Johnson Bros, harlequin plates
made in England 1950s
What is the name for a round-cornered square? These plates are that shape. Wikipedia suggests ‘squircle’ – I wonder what the makers of these beautiful plates would make of that? *Turning in their grave*, comes to mind.
Harlequin is a catch-all phrase for multi-coloured items; you find harlequin glass ware, as well as plates. Multi-coloured harlequin sets was a genius marketing idea borne in the 50s – if you broke a plate then another – in the same or a different colour- was available. One needed abandon an entire dinner service due to the loss of one plate- it was all mix ‘n’ match. The four colours of these plates – tan, maroon, light blue and light green were joined by two other colours – a light grey and grey.
It’s rare to find a backstamp on these early Johnson Bros plates; and because it was printed in white glaze, even if it was printed, it’s rare that the backstamp survives. The green plate in this set is thus quite rare- the backstamp in white is intact, although a little worn.
Indeed, I have collected another set of Johnson Bros ‘squircle’ plates in three sizes – [see post below] and none of those twelve plates had a backstamp. It wasn’t until I found these plates that I discovered the original maker. I knew from the previous collector that the plates originated in England, and were made in the 50s – but the maker was unknown. Until now!
Johnson of Australia nursery cups
made in Queensland, Australia 1960s
Following my last post featuring Johnson Bros 70s dinner plates, here are two nursery cups from the 60s.
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary [the nursery rhyme apparently modelled after Mary Queen of Scots and written in England in c1744] shows Mary watering her ‘cockleshells and silvers bells, and pretty maids all in a row.’
Rub-a-dub, dub, three men in a tub : describes the butcher [fat, with a blue & white striped apron] the baker [with chefs hat] and candlestick-maker [clutching a candle, no less.]
Both cups are inscribed ‘Johnson’s – after Woods, England’ on the base. The transfer prints are clear and undamaged- in good vintage condition for cups made in the 60s.
Johnson OF Australia dinner plates
made in Queensland, Australia 1975
The back stamp of these 70s plates is Johnson OF Australia – [reminds me of Lawrence OF Arabia!] Johnson Bros [Australia] produced transfer printed stoneware crockery marketed as “tough, utilitarian ware” – which is why these plates are looking so fresh and unblemished today.
Johnson Bros [Australia] was a division of Johnson Brothers England- at the time one of the largest domestic pottery producers in the world. This design wasn’t given a name or a pattern number, but the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has a record of the design: it is described as a “complex radial design with central sunflower”. The plate was collected and added to the Powerhouse collection by a Melbourne artist John Hind.
I have recently started to embrace the 70s – and Australiana from the 70s; and now I have an Instagram account, I have been seeing much 70s Australiana – and Johnson’s plates are much celebrated. There is one fantastic site where Johnson pieces are cut and sanded to make upcycled jewellery: rings and necklaces. It’s a lovely celebration of 70s iconography and the ‘tough, utilitarian ware’ that the Johnson Bros never imagined.