Emma Bridgewater pottery is instantly recognizable, with her Polka Dot pattern china being seen in many kitchens. Her Black Toast pattern, hand-drawn lettering on cream earthenware, which was designed by her husband, Matthew Rice, is a design classic and is often copied. Emma first came onto the scene with her spongeware design in the 1980s and they are still very popular.
Emma had an early interest in china and used to buy small pieces at local markets. Looking for a birthday present for her mother and wanting to buy a cup and saucer for her, Emma couldn’t find anything she liked and realized that there was a gap in the market for contemporary china. She launched her first collection in 1985, a variety of hand-sponged patterns on a number of pieces of china. Emma initially set up Brixton Spongeware with Alex Dufort, where she learned all aspects of pottery production. As demand grew, she realized that she would have to find a factory that would produce china to her designs.
One of her initial pieces, a half pint mug, inspired by 18th century creamware, is still popular today. The china crockery was made at Stoke on Trent and then decorated by Emma, using an old method of applying motifs with a natural sponge. She initially tried to sell the pieces in Covent Garden market, which was not very successful and then an antique dealer suggested that she should try a trade fair.
Early Bridgewater pieces include Chintz, a classic floral, Coral, a traditional all-over pattern, Fish and Weed, Stipple, Quails and Farmyard, rows of birds and animals circle the wear between fine, green bands. Emma Bridgewater china sells very well at auction.
Emma was soon commissioned to make special orders for shops like Harvey Nichols and the General Trading Company. The Royal Academy and National Trust also sold exclusive patterns. Home magazines were keen to use Emma’s china in their room sets and her popularity soared.
In 1987 Emma designed her most popular pattern, Figs, sponged in purple and greens and is said to be inspired by a tree in a walled garden in Norfolk. In 1990 Emma opened her flagship shop in Fulham, West London. Although this is the centre of the business, the pottery is made in a large Victorian factory in Stoke on Trent, which she acquired in 1996.
Black Toast, originally called Toast and Marmelade, was launched in 1992 and is still a best seller. The range changes regularly, which is great for collectors, especially if you can get your hands on the first few plates that read Toast and Marmelade.
Chickens fequently appear on her designs, apparently due to the fact that husband Matthew has kept chickens since he was a child. Birds often feature in the designs and have been very popular. They make specials for the US market –Red Cardinal and Blue Jay and new designs are eagerly awaited.
Today’s Bridgewater designs are a mixture of contemporary, classic and children’s patterns and you will find Emma’s pottery in most department stores, and some gift shops. Emma has a very hands on approach and still cuts the sponges for new designs and she keeps her ear to the ground and supplies what her customers want. Figs is to be re-issued by popular demand and the new dinosaur pattern, Pottersaurus, is extremely popular with children.