by George D Dean During the past twenty years many thousands of advertising pot lids have been excavated from Victorian and Edwardian refuse dumps by collector-diggers, a hobby which has brought a new interest into the lives of the participants, and which has given the world many previously unseen items to collect.
Throughout the lengthy reign of Queen Victoria and for the early part of this century, many household commodities such as toothpaste, cold cream, meat and fish paste, ointment and hair pomade, were packed and sold in white earthenware pots with lids printed with advertising. These pots and their lids were eventually consigned to the dustbin, and have since been left forgotten by most, amidst tons of refuse under the ground. A small number of black and white lids were found mildly interesting by a few people, but were never in the past been taken seriously. They have long been considered the poor relations of the multi-colored pictorial lids of Pratt & Meyer. The discovery by excavation in modern times of a fascinating range of advertising pot lids, never before seen by any living person, is a phenomenon unknown in any other field of collecting.
Underglaze transfer printing commenced at Liverpool in the 1790s although pot lids using this process appear not to have commenced until the 1830s.
The earliest record of transfer printing was on enameled ware at the York House factory at Battersea from 1753-56 under Stephen Theordore Janssen. This process involved the use of paper tissues which carried the design from engraved copper plates on to the ware. John Sadler and partner, Guy Green, were also famous overglaze transfer printers, especially for tiles, taking in much work from other potteries such as Wedgwood.
Experiments in underglaze printing began at the Worcester porcelain factory in 1759. It was found that the only successful color which could withstand the firing necessary to fix the glaze was blue. The process used in early transfer printing was known as bat-printing which involved the use of bats of gelatin impressed against the copper plates which transferred the design to the ware.
By 1800 the use of paper tissues was again popular and this meant the engraving of lines on copper plates, and not dots as with bat printing. Line engraved copper plates were used in the printing of pot lids and the paper tissues after printing were immediately laid on the biscuit (underglazed) lid. The porous nature of the biscuit absorbed the oil in the printing ink and with the coloring matter of the ink. The tissue was removed by immersion in water, leaving the printed pattern on the lid.
Printing in underglaze blue continued until the early 1830s when some success was being achieved with sepia-brown and black. The 1830s were a decade of advances in color printing including the use of underglaze green. It is from this period onwards that the first monochrome pot lids begin to appear.
During the 1840s further advances were attained in underglaze color printing by such companies at F. & R. Pratt of Fenton and T.J. & J. Mayer of the Dale Hall Pottery, Longport, both producing lids printed in blue against a colored background to achieve a more striking effect. Eventually Pratt's succeeded in evolving a method of multi-color printing which revolutionized the industry. In 1851 at the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace, both companies exhibited beautifully colored pictorial pot lids for which they both received awards. Black printed lids however did not come into use until about 1860.
The earliest pot lids were handmade with the help of tools, and all these early lids, prior to about 1860, have flat tops. During the 1860s more mechanized methods of manufacturing pots and lids were introduced, and they were molded, usually in plaster moulds. From this time onwards, lids were to be found with domed tops.
The use of lids with paper labels prevailed until around mid-century by which time there was a gradual acceptance of the fact that the more permanent effect of a printed advertisement, protected underneath the glaze, was worthy of the additional expense.
Paper labels on lids were easily defaced or destroyed by the time toothpaste or cream was consumed and the underglaze printing could survive any kind of treatment and could even be reused.
Some pot lids were found with one or more gold bands added over the glaze and are found mainly from 1880-1910. These are normally on dome-shaped lids.
Pot lids for bear's grease, although not always the most attractive of lids, are certainly considered the most desirable by many collectors. Bear's grease was popular in England from the seventeenth century and claims for its efficacy in promoting a healthy growth of hair were widely believed. It is doubtful that there was any truth in these claims, but it is absolutely certain that bears have never appeared to suffer from baldness. Bear's grease was in fact merely an early form of perfumed hair grease.
The fashion of wig-wearing, imported from France, was widespread in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but after the French Revolution made the wearing of powdered wigs unpopular, men grew their natural hair long and bunched at the back. It was often powdered by the gentlemen of the day - with blue powder from about 1770 and later with red powder. When a tax was imposed on this powder in 1845, there was an outcry against this, and from that date onwards the use of bear's grease and other pomade became popular. Throughout the period of its popularity, the high price of bear's grease must have restricted its use to the more affluent members of society.
Many thousands of bears were killed in the production of hair grease. It was usually the brown Russian bears which were used although the Canadian black bear was used and occasionally polar bears. It is also known that reindeer and buffalo grease were used and one lid displays a lion's picture.
All pomades or pomatums were of animal extraction. These were used by men for their hair and whiskers; others were for ladies. A pomade is a scented ointment, originally used on the face, but by the eighteenth century was more often used on the skin of the head and on the hair.
Whilst bear's grease was becoming unpopular by the 1880s, pomades continued to be used up to about 1900 or slightly after. These preparations eventually were sold in liquid form in bottles for which all Russian bears must be forever grateful.
