Tiles Were Designed by Dr. Christopher Dresser, but not what many believe.

See also

Tiles designed by Dr. Christopher Dresser?

Some sightings of 'Dresser tiles'

Tiles and Dr. Dresser's Principles of Decorative Design



Dr. Christopher Dresser did create a few tile designs for Minton & Co., records have been discovered in the Minton archive. It is with great thanks to Harry Lyons that I am able to bring this to the attention of visitors to this website, thanks for taking the time, trouble and associated expenses in doing proper research. There are hordes of armchair researchers believing they have discovered something via Google and then distorting it to suit their preconceptions but most real research is done with physical objects, records and wares. It can be frustrating spending hours and days searching archives in museums and libraries always hopeful but often coming up empty, thankfully from time to time gems of data are discovered, answers to questions, links etc. that make the effort worthwhile.

There are two groups of designs by Dresser recorded in the Minton Archives that include tiles, a group of 22 by Doctor Dresser and a line entry for two designs by C Dresser. Amidst the group of 22 coloured drawings nos. G83 to G104 there is "92, Design for a 9 in tile Butterflies at the corners", "101, 9 in tile, Buff and Black" and "102, 9 in tile Buff Black + Blue Green". On a page entitled Gothic Ornaments there are "2, Water Colour Drawings, Plant forms for tiles, S36 to S37".

Image credit: Harry Lyons
Image credit: Harry Lyons
Following on from G92 in the list of 22 are G93 and G94 (of course!) both are interesting because they commence with the abbreviation for ditto. G93 is 'Do. for a tea cup and saucer conventional flowers and leaves' and G94 is 'Do. Breakfast cup and saucer, 4 varieties'. The use of Do. (ditto) suggests that the tile and cups and saucers are matching for ditto is not often seen in the pattern book.

G103 is "small flat circular vase with bird", I wonder if this may be the famous Dresser crane and Kanagawa wave 'flowerpot' design.

The pattern numbers give clues to the manufacturing including dates, materials and purpose. The G series pattern numbers according to Joan Jones are, "richly decorated china tableware", the numbers in question date from 1868. The unique characteristic of china is that it is translucent so china tiles would not be made for fixing to walls but to match tableware perhaps integrated in to pot stands, jardinieres, lamps and so on.

S prefix pattern numbers are for Minton's studio, of those listed on the sheet, S1 to S45, only S27 appears on the list in Joan Jones, maybe this document eluded Joan Jones when she compiled the list. These pattern numbers will be from 1871, it should be noted that according to the records in Jones no tiles were produced in the studio's first two years, but many plaques.

S27 on Jones' list is 'Pilgrim flask, large, bird,/branch on orange ground' so maybe the branch is from Dresser's drawing. I do find the record keeper's construct 'plant forms for tiles' interesting for I have never seen it before, plant forms are generally plant forms for use wherever and rarely carry suggestions of uses. Tiles are usually patterns for walls and patterns are similar to wallpaper, anaglypta, lincrusta and so on, patterns on wallpaper are often the same as fabrics for curtains etc. and so it goes. Suggestion for use is limited to borders (of course), specific shapes such as book cover showing both front and spine, lock plate, spandrel etc.. Very few tiles were used in fireplaces prior to 1877 and then mostly in grander homes, the familiar cast iron fireplaces with tiled cheeks are almost all post 1880.

Maybe the design was square and the record keeper though it clearer to describe as tile but it would be atypical for an artist to limit the use of a plant form by suggesting a use. Below are plant forms, square and round, one could say tile and plate but then a wood carver might not use the square and a potter not use the round on a pilgrim flask.

From Studies in Plant Form and Design

Mintons did not make 9" architectural tiles I have however seen one group of nine inch tiles from Minton's Kensington Studio, a set of four seasons in blue and white on handmade bodies, a good bright white clay perhaps semi-porcelain, the studio may even have described them as plaques.

So we have brief descriptions of three tiles and note of an unknown numbers of plant forms contained in two drawings, none of these can be attached to known designs. The role of the record keeper was to give each design an identifying number, the brief description was to assist the painter, engraver etc. when looking for the design, the brief descriptions do little help to us and were not intended to.

G92 at least is descriptive in that the motifs and their positions are stated, G101 and G102 convey zero information about the designs solely about colours and dimensions. Dresser often remarked on colours and dimensions but pure design should work in many colourways and in many scales according to the environment. Given that the scale is known the designs being china and therefore for tablewares the specification of dimensions is understandable, they would be large the diagonal at more than twelve inches being larger than the diameter of a dinner plate. The specification of the colours I find less understandable from a design viewpoint but there are many designs which are difficult to describe in half a dozen words so the record keeper likely simply wrote what was obvious.

Buff and black china, well that's a pretty bold statement, could be rather difficult to find a market for it. Possibly tiles for a jardiniere echoing encaustic tiles in gothic style but still it seems the market for such on the dining table is insignificant. Similar can be said for the 'Buff Black + Blue Green' whilst we know not what the shades of blue and green were I would suggest rather formal if to coordinate with black and buff. I think it is highly likely these designs were never put in to production in their original specification though of course designs were regularly modified to suit production constraints and popular taste so some variants may have appeared. We also well know that designs for tableware were used on tiles especially by established potters notably Mintons and Wedgwood.

Turning to S36 and S37, gothic plant forms originating in 1871. Firstly we do not know how many designs there were, it is usual for there to be multiple designs per sheet, perhaps a dozen or even more. Secondly it is difficult to believe that there were any unique gothic plant form designs in 1871 the style having existed for six hundred years and having many revivals and resurgences along the way and the motifs having simple form. There were also dozens of volumes filled with plant form designs for source material for artists, students and designers including one appositely titled Plant Form and Design. Any artist or designer worth their salt published such books, Dresser, Crane, Day and so on not that the books made much if any money but it was en essential part of establishing a brand, the name in print made designs more valuable.

I would love to see these designs, maybe a Minton's china specialist recognises the china tiles from the colours and dimensions, I don't hold out much hope of seeing the plant forms because without the original artwork speculation is worse than useless.

And we still are without evidence for wall tiles, earthenware tiles or architectural tiles in the wider sense being designed by Christopher Dresser. The underlying argument remains sound, such was the province of architects and Dresser was not an architect.


21 July 2021


Tiles For Sale
Order Information



Copyright 2000 - 2021, All rights reserved