I recently came across this cup and saucer duo and, drawn to the sharp lines and asymmetrical design, was thrilled when a look at the base stamp confirmed my first thoughts that it was by Shelley, a very collectable factory with a huge following worldwide and a number of dedicated collector’s clubs.
Based at Foley in Staffordshire, the Shelley company emerged in the latter years of the 19th century out of the roots of various businesses and partnerships which had operated on the site since the 1820s. In 1872, Joseph Shelley entered into partnership with James Wileman whose family had been connected with the firm since the 1850s and Joseph’s son, Percy, who would develop the company to the height of its popularity, joined in 1881. After Wileman retired in 1884 and Joseph Shelley died in 1896, Percy took sole control of the company and it moved into its most fertile period of production which would make it a household name for quality and design until the 1966 demise of the name when the company was acquired by Associated English Potteries (A.E.P.). In particular the quality of the fine bone china, the employment of leading designers and illustrators in the Art Deco period, and a concentrated marketing strategy gained the company a huge following.
One of the most durable shapes was the ‘Dainty’ cup, which remained in production from 1896 until1966 and was produced in a wealth of patterns. My Dainty White duo shown here has the Wileman & Co. monogram back stamp with ‘The Foley China’ and Rd. No. 272101. Percy Shelley had been using this name since he joined the company but on seeking to register the trademark in 1910, he encountered competition from other factories in the area so the mark was changed to ‘Shelley’ with ‘Late Foley’ printed above. The factory continued in this fashion until the family name was finally registered as the trademark in 1925.
I’m still learning about Shelley China and enjoying researching any items I come across. It appears that this duo must date to before 1910 given the changing back stamps and I’m thrilled that they have survived so long. It pays to gamble at times on something being rare, even if you’re not quite sure, and as with any hunt for a collectable item, the first rule is buy what you like, because it’s likely that someone else will like it too!