William Cookworthy

(1705—1780) porcelain manufacturer and Quaker minister

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(b Kingsbridge, Devon, 12 April 1705; d Plymouth, 17 Oct 1780). English chemist and ceramic manufacturer. His interest in china manufacture led him to experiment with kaolin (china clay) in Cornwall in the 1740s, although it was not until c. 1768 that he was able to take out a patent to protect his formula and to begin the manufacture of a fine, true porcelain at the Plymouth Porcelain Factory, which he established in the same year. The factory was transferred to Bristol in 1770; his principal partner in the new venture was Richard Champion, who had also been at Plymouth. The white, true porcelain was closer to Chinese and German hard-paste porcelain than to any existing English porcelain, although it proved difficult to fire, and examples frequently exhibit imperfections and considerable ‘smoking’ of the glaze. Cookworthy's Plymouth porcelain was much influenced by the designs on Chinese wares, although after the move to Bristol it was Meissen porcelain from Germany that became the most important source of inspiration. Cookworthy's manufacture of figures, however, owed more to pieces from the Staffordshire potteries than the more sophisticated Meissen products. Plymouth wares occasionally bear the mark of the alchemists sign for tin. Cookworthy retired in 1774 and transferred his patent to Champion, who, after modest success, failed to compete with such Staffordshire manufacturers as Josiah Wedgwood; the factory was forced to close by 1780.

From The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Decorative Arts, Furniture, and Industrial Design.

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