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Ceramics Page 2

Great Canadian Ceramics

Great Canadian Celebrity Plates - 1886

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure


Queen Victoria, Jubilee Plate, 1886
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 28 cm
Found - Napanee, ON
The Queen of Canada: Queen Victoria was also Queen of Canada, so her Jubilee Celebration was just as eagerly awaited here, especially among the huge proportion of the population with British roots. Plates, such as those featured on this page, were imported from Britain to satisfy the hunger for celebrity souvenir ware that developed in anticipation of Victoria's fifty years on the throne.
Celebrity plates were among the first kinds of Canadian ceramic souvenir ware manufactured in the nineteenth century. And the approaching Queen's Jubilee of 1887 resulted in the first mass production of plates featuring political leaders of the time. All the black and white plates here were produced by Wallis Gimson & Co.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure British Prime Ministers: Plates of British Prime Ministers were just as popular in Canada. All the plates featured here turn up regularly at Canadian auctions, and once adorned parlour walls in Canadian homes.

Thousands of immigrants from Britain had powerful emotional ties to these men who governed their homeland. A big piece of their heart, and a little bit of the "Ould Sod," found visible emotional expression in plates such as these, on the wall.


William Ewart Gladstone, 1886
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 28 cm
Found - Napanee, ON
Octagonal, Rd 41050 (1886)

But then, unlike today, British Prime Ministers also played a crucial role in everyday Canadian affairs.

Though Canada had won "independent" status in 1867, in many areas of political life - especially in Defence and Foreign Affairs - her politicians, by law, had to defer to British expertise and guidance. In that sense the Prime Ministers of Britain were also Prime Ministers of Canada.

The two who loomed largest among Queen Victoria's Chief Ministers were William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Both were honoured with the Jubilee plates featured here.



Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone - c1890
Orig. oil, c. 1890, on canvas - Size - 19" x 24"
Found - St. Catharines, ON
This large canvas, which dominated - for decades - a Canadian parlour, testifies to the strong emotional link that British immigrants to Canada retained in their new homeland, though far from the land of their birth, and the men they respected.

William Ewart Gladstone remains the most famous British Prime Minister of the 19th century. It is remarkable that he made his reputation as a liberal, a traditional sadly abandoned by British voters of recent times, putting into office instead, conservative dullards, ruthless war-mongering women, and facile war mongering adventurers, who have successfully sabotaged the Glorious Tradition that once was Britain, when all the world looked up to her as the fountain of political freedom and individual rights. Established through the conscientious work of humanitarians like William Ewart Gladstone.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure The plate was also available in a round version with the extraneous border area left out. The design is exactly the same, with one small difference that helps date it. It still carries the same registration mark as the earlier one but this plate was made about 1893. We know this because it was amended at the bottom right to add the dates for 1893, when Gladstone was Prime Minister again.

The registration number, left, which is on many ceramic items, was a system of registering patents for plate designs which started in 1884 with the number 1. By 1900 the numbers were 351202. Tables with the numbers are published in many antique books and allows you to determine approximately when a particular plate was made - or at least registered...

The system is not foolproof because as the Gladstone plates show, both carry a registry stamp for when the design was copyrighted, that is 1886. We know the second plate was made later because of other pictorial information put on the front. You have to look for corroborative clues about age, on both sides of the plate.

The Disraeli plate below has the same registry date. The Canadian plates which follow, though they look absolutely identical, and no doubt were made at the same time, have no registry date. They have to be dated by comparing them with a similar plate run which is stamped.


Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, 1886
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 28 cm
Found - Toronto, ON
Round, Rd 41050 (1886)
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

British Prime Minister WE Gladstone, c 1880
Orig. litho - Size - 13" x 18"
Found - Woodstock, ON
Orig glass & frame

Found among the cobwebs in the rafters of an old farmhouse during an estate clearance. It was probably carried by a passionate immigrant in a steamer trunk, and considered a most precious item when you could carry only the most important things to a new land.

Gladstone made peace with the Boers after the First Anglo-Boer War in 1881, putting an end to a bloody conflict where the British were getting the worst of it from Boer farmers who used their superior knowledge of the land and guerilla tactics to defeat regular British troops.

