The Dresser Delusion

See also

Tiles designed by Dr. Christopher Dresser?

Some sightings of 'Dresser tiles'

Tiles and Dr. Dresser's Principles of Decorative Design

Tiles Were Designed by Dr. Christopher Dresser



I was contacted by an eBay user about the tile illustrated and described:


TH1375 Extremely Rare 8" Pugin Gothic Tile Minton & Co c1860

• Style/technique: Gothic print
• Manufacturer: Minton & Co
• Dimensions: 8" x 8"
• Date: circa 1860

An incredibly rare tile, few were made, very few have survived, you may never see another. A bright gothic design and given the date and style inevitably by A W N Pugin, resplendent in rich and fabulous colours, all enamel decorated block printed and hand tinted overglaze for no underglaze technology could achieve such results at the time and for perhaps a century more. From the earliest days of industrial wall tile manufacture and by the innovator Michael Hollins whilst manager of Minton & Co's tile division.

Whilst we are used to seeing Prosser's Patent embossed on early six inch Minton & Co tiles it doesn't appear on eight inch because the patent didn't cover them I take it due to an oversight or error in the drafting of the patent. The patent mark indicates 1855 or earlier, lack of it 1855 or later but just on six inch tiles. This could be very early, 1850s and not after 1868 when Hollins new tileworks opened and from thenceforth most all white clay tiles bear the legend 'Patent Tile Works'.

The message essentially said as he couldn't find anything similar by Pugin in any reference books is it not more likely that it is by Dresser who was already designing ceramics at this date.

He followed up with a second message: The description dates circa 1860 hence my question. Rudoe, 'Christopher Dresser's Design Revolution' references a signed Dresser design and another similar 'by the same hand' used for tile decoration. See also Christopher Dresser 'Studies in Design'1876, plate XX111, top and bottom right for designs produced by Mintons.

I replied in I believe a comprehensive manner although not completely free of error.

Circa means approximate, circa 1860 is a genuine effort to give an approximate date for the tile, read the text where I say 1850s to 1868. Designs can clearly be older than the items that they adorn indeed Minton & Co started tile making in an effort to reproduce medieval encaustic tiles.

Mintons copied from Studies in Design, that is well known, read the accompanying comment by Dresser himself. Mintons copied from books including from Pugin's book Floriated Ornament after his death, works from Harry Fenn appear on Mintons tiles. Copyright lasted for three years back then, why would Mintons pay a designer when they could simply copy?

I don't have Rudoe, but the quote you give is clearly ambiguous and does not say "tile designed by Dresser". There are lots of errors in books, there is lots of misleading text in books which it is not possible to say whether the intent is to deceive or the author struggled to achieve clarity but certainly one's comprehension skills can be tested in try to get to what they really know.

I recommend that you read the pages discussing such matters on our web site, too much to go in to here. If you have an comment or have real evidence of Dresser's designing of tiles I'd be very interested to see it. Repeating comments from authors who don't know much about tiles and dealers trying to achieve best prices doesn't add to the knowledge base.


More than six years later I had this tile listed on eBay


TH2496 Mintons 8x8 Tile Verified by Dr. Christopher Dresser (unlike most others) c.1895


Style: Greek
• Technique: Multicolour block print
Designer: Christopher Dresser
• Maker: Mintons
Dimensions: 8" x 8"
Date: circa 1895


A super bold design and in most excellent bright colours, rarely seen in this colourway, rarely seen at all and then most often in browns. Made by Mintons after a design from Studies in Design by Christopher Dresser. Well printed and most brilliantly glazed, in fine condition with corners lightly trimmed for the original installation and just a few very tiny losses to the rim, surface is very near perfect.

The British Museum has a group of four in their collection with pattern number 2417 indicating an introduction date of 1890, in the brown colourway it has pattern number 1472 indicating an introduction date of 1875, it was not uncommon for Mintons to introduce new colourways many years after the first.

It is important to understand that according to the records there are no, none, zero, tiles designed by Christopher Dresser. Many claim such indeed the claims are found in several books which have attracted the attentions of museums who repeat the claim yet without any supporting evidence. I have even have a book dealing with art nouveau tiles which illustrates yet another so-called Mintons tile by Dresser which, as often is the case, is in fact by Pugin.

