Dresser Tile Sightings (not citings)



A keen eyed researcher has informed me that he has seen a copy of Llewellynn Jewitt's The Ceramic Art of Great Britain that states that a "Dr Dresser" designed for Minton the reference apparently referring to tiles as associated names mentioned E. Welby Pugin, John Gibbs, and J. Seddon are architects. These names are not mentioned in my copy of Jewitt. The revised edition of Jewitt with these names is ISBN 9781443787222 published in 2008, my also revised edition is ISBN 1850790337 dated 1985. I am further advised that Dresser is not named in the original.

E. Welby Pugin is the son of the A. W. N. Pugin who designed tiles for Minton & Co and continued his father's architectural practice. Gibbs (no forename or initial) is recorded as designing tiles for Craven Dunnill by Jewitt, Seddon both Maw and William Godwin by Austwick.

Terry Lockett on page 211 states, "The Campbell Tile Company pricelist claimed "a pattern book and designs by Pugin, Seddon, Gibbs, Dresser and others, sent by post on application to the manufactory."" He comments, "many of the abstract and geometric patterns obviously had a distinguished designer, but it is seldom that these can be attributed." Harry Lyons on page 108 reports, "J. F. Blacker records Dresser as a designer of 'tessallated pavements' for Minton Taylor". Mintons Ltd and Robert Minton Taylor & Co which became Campbell Tile Co. are of course connected by Colin Campbell and it is well recorded that Dresser designed china for Minton & Co.. There is no known or suggested association between Dresser and Minton, Hollins & Co. who was the major tile maker of the times and the only tile maker entitled to use the name Minton & Co..

Pavements are not tiles but they are certainly architectural so could perhaps give some credence to the Dresser designed tiles hypothesis. The language used is 'designs by' rather than 'designed by', this is marketing text and a definitive statement is absent. A price list is hardly a substantial document, easily replaced if Dresser was aware of its existence and bothered to protest should he feel wronged. Otherwise one can ask if Dresser was considered prestigious enough to be mentioned by name in the Campbell price list why not in the Mintons tile catalogue?

With two references to Dresser and pavement designs his direct involvement can not be immediately dismissed however it seems probable if not likely that Blacker also got his reference from the same source, the pricelist. It would be great if a copy of the catalogue to which it may refer came to light should such a catalogue have existed.

J. F. Blacker wrote a number of books, an advertisement has been found including four titles by him, books on japanese art and indian art from architecture to jewellery and on collecting english china and continental pottery. This breadth of subject matter suggests that Blacker was a professional author rather than an expert in any particular field, I doubt the list is exhaustive. They appear to have been first published in the early 20th century.


Books by J F Blacker:

The ABC of Indian Art

The ABC of Japanese Art

The ABC of Collecting Old Continental Pottery

The ABC of Collecting Old English China



The reputation of Christopher Dresser's design work has grown dramatically in the last decade or so such that very many designs are attributed to him without any verification. Many sellers do try, consult auction catalogues, books about him those more knowledgable than themselves. With such an interest in Dresser there are many people who have studied his work and could possibly profess to be experts in his known designs the majority of those recorded being in pottery and metalware and which are illustrated in books, displayed in museums and appear in the marketplace and salerooms. There can be no experts on Christopher Dresser tiles because there is no record of him designing any.

Should any verified examples arise one may consider the possibility that a particular tile was designed by Dresser otherwise it should be assumed that it is a copy, either a literal copy from a book, fabric etc or an adaptation. Until sufficient verified examples are known to get a feeling of how he would approach the different medium the best one may say is "in the style of Dresser" or "typical Dresser motifs", as used by Harry Lyons. Typical Dresser motifs is actually an excellent phrase and there are plenty of them for as his reputation grew his typical motifs would inevitably be copied and plagarised by other artists and designers. Any manufacturer or indeed designer seeing a popular product from another is likely to try to emulate that success by making similar products. Likewise Dresser was influenced by other designs and other designers would have independently made similar without reference to Dresser's work.

Another excellent comment is that by the writer for the National Archives who wrote thus. "This design is similar to those of Dr Christopher Dresser but no firm attribution to this designer has been established. [...] Much work has still to be done to distinguish between Dresser's personal work and that of anonymous designers trained by Dresser or inspired by his work."

It should be noted that Dresser is most noted for, and I would suggest his greatest contribution is, shapes of objects, three dimensional design rather than two dimensional. His two dimensional designs are for the most part in the manner of the times and draw upon historical sources so are impossible to formally attribute without verification. Some of his designs are such that one would never associate them with him had there been a lack of documentary evidence, some of his gothic designs are indistinguishable from those of his contemporaries. When a pattern appears on a known Dresser shape such as a jug it does not mean that he also designed the pattern which was often printed, manufacturers frequently applied different patterns to the same shapes and the same patterns to different shapes.




One sees descriptions of tiles rather like this:

"Absolutely terrific printed floral geometric 8" tile, designed by Dr Christopher Dresser and manufactured by Mintons in 1875. This particular design is illustrated in Dressers (sic) Studies in Design."


Studies in Design Plate XXIII


The design, or rather a half of it, is shown in Studies in Design plate XXIII, the description is, "Greek ornaments, suitable for dados; but they require enlarging considerably". The design measures five inches so the increase to eight can not be called considerable, to my eye and given the intent fifteen to eighteen inches would be appropriate. As a design for dado it is meant to fill the area between the dado rail and the skirting boards (Dresser uses the phrase dado rail when such is the intent and considerably larger is too large for a dado rail) those familiar with original period properties will be aware of the proportions reserved for such usage. It appears in the Mintons catalogue as pattern numbers 1472 and in different colourway as 1474 which indicate an introduction date of around 1875 so the writer is correct at least in that regard. It is unlikely however to have been manufactured at the date for it remains in the catalogue until at least 1893.


 From the Mintons catalogue showing 16 no. 4" x 4" tiles and 4 no. 8" x 8" tiles


A different colourway 8" x 8" tile introduced in 1890 by Mintons Ltd


So it is not a tile designed by Christopher Dresser it is a tile bearing a design by Christopher Dresser and not as he intended. It is unlikely that was it designed for Mintons otherwise Dresser would surely have said so. Many Mintons designs can be identified as originating in books even some that they registered, all of the known designers works to my knowledge are those for picture series even if many of them appear to be intended for tableware being circular. Pugin designs were taken from Minton & Co.'s tile department Minton, Hollins & Co. or from his books, many landscape tiles were taken directly from books.

Reprints of Dresser's books Studies in Design and Principles of Decorative Design are available for a few tens of pounds and they are worth having. Not only does one see a good number of designs by the master and often in glorious colour but one gets a sense of how he liked to do things.

Mintons seem to have neglected the tile department artistically until the arrival of Léon Solon, they produced a relatively small range of designs most of which can be attributed elsewhere. The block printing is often excellent perhaps as they gained the services of the patentee Ajfred Reynolds from Minton Hollins but the litho printing often does not match that of its peers. They did however produce some excellent tiles decorated in the china department and then later around 1900 in majolica under the guidance of Léon Solon.


Tiles Designed by Dr Christopher Dresser?

Tiles and Dr. Dresser's Principles of Decorative Design


Edited 16 May 2014


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