Billingsley and Pegg, together with Moses Webster were in the forefront of painting flowers on china and soon gained a reputation for being among the finest artists of the era. The usual method was to paint flowers onto plain white glaze but Billingsley would paint the whole of the surface and then create the design by brushing out small areas of colour and then adding extra paint. Boreman’s inspiration was the wild Derbyshire countryside and he would paint topographical landscapes onto china objects. Many of these pieces have survived and can be seen at the Royal Crown Derby museum at the factory.
The Derby factory has put out a number of limited edition series and many of them are hand-painted. Not being slow in following a current trend they commissioned a series of plates depicting Jane Austen’s favourite flowers as well as something to remember Mr Darcy by, namely a vase named after his estate at Pemberley, from the popular Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice.
There is nothing new in this – the Derby factory has always been able to combine fine artistry with commerce and therein lies the secret of its success. Derby have always been keen to encourage their designers to try out new techniques and also to liaise with other potters and ceramicists.
The Derby paperweights are extremely popular – since they were launched in 1981 with a series of five birds and a rabbit – there have been new paperweights each year, except for 1982 and 1984. They use the Imari style of decoration, as used for tradtional Japanese porcelains. New figures are added to the collection every year and they are often limited editions. Royal Crown Derby have a Collectors’ Guild and members receive advance notice of new pieces and also receive free gifts.
From time to time Derby will resurrect a design that has previously been withdrawn, as happened with the Chaffinch in 2008. While the original was designed by Robert Jefferson, the new decoration was done by Sue Row. Derby also launched a new series in 2008 with a popular pets theme, the first wo being a Hamster and a Guinea Pig.
Collectors of Royal Derby have a huge collection to choose from. There are several hundred paperweights including many rare examples. Identification of pieces is not too difficult – Royal Crown Derby is marked with a cipher which identifies the year, the first being 1880. The 2008 paperweights are marked with the Roman numerals MMVIII while 1981 was marked with XLIV (44), a system which was used until 1999. After the millenium they used the Roman numerals for the relevant year, which makes identification quite simple.