Bow Porcelain

The Bow Porcelain Company was established in Bow in East London (although considered Essex at the time) sometime around 1747. It was an imitator and emulative rival of the Chelsea porcelain factory on the opposite side of London. Like the Chelsea porcelain factory, the Bow factory was one of the first porcelain factories in Britain to make soft-paste porcelain. The factory's designs mimicked Chinese and Japanese porcelain as well as Meissen figures, which were often copied directly from the Chelsea factory. Thomas Frye, a well known Irish painter, was in charge of the factory and claimed to be the inventor as well as first manufacturer of porcelain in Britain, although this is contested.


While porcelain was already popular in Britain when the Bow factory opened, it was extremely fragile and expensive as most of it was imported from overseas. Frye invented a way of creating porcelain from bone ash which strengthened it and gave it an impressive luminescence. From the start, the company focused on more ordinary and useful wares which complimented the improved durability offered by Frye's porcelain making method. The factory became well known for its dinnerware as well as figurines, many of which were copied from the Chelsea factory. Most of the wares were made in blue and white and based on oriental designs. It continued making mainly oriental style porcelain pieces until around 1756, when demand for European style pieces and transfer print painted pieces became heavier. Around 1758, when the factory was at its most successful, it had 300 workers. Although the factory was hugely successful, pieces made there were known for being of inconsistent quality.


The Bow factory rarely used a mark, making it somewhat more difficult to identify pieces made by the factory. Some pieces made in 1760 do have an anchor and dagger mark, although this could have been the mark of an outside decorator for the factory. In 1759, Thomas Frye retired from the factory and there began a slow descent in the quality and popularity of Bow porcelain. While the factory continued for another 13 years, pieces made towards the end of this period were well known for being underfired and lacking the impressive luminescence of earlier pieces. In 1776, after years of decline, the factory was sold for a small sum to William Duesbury. Duesbury was already the owner of Derby porcelain and he chose to send all the moulds and implements from Bow to Derby, thereby putting an end to Bow porcelain.