Very few Dresser designs on tiles are known although many are attributed even stated as "by Dresser" including in the standard literature most of which has been been written by pottery dealers ill-informed about tiles. This is an important distinction for tiles, especially of the times, are architectural whereas pottery is personal, viewed close-up and held in the hand. There are zero designs for tile by Dresser found in the records despite the wishes of many, there is an extensive examination of the subject on the Tile Heaven website. Many so called Dresser tiles are advertised indeed I have attended several sales with multiple lots of tiles stated to be by Dresser despite the auctioneers being aware of the paucity of evidence for such. The wishes of dealers and other marketeers extends to criticism of those who have conducted diligent research despite the opinion being based upon wish and hearsay citing an unnamed 'Dresser expert' who has published an unspecified work on the subject (what specific subject , be it pottery, wall coverings, silverware, ironwork etc., is also unstated). One of the main points of the Tile Heaven essay is that numerous so-called experts have published opinions that lack credibility and as anyone with good knowledge of any particular subject can attest to there are errors in the relevant literature.

And so it continues in similar vein for a few more paragraphs.

The Dresser Delusionist is confused and writes again, he can't understand if it is by Dresser or not for the price and description suggest it is by Dresser but also I say he didn't design tiles.

Obviously his comprehension skills are lacking and he can't distinguish between 'tiles designed by Dresser' and 'designs by Dresser applied to tiles'.but it was quite an epic rant so I try to simplify for him.

There is no record of Dresser designing any tiles.

Some designs by Dresser were used on and adapted for tiles.

This design appears in a book written by Christopher Dresser therefore is by him.

I agree it is confusing but that is because of all of the false claims that Dresser designed tiles. There is no record of Dresser designing any tiles in factory records or references to tiles in texts written by Dresser himself.

This design is definitely by Dresser for it appears in his book Studies in Design and is therefore by his hand. Therein it is described as "Greek ornaments, suitable for dados; but they require enlarging considerably".

Mintons copied the design from the book, they were prolific copiers of designs from reference books, art books and other objects. In the 19th century the company was well known for copying.

"The predilection of the Staffordshire man for copying &emdash; for the reproduction of other men's ideas, rather than the proper cultivation of his own creative faculty &emdash; has been referred to on more than one occasion in this work. Mintons have, perhaps, sinned in this respect more than most, and with less justification, from the opportunities they undoubtedly possessed of obtaining the best available talent." - Staffordshire Pots & Potters by G. Woolliscroft Rhead and R. E. Frederick Rhead, both worked at Mintons and at/for many other companies.

There is an essay on the Tile Heaven website digging in to the Dresser tile mystery if you are interested.

The Dresser Delusionist replies with the old canard 'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' and states that Dresser said in 1871 '.. there is not one branch of art manufacture that I do not regularly design patterns for…'. obviously without understanding the difference between art and architecture. He goes on to say Dresser worked for many companies and very few of his designs are signed.

I respond:

There is an absence of truth in many records of Minton tile manufacture especially in Joan Jones even in Jewitt. Jones actually says a Dresser design is for tile when it clearly is not and is proven otherwise. In addition there are numerous errors regarding the management of Minton in Jones and throughout the standard literature which indicates a lack of attention to detail in a fundamental area.

Tiles in 1871 were not considered art products, they were building materials, cladding, tile design was the province of architects. I am sure there are thousands of objects bearing applied art that Dresser did not design for. Where is the quote from? What is the context?

I wouldn't expect pieces from major manufacturers to bear the signature of the designer, it is not in the manufacturer's interests for it dilutes the manufacturer's brand. For the companies that you cite there are records of objects designed by Dresser, there are no records of Dresser designs for tiles.

There are dozens if not hundreds of tiles that dealers and collectors claim to be designed by Dresser, show me a record; a catalogue, a wage slip, a letter …. Find me one and I will gladly amend my essay and take it as a basis to consider that other tile designs could be by Dresser.

I started off trusting in the received wisdom that Dresser designed tiles but in my quest for accuracy in writing descriptions of my tiles I came across many Pugin designs attributed to Dresser, people who made claims they could not substantiate and many argumenta ad verecundiam.

My essay has been online for about seven years I believe, it is highly placed in search results, I invite evidence for Dresser designing tiles, I haven't seen any yet.


But the Dresser Delusionist is obsessed, he doesn't need evidence because he knows because he knows and it is I who am unreasonable in seeking evidence. He says it is unreasonable to assume that Dresser designed only for manufacturers who kept a record that has survived until today. That's putting words in my mouth, I make no such assumption, I'm merely seeking evidence that Dresser designed a tile.

Then more off the piste comments, history of companies does not authenticate Dresser design, Dresser was an architect, then he quotes Stuart Durrant and finishes with, Dresser knew and was influenced Pugin's work. Is it not more likely that Pugin designs are by Dresser who designed at the date of their production and in their colours?

This idiot has attributed falsehoods to me as he struggles to make sense of his delusion so I am more cutting in reply.

It is unreasonable to assume anything without evidence. If there is no record there is no evidence only speculation.

