When we think of printing, paper is often the material that comes to mind as the substrate of choice. Unsurprisingly, the semi-mystical Room 19 holds the key to lots of non-paper based printing; today’s example is crockery.
Tucked in between the Hyde Park’s Japanese Village posters and invitations to a Wayzgoose, it is possible to find a folder full of ceramic transfer tissues, which print the ‘Malvern’ design onto your crockery, even if we don’t know how St Bride acquired the items.
The designs would have been printed onto the tissue paper via an engraved copper plate and would then be ready to print onto any dampened biscuitware (crockery fired once in a kiln). The tissue would be placed in the correct position, smoothed over with a wet sponge, and fired for a second time to remove the tissue paper. The final result might leave you feeling a bit colour blind; the ink was mixed with minerals so the colours would become more vivid after firing.
Transfer printing is still used in the ceramics industry, but the images are produced using modern technologies, including photographic processes, which were probably not available when the ‘Malvern’ pattern was introduced. Instead of using copper plates to produce the transfers, computers are used to create the artwork and then conventional printing processes to produce the finished item.
Large numbers of original copper plates, engraved for the decoration of crockery, still exist and could, potentially, be used to revive classic designs if there was a market for them. We do not hold any of the printing plates at St Bride, only a handful of transfer tissues.