Thomas Toft 

  • 17th C English Slipware Maker

    Thomas ToftStaffordshire, in particular Burslem, was a center for earthenware slipware manufacture between 1670 and 1730. It was here that Thomas Toft is said to have made his slipware dishes, of which about 30 are still known to exist. Another famous slipware maker of the ‘Toft’ family, was Ralph Toft, possibly Thomas Toft’s brother or son, who is thought to have worked around 1675. There was also a Cornelius Toft and James Toft.

    Designs attributed to Thomas Toft include mermaids, unicorns, pelicans, but also King Charles II and his wife Queen Catherine of Braganza, and numerous coats of arms. A cross-hatched rim was fairly typical of the style and was copied even in the 20th C.

    Curiously, we don’t really know if the makers of these wares were actually called ‘Toft’. Some historians, like W.B. Honey, maintain that those slipware dishes may have been made for collectors named ‘Toft’, which would be another explanation for the prominently displayed name. A Thomas or Ralph Toft don’t actually appear in potters’ annals of the time. It has also been suggested that the name ‘Toft’ became so popular, that it was simply used by other potters, essentially creating a ‘Toft’ genre.

    Ralph ToftBe that as it may, the Toft style, combined with the sliptrailing technique, was firmly established in the Staffordshire area by the middle of the 17th C. Other potters working in that style were Ralph Turnor, William Talor, Ralph Simpson and Richard Meir.

    Sometimes a red slip was trailled on to a lighter background, sometimes vice-versa. Black and green slips were also used. According to the common practice of the time, these earthenwares were glazed with a galena lead glaze, giving them their characteristic yellow tinge.

    Leach slip platterThe popularity of slipware declined at the beginning of the 18th C, as feathering and marbling became more popular. In the 20th C, sliptrailing experienced something of a revival, thanks to the efforts of English potter Bernard Leach.

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