Dresser for the most part claims to be only an ornamentalist and not an architect. That quote is, as far as I am aware, the only time he claimed to be an architect, it is a response to criticism and likely emotionally charged for he appears to have felt affronted.

"This, his defence of his reputation, was never challenged." How can you make such a claim, the record of such challenge may not have survived. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

De Morgan made claims in lectures which have not been challenged but are false. Designers become well known because they are good at self promotion which almost inevitably includes elements of optimism and exaggeration. There have been many wonderful and prolific designers whose names are not in the public domain and indeed whose work is often attributed to others with well known names.

I know why Pugin designs appeared after his death in different colours, Mintons copied from books and other sources, and produced new colourways of existing designs years and decades after the design was introduced.

You repeat the phrase absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it is a meaningless phrase for anyone can claim anything to be true based upon its precept. It is also known as the argument from ignorance.

There are of course thousands of Dresser collectors who desperately wish that the tiles they own are by Dresser, they have been misled by optimistic attributions from both dealers seeking to profit and writers seeking to enhance their reputations and sell books, they have even patted themselves on the back for discovering unknown Dresser tile designs. That collectors clutch at straws to maintain the illusion and the value of their investment is only to be expected.

I was looking forward to a response from you, frank discussion is a great tool for revealing truths.

I am constantly amazed that Dresser collectors cling to beliefs that tiles they have bought are by Dresser based upon argumenta ad verecundiam (appeal to authority) when the authority has a vested (financial) interest in being trusted and yet when a verified tile by Dresser is offered there are few if any takers.

It appears that you may be a collector of Dresser having argued so vehemently for the accepted status quo. You state, "its a Dresser tile at a Dresser price", yet have not purchased nor made an offer. I am interested in the psychology, the cognitive dissonance that pervades when beliefs based upon hearsay are questioned due to the lack of evidence. Rather than embrace an item verified to be by the famed artist in question the reaction is to ignore it and cling to the unauthenticated objects.

De Morgan is somewhat similar, praised for his technical skills he actually had very few, he didn't understand technology (he never produced underglaze reds which just about every other company on the 1890s successfully used). That he was a great designer there is no doubt, that his company's products were poorly executed is self-evident.

Dresser coined the phrase "Truth, Beauty, Power", what would he think that the first word of the phrase is ignored by those who adore his works?

I love art (well perhaps I should specify more clearly, I love design and engineering that come together to make products of service and pleasure to people), I love people, the interaction is most enlightening.

(this has been slightly edited to remove a reference to a third party)


The Delusionist now reveals the source of his expertise, himself. His beliefs on Dresser are based on "47 years study of the subject and he is his own authority". That is a straightforward admittance of delusion. He continues that his collection includes many unsigned items and others that have never (in modern times) been thought to Dresser and he is certain that the hand of a designer can be recognised without a signature or sworn affidavit.

Thank you for your reply. I have been collecting tiles for over forty years and have been dealing exclusively in them since closing my fireplace/decorative architectural business in 2000. In those last seventeen years I have really striven to provide accurate information to customers and for many years the harder I looked in to matters the more I discovered errors in the established literature, more than had previously been obvious. The more literature I accumulated to try to resolve questions the more errors and unsubstantiated claims, often with no indication why, I found. There is a shortage of footnotes, writers make claims and when knowing even just of their claims is in error it strains credibility. Whilst one assumes writers make claims in good faith having researched with care I know writers whose studies lack the rigour to be called research, they lack discernment, put too much faith in third party claims and even simply make things up.

Something else I know for sure is that there are many collectors out there who know lots of things that are not found in the literature, it is unfortunate that there is no way to bring it all together.

(this has been slightly edited to remove a reference to a third party)


The Delusionist states 1081 in Mintons catalogue is what one would expect of Dresser, then somersaults the shark in stating all but perhaps four designs on Sheet 8, Mintons catalogue 'appear to be by Dresser'.

Tile 1081 is precisely what almost any designer of the times would create, a gothic quatrefoil with greek palmette inserts, a combination of two popular elements. Dresser has similar designs but with less overt quatrefoil.

I'd be interested which four from Sheet 8 you think are not by Dresser for of the total three I would suggest are too realistic to be by him and at least six of the others can not possibly be by him by virtue of the date of introduction or by being known Pugin designs.

Collectors, dealers and authors for the most part lack an understanding of how design works and an understanding of how industry works, academics and bureaucrats are usually the most divorced from the realities of manufacturing. Neither designers nor industry are particularly altruistic, they do it for the money. A company does not pay a famous designer unless there is clear benefit for example the use of the designer's name is advertising increases sales, in-house designers were much more affordable.