Toothpaste was by far the most popular commodity sold in pots with printed labels. Interest in keeping the teeth clean was only aroused in the seventeenth century and escalated during the eighteenth. At this time, dentifrice was sold as a powder. In Georgian times, the poor rubbed salt on their t teeth, but many people made up their own recipes and rubbed the powder on their teeth with a tooth stick with a rag over the end - an early forerunner of the toothbrush which became popular when the more solid toothpaste or tooth soap came into general use in the early nineteenth century.
Toothpaste was sold in pots until the commencement of the 1914 war. Practically every small chemist made his own paste and had his own personalized printed lids.The two most popular types of toothpaste lids are for areca nut and cherry tooth paste. Oddly both were made to the same formula, i.e. with areca nut flavoring, but the cherry tooth paste was cherry colored by the addition of carmine. Nothing was added to give a cherry flavor, the description "cherry" being applied merely due to the color the paste.
The addition of Indian areca or betel nut and of the cherry coloring suggested attractive pictorial adornment for the lids. Areca nuts were normally used as a worming agent and no doubt few realized they were being mildly wormed when they cleaned their teeth.
By 1915 most manufacturers had changed over to metallic tubes. It is perhaps ironic that many small chemists, unknown outside of their own town when alive, are now well known to thousands of pot lid collectors simply because they had the taste to choose an attractive design for their toothpaste lids.
With the exception of toothpaste, the lids of cold cream pots were the most numerous and there are many attractive lids, often embellished with floral borders or with bouquets of flowers.
Like toothpaste, cold cream continued to be sold in printed pots up to the commencement of the 1914 war, when, as with most pot lids, they were discontinued, giving way to more economical forms of packaging such as tine or waxed cardboard boxes.
Victorian ointment were responsible for the existence of historically interesting pot lids. This was the era of the so-called elixir or cure-all whose advertisers recognized no boundaries. People of the day would grasp as any means of combating diseases such as typhoid, ditherier, etc.
One of the most notable ointment vendors was "Professor" Thomas Holloway who was equally famous for his pills. As ointments were supposed to have some medicinal powers, they were subjected to a government-imposed duty of 1/½d. on the 1/- pots and pro rata for the larger sizes. A surprising number of Australian lids are for medicinal ointment, a fact possibly due to the lack of doctors in the outback.
From the study of pot lids in this category the tastes of our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors can be observed. The most noticeable factor is their predilection for bloater and anchovy pastes. Edible paste pot lids are mainly from the latter part of the pot lid period, most from 1890-1910.
Lip salve was sold in very small pots in the 1870s and '80s. Artistically lip salve lids generally lack eye appeal as being so small they present little space for anything save the commodity name and sometimes the name and town of the chemist.
Shaving cream was another commodity sold in pots. The shaving creak as used in pots was of a creamy texture, similar to the modern product, but the more solid sticks had practically replaced the pots by about 1920.
For the first thirty years of the use of printed pot lids, most were round in shape. From the late 1870s, but mainly in the '80s, rectangular lids became popular. Also tried were oval-shaped pots and lids, but because these were difficult to pack and store did not become popular.
An Australian branded pot lid is simply one which has printed on it the name of an Australian town, chemist or company. Only a few of the thousands of pharmacies in Australia in the late 1800s. packaged their products in personally branded pots. It was often more economical for a pharmacist to buy in branded pots from an English pharmaceutical company, complete with contents.
Most Australian branded pot lids were actually made in England, the consignment then shipped to the Australian chemist who would place in the contents, either to his own formula, or the product of some large Australian manufacturer. The blue and brown Trouchets Corn Cure lids are strongly rumored to have been manufactured in Adelaide.
The clay mixture was shaped in a mould, usually made of plaster, and when in the unglazed or bisque stage, the transfer would be applied to the surface of the lid.
The method of applying this transfer varied considerably. Usually for the colored lid, a copper plate was first engraved with the design, and ink applied to it with a piece of leather. The strips of special paper were pressed onto the copper to obtain a reverse design on the paper. These paper prints were then applied to the pot surface, leaving the ink pattern on the pot when the paper was peeled off.
The pots were then placed into the kiln for hardening after which a glaze was applied and the pots fired. This second firing was known as gloss during which the glaze fused with the ink onto the ware making the porous body waterproof.
In every town in Australia lies a site used during last century for the disposal of household refuse. The better dumps to try looking for lids are the ones in use from 1880-1910. As pharmaceutical lines of large companies were hawked throughout the country, Australian pot lids could turn up in all parts of the country.
Pot lids found in old rubbish tips are often disfigured with dirt and grime, rust, or burn and soot marks. Removal of these can sometimes be difficult. These impairments on the surface of a pot lid will detract from its value. Lids which are in perfect condition on the top surface but suffer from damage on the lower rim are still very collectable.