the pottery.
The impressed harp and crown was pressed into the work piece before glazing and it is used to designate the composition of earthenware and is not a separate trademark. This was to prevent piracy and that a particular design had been registered with the London patent office.
Extract taken from the history of Magherafelt ML 211, compiled by Wor. Bro. Jim Getty (pages 35 & 36).
Two entries in the diary of Robert Armstrong, an architect and art director of Belleek Pottery during the l860's, states. 11 August 1864 "This mixture I ordered to have the Harp impressed on each article." 30 May 1868 "Some 10". plates out of glost oven this day in every way most complete & elegant. The glaze on these plates was perfect indeed in every particular, the body excellent - so have a crown over harp body hence be our 'Crown Harp' .". This proves that the Lodge plates could not have been manufactured before 1868.
The second mark is made up of the Irish Wolfhound with the head turned to face one of Ire1and's distinctive round towers. The model for which is believed to have been Devenish Round Tower on the Lower Lough Erne's Devenish Island. The Irish harp and two sprigs of Shamrock which border the ends of a banner at the base of the design which carries the single word BELLEEK in capital letters.
This is the first of three black marks and was used between 1863 and 1890 but these dates can not be substantiated because of the absent of written records.
In the early days, the process of affixing the trademark to each Belleek piece was far more complicated than it is today. Then a painters' knife was used to spread the "paint" or ink substance over a copper plate on which 24 trademarks had been engraved. Next, the excess material was scraped off and tissue paper was placed over the copper plate, which, then was passed between two iron rollers. The rollers were covered with flannel and were positioned to practically touch each other, Thus, the trademarks were offset onto the tissue paper. Individual marks were cut from this paper and were placed on the article.
From this second mark we can deduce that the plates were made between 1868 ,the date of the impressed mark, and 1890, the end of the second mark.
The third mark is much more informative. It is known as a "registration number". Numbers prefixed with "Rd" or "Rd No" are found on many wares made from January 1884 onwards, of which a full list maybe found in G A Godden's Encyclopaedia of Marks, pages 527-8.
A diamond shaped mark, printed or impressed, is often seen on wares first made between 1842 and 1883, indicating that to prevent piracy a particular design of article had been registered with the London Patent Office. It will of course be clear that the information thus given in the marks will only indicate the earliest possible date of manufacture, since the design so registered could have been continued in succeeding years.
The numbers on the TWO ELEVEN plates have minor variations but the meaning is the same.
The "IV" code in the circle on the top of the diamond is a class mark and indicates porcelain & pottery.
The number at the top of the diamond, 13, indicates the day of the month.
The letter at the bottom of the diamond, H, indicates the month. In this case, April.
The letter to the right of the diamond, D, indicates the year and in this case is 1878.
The final number on the left is the parcel number which reveals the time of day and l would guess that 9 would indicate late afternoon.
One additional number near the diamond, 627, is the registration number in G A Godden's Encyclopaedia.
To sum up, the black mark indicates a time span of 28 years between 1863 to 1891. The harp and crown impressed reduces the period to between 1863 and 1880, a period of 17 years but the diamond mark would suggest that the plate was made on the afternoon of 13th Apri1 1878.
Original Template for Lodge 819 Tableware
At Lodge 819 200th Anniversary Dinner in 1995 it was suggested that the Masonic dinner plates be used for the brethren and quests at the top table. The hotel staff was not very keen on this suggestion, as the modern system of heating the plates may damage them.
We would take this opportunity to thank VW Bro Jim Wilson and Wor Bro Arthur McKinney of Irvinestown Masonic Lodge No 277 for use of this article and would recommend that you visit the dedicated lodge website at http://www.irvinestown277.co.uk/