The most deadly reverse, Majuba Hill, where General Colley and his men were defeated while holding the high ground on top, by a daring assault from below, as Boers scaled the heights while companions down below kept shooting to keep the British heads down, until it was too late, and they were overrun by Boers who were suddenly among them.

Gladstone sued for peace, that was to last till his successors started the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1899.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Prime Minster Benjamin Disraeli, 1886
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 28 cm
Found - Napanee, ON
Octagonal, Rd 41050 (1886)
Benjamin Disraeli was the Conservative Prime Minister who was the chief rival for office to William Gladstone till 1881 when Disraeli died. This then, was more of a memorial plate when issued, whereas the others celebrated the living.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

John A Macdonald, 1886
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 28 cm
Found - Napanee, ON
John A: John A Macdonald was the most notable Canadian Prime Minister during the nineteenth century. He was Canada's first, serving in office from Confederation in 1867, with interruptions here and there to do penance for the usual Ottawa corruption, till 1891, when he died, still in office.

His plate was also made in England. Early Canadian souvenir ceramic ware was all made in England, as was most fine china.

Canadian firms were mostly grinding out everyday pottery items like jugs and bottles for storing grains and liquids, and churns for making butter. With transportation still extremely primitive, containers had to be robustly made and cheap, since they broke so often from throwing them in and out of boats and wagons.

The Canadian ceramic industry was geared for the frontier. For most settlers fine china was a frivolous extravagance that would never survive the hurly-burly of life while Roughing it in the Bush. There was no call, so there was no industry. Fine china was all imported for decades, mostly from England.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

This plate, picked up as a result of a back door sale by a museum, is fabulously rare, and in marvellous shape. The only clue about age is the four men on the front. They served as Canada's Prime Ministers from 1867 to 1896, when Wilfrid Laurier took over. He is not represented so the plate was likely produced in 1895.

The plate features an unbroken line of thirty years of Anglo leaders. Wilfrid Laurier was the first French Canadian elected to the office. By many reckonings, of all the men who have served in the office since, he remains the most highly thought of.


Canadian Prime Ministers, 1895
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 26 cm
Found - Dundas, ON

Typical of the decorative motif on much Canadian ceramic ware from mid-century on, is the ratty rodent that British artists drew to supposedly represent Canada's fascination with beavers. The animals they drew look more like rats than any beaver known to man, and probably gave more than a few the ignoble impression that Canada must be a vast garbage dump to have found this animal the best available to serve as a national symbol.


The plate does carry a stamp on the back but that doesn't mean that N&C made the plate in Toronto. Plate blanks were often sent from Britain and transfers would then be added locally and perhaps fired again.

So N&C was more likely the distributor of the plate. Perhaps, knowing that Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee was just around the corner (60 years on the throne in 1897) it had this patriotic plate produced in the UK.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Edward Blake got a plate even though he was never Prime Minister of Canada, but only leader of the Liberal Party at the time.

Perhaps, the manufacturers surmised, Sir John being so old, it would only be a short time till Edward Blake succeeded him as the alternative Prime Minister from the Opposition Party.

Edward Blake was one of a long succession of Canada's rich and famous, who always felt like country bumpkins living in Canada among Canadians, and needed assurances of self worth they could only get by moving over to mix among the elites in the British Isles, including: Charles Tupper, Lord Beaverbrook, Andrew Bonar Law, Lord Thompson, Galen Weston, and laterly His Porcine Exaltedness, Lord Diddley of Squat. They only return to die, be buried, or escape creditors...


Edward Blake, 1886
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 28 cm
Found - Napanee, ON

Alas, it was not to be.

Wilfrid Laurier made such a stirring stand, on behalf of Canadian Liberals, with his defence of Louis Riel and the Indian rebels in the West in 1885, that he was made Liberal Leader in 1887. He would become the next Liberal prime minister. But not till 1897, when he was given a knighthood, not a plate.

Blake quit Canada in disgust, and served as an Irish Nationalist Member of Parliament, in the British House of Commons, from 1892-1907.

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