It's nigh impossible to attribute things based solely on design, objects are made for the marketplace. Most clients say they want 'something like that' which is great because it gives a basis to work from otherwise you have to show them designs until they point something out. (I have done design work, mostly stained glass.) A tile company seeing a successful tile from another company for which they had nothing competitive may well instruct a designer to produce 'something like that'. Designers would of their own accord produce 'something like that' and offer it potential clients, there were a few court cases concerning similar designs and there are design registrations not issued the only logical explanation being because they were too much like something else. Many designers had similar educations and used the same reference books and magazines, there are several groups of tiles apparently based on the same reference source. The point of copyright laws is to prevent precise copying, it was clearly a problem otherwise the law would not have been introduced. It would be naive to assume that people would not adapt and so change just enough to avoid falling foul of the law.

Well known designers are often well known because they copied designs by others and got away with it, they were good at marketing their brand. There is inertia in an established brand name.

My previous comment about people not buying the tile I have for sale that appears in one of his books was not directed at you, it was a general comment. Dresser tile collectors tend to buy what they believe to have been done by him based upon claims in literature and what they imagine would be done by him being similar to those claimed in the literature. When faced with a design certainly by Dresser that doesn't accord with the perception they don't bite rather they would buy tiles from Sheet 8 and pat themselves on the back for discovering something no-one has yet recorded in the literature.

I should have pointed out something else about Sheet 8. It is indisputable that at least eight of the designs thereon are in the gothic style therefore, according to the introduction, the original introduction not the error filled introduction by Blanchett (nor the even more erroneous forward by Jones), they are by Pugin. So in the light of your assertion that all but four appear to be by Dresser your eye for spotting Dresser designs is no better than others'.

I am sorry that you have been misled into believing that Dresser designed tiles (perhaps I should say many tiles for it is not inconceivable that he designed some yet evidence is required to show that he designed at least one) but thousands of others have too so it's not exclusive. Many of the others have also 'identified' other 'Dresser' designs too whilst failing to understand the tile business in general and Minton(s) in particular. Harry Lyons didn't understand Minton(s), nor Joan Jones which is a greater failing, so that 'lesser' mortals have erred is rather less of a big deal.

If there is a crumb of comfort it is that perhaps that misinformation about a designer from 150 years ago pales in to insignificance compared to the misinformation from the current politicians and media who govern most of our lives.

I have enjoyed our discussion (although the cost-benefit is lacking from my perspective) and most certainly thank you for pointing out that one time Dresser claimed he was an architect which I shall at some point in the future address in an extension to my online essay.

All but four of these designs are by Dresser according to the Delusionalist

The Delusionist has totally lost it now, disputes that gothic designs on Sheet 8 are by Pugin because the introduction to the catalogue is heresay (sic) and with "total conviction" appear to be Dresser.

You simply need to read the introduction to the catalogue, you have the catalogue read it! Don't speculate from looking at the pictures. It was likely penned by Colin Campbell who was Mintons marketing man, it appears in the 1883 version of the catalogue (the one that is reproduced and usually called 1885), an earlier one I have seen from 1881 and likely several other editions.

Also part of the documentary record are the pattern numbers which you clearly overlook, they for the most part they are sequential and indicate the date of introduction.

It is incredible that you put more faith in your own delusions than the documentary record.

The Delusionist comes back for more, disputes the original introduction to the Mintons catalogue because it is not dated nor signed. He further disputes the importance of the analysis of pattern numbers and goes on to claim that an understanding of business is not required for an understanding of design completely failing to understand the relationship between the two and that the objects he has collected were made by businesses working on business principles rather than design principles!

He then claims that he has not been misled and has studied the evidence with forensically (sic) then [jumped to his] own conclusions and asks have I ever read Dresser's 'Art of Decorative Design' ?

So I'm done with this moron now, my final response:

The introduction is published by the manufacturer and contemporaneous with the images, it is a record. It matters little precisely who composed it or precisely when.

I am sorry that your comprehension is lacking.

If you believe that business and design are not intrinsically related then you are a fool.

Yes I have read that book, he does not mention tiles and describes himself as an ornamentist not an architect. They are dozens of similar books saying pretty much the same things in English, German, French ….

Dresser worked out early on that to make lots of money as a designer marketing was important. Writing books opens the door to essays in print media, lectures to students and societies and more lucrative design commissions.

Your waffling has reached a level of banality that exceeds my tolerance level, your belief in a notion that is unsupported by fact is akin to believing in the Invisible Pink Unicorn (BBHHH). Happy hunting, by your definitions there are thousands of tiles designed by Dresser, enough to keep you amused for a long while.


19 July 2021


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