Thomas Forester

The son of a manager at Mintons, Thomas Forester mastered the craft of ceramic manufacture during his early employment at Wardle and the continental firm Peterinck of Tournai, Belgium. Forester returned to England and established the Phoenix Works in Longton, completed in 1879. He was joined in partnership by his sons Herbert and Victor in 1883. The firm of Thomas Forester & Sons was one of the last in Staffordshire to continue majolica production. The structure of the Phoenix Works in Longton remains and has been refurbished as office and retail space.

Forester produced a wide array of functional tablewares as well as garden items. Many pieces feature motifs inspired by Minton and other major manufacturers, albeit in a more rustic vein. The firm was one of the first to adopt mechanization in the production of majolica. Delicate floral and foliate decorations of a Barbotine style were applied to vases, baskets and other ornamental wares. Such pieces are often incorrectly described as French majolica. The Phoenix Works produced an astounding volume of majolica although the quality of the output was variable. Still, the rustic style of Forester majolica is appealing to many collectors and pieces are affordably priced. Particularly handsome is a cheese keeper with the cover divided into four panels, each with a polychrome heron surrounded by foliage and pond lilies in the marsh. The piece was produced with both cobalt and argenta ground. Pointed leaves resembling Christmas trees decorate the cover of another cheese dish produced in several sizes. A sardine box with corner feet composed of fish and the cover decorated with a preening swan is particularly charming. Forester also produced a tea set of rectangular shape with yellow bamboo ground and decorated with a bird in relief. The design resembles one by Griffen, Smith and Hill and is often erroneously attributed to the American manufacturer.

Very little of Forester’s early majolica output was marked. Later pieces may bear an impressed mark ‘FORESTER ENGLAND’ or printed mark T.F.&S. Little documentation of the firm’s designs exists and most of our knowledge is based on illustrated advertisements in the Pottery Gazette. No doubt many pieces of unattributed English majolica are in fact the products of Thomas Forester and the Phoenix Works.

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