The Royal Doulton Company is an English pottery company. Over the years since its inception, when it was creating high quality sanitary products to tackle cholera outbreaks in England, it has branched out to become the forefront of pottery making in England.
Its products are now highly collectible, being constructed at a time when the techniques were innovative and pushing back the boundaries of the art. It is thanks to the foresight and bravery of its owners, as well as the superlative skill of its arts directors and designers, that the Royal Doulton Company flourished in such a way, for it could just as easily have resigned itself to mediocrity without striving for the heights it attained.
One of its most famous and prolific collectible lines were Royal Doulton Bunnykins. Introduced in 1934, Bunnykins were the result of artwork penned by Mary Barbara Bailey, the daughter of then general manager Cuthbert Bailey. Though not a professional illustrator, Mary Barbara Bailey managed to bring to life images of rabbits in human clothing, set in rural British township scenes that were then transfer printed onto white china. This china was used by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret and so became a popular present for those that could afford to give them.
Figurines of a similar design went into production in 1939. Only six were initially produced before World War Two interrupted production. As such these six are now very sought after and are differentiated from those produced after the war by the lack of the initials “DB” that were prefixed to later products.
Royal Doulton Bunnykins are still made to this day and its figure line has been made famous by depictions of famous historical and literary figures which have been interpreted as rabbits in the range. As with any collection, it is the rare ones, particularly the six made post war, which are the most desirable and which, therefore, command the highest prices.
The history of the Royal Doulton Company begins when its founder, John Doulton, was born November 17th 1793. In 1815, at the age of twenty two, he had completed his apprenticeship as a potter with the Fulham Manufactory, one of the most important of the early commercial potteries in England.
A forthright man and possessing a great ambition, Doulton went straight from his apprenticeship to invest his life savings of one hundred pounds in a pottery in Vauxhall Walk, Lambeth, by the side of the River Thames. The pottery was owned by the widow Martha Jones, who had inherited it from her late husband, and, together with its foreman, John Watts, the partnership of Jones, Watts and Doulton was formed.
Initially the company specialised in industrial products including drainpipes and stoneware bottles for chemicals and the like. Then, in 1820, Martha Jones withdrew from the partnership and the company began producing under the name Doulton & Watts. In the same year, Doulton’s wife, Jane Duneau, gave birth to their first child, a son who they named Henry.
The company relocated to a new premises in Lambeth High Street in 1826 and, in 1835, at the age of fifteen, Henry was taken on there as an apprentice. By 1846, Henry had set up his own pottery, Lambeth Pottery, which had taken over as the leader in industrial products. 1853 saw the retirement of John Watts and Henry’s company was merged with Doulton & Watts to form Doulton and Company.
Doulton’s drainpipes contributed greatly to tackling the epidemics of 1832 and 1864, which saw the outbreak of cholera, greatly improving the supply of water to the populace by producing vitrified stoneware for sanitary purposes such as drainpipes, sinks and commodes. It is widely believed that, had it not been for the superior skills of Doulton and Company, the far-sighted reformers who had pushed for improvements to England’s sanitation would not have had their dream realised for a further decade.
And yet it was not for this feat that Doulton was more widely known. In 1882, Henry Doulton acquired a small factory in Burslem, Staffordshire, called Pinder, Bourne and Company. Although not immediately accepted by the northerners, coming from London as he did, it was here that Doulton and Company flourished.
Pinder, Bourne and Company had already been creating bone china alongside industrial products and Doulton, along with art director John Slater and enterprising manager John C. Bailey, flourished in this aspect, catapulting the company to international fame.
The twentieth century saw the introduction of a new art director, Charles C. Noke, as well as many artists such as Percy Curnock, Harry Tittensor, Edward Birks and Joseph Hancock. These notable persons helped push the company’s fame to new heights and solidify its position as Britain’s leading pottery manufacturer.
The company remained Doulton and Company until 1901, when King Edward VII conferred on them the title of Royal, and so the company became Royal Doulton henceforth.