Gray's Pottery is the most common name for the products of a company started by Albert Edward Gray (1871-1959)
in Stoke-on-Trent, England in 1907. AE Gray's pottery often carried a backstamp which included the phrase
HAND-PAINTED, for hand-decorated patterns were the very essence of the majority of the thousands of designs produced during the firm's existence.
After starting his business as a wholesaler of useful ceramic items, Gray launched a production operation in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, in 1912. He sourced undecorated pottery, so called 'white ware', from various suppliers and, using the talents of highly-accomplished in-house designers such as Susie Cooper and Sam Talbot, developed a highly successful decorating business.
Even though the company was relatively small when compared with the mainstream pottery companies in North Staffordshire (it employed less than 100 people at its height in the 1930s), Gray's Pottery punched well above its weight! Its 1930s' slogan 'The Pottery of Distinction' was well-chosen and many of the firm's designs were to be found at important national and international exhibitions as well as being included in influential design registers.
Gray's Pottery was as responsive to fashion as anyone else in the industry and sought to supply customers new and old, at home and abroad, with prompt attention. When viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the company's range of products and designs is staggering. Besides the obvious output of cups and saucers, plates and bowls, jugs/pitchers and teapots, vases and urns, there are egg-cups, dog-bowls, jelly-moulds, bird-feeders and juice squeezers. There are decorations covering floral designs, lustres, banded patterns, slipware, geometric jazzy designs and print and enamel patterns. The products also include wall-pockets for flowers, large animal studies, lustre decorated 18th-century figures, table lamps and hors d'oeuvre sets complete with wooden trays. And all this from a firm that manufactured for a mere 50 years, including the severely disruptive periods of two world wars.
Gray's Pottery was a typical family concern, a characteristic commonplace among Stoke-on-Trent's potteries in years past. Founder AE Gray brought his son Robin into the works at an early age, his daughter Joan contributed a number of designs in the 1930s, nephew John ran the London showroom before the Second World War and nephew Jack Bond contributed various designs, including the firm's distinctive 'Clipper' backstamp. This family spirit extended to the shop-floor and there were many examples of relations working alongside each other.
Post-war ceramic decoration changed enormously, due largely to two developments. Firstly, from a pure design point-of-view, the public was looking for something new and fresh following years of restraint. Secondly, the pottery manufacturers wanted to press ahead with cheaper, automated processes of decoration. The consequence was that by the 1950s hand-painting, as practised by the likes of Gray's Pottery, was rapidly disappearing. It is therefore not surprising that when, in 1959, Susan Cooper-Willis, daughter of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (the founder and architect of Portmeirion in north Wales and an old friend of AE Gray), made an offer to purchase the business, the Gray's Pottery board accepted. The sale was completed within a few months and on 1 January 1962 a new backstamp was introduced. This heralded the creation of Portmeirion Pottery and the name Gray's Pottery disappeared.