A. E. Gray and Co., Ltd., Stoke-on-Trent

 

NOTE: This article which follows originally appeared in a 1956 book 'British Potters and Pottery Today', is based mainly upon accounts provided mainly by the firms themselves.

The firm of A. E. Gray and Co. Ltd., whose American Clipper in full sail is a familiar trade-mark both to home and overseas merchants, holds a somewhat unique and special place in the story of modern ceramics. They have in this twentieth century established a wide and well-deserved reputation for the outstanding excellence of their decorated wares, yet they do no actual potting. The plain bodies they embellish are produced for them elsewhere.

It was a practice not unknown in the good old days, but then the individual decorator usually worked for one or several potteries as a free lance. Other days other ways. In this age of industrial specialisation A. E. Gray and Co. have built up a business which specialises in a similar way, but, unlike the individual of old, is able to take full credit and responsibility for the wares which pass through their hands.

Mr. A. E. Gray founded the firm in 1907  at Stoke, and having had over twenty years' experience as a pottery salesman with the Manchester firm of H. G. Stephenson Ltd., was able to anticipate the needs of the future consumer in the light of past demand. His Manchester training had shown him that, in the textile trade, many firms were interested in design production, though not themselves weavers, and he planned his business on similar lines. Being endowed with a natural sense for fine form and decorative design, he brought to the direction of his new firm an enthusiasm which has, in due time, well repaid his faith.

So successful was his enterprise that, in 1920, he moved to larger premises in Hanley and, in 1936, further expansion led him to acquire the works at Stoke-on-Trent. Long before this, however, in I923, his son, Robin, joined the firm and he had engaged S. C. Talbot as his designer.

Nowadays the latter two as joint Managing Directors steer the American Clipper to still further prospecting, while the founder, as Chairman (a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts and a Justice of the Peace) still keeps in touch in semi-retirement.

Much of the firm's reputation has been the result of the excellence of their hand-painted designs and the recognition that, as the founder recently observed: 'Pottery decoration is an art unto itself '.

Apart from this they also specialise in lustre-wares silver resist, copper, etc. the latter favouring traditional types, though the general designs incline to contemporary taste.

As recently as 1953 a new, extensive and well appointed suite of showrooms has been added to the existing building, a visit to which would be convincing proof (if proof were needed or necessary) that the firm of Gray's plays a quite prominent role in the story of the Potters andPottery of today.

NOTE: This article which originally appeared in a 1956 book 'British Potters and Pottery Today', is based mainly upon accounts provided mainly by the firms themselves.

questions / comments? email: Steve Birks