“Conjugal Felicity”, a mother’s love, and Mr Fletcher
The phrase ‘Conjugal Felicity’ is not one that is widely used today but its meaning – A Happy Marriage – is still relevant. The engraving on this creamware jug of c.1798 shows an idealised happy marriage with a fashionably-dressed husband and wife surrounded by their three children: a young boy holding his hoop while his younger brother or sister sits on his mother’s knee, and the baby sleeps soundly in its cot.
The idea of domestic happiness, with both parents taking an active interest in the development of their young children, was greatly influenced by the publications of the French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who urged mothers to nurse their own children, rather than employing wet-nurses, and to superintend their nursery themselves, rather than relying on servants to do so.
The print is signed at the bottom ‘Thos. Fletcher & Co., Shelton’ and was produced by Thomas Fletcher (1762-1802) who had an extensive business decorating pottery in the late 18th century and was described as a ‘pot printer’ when he bought land in Shelton in 1789. In the 1790s he was involved in various short-lived partnerships as a ‘black-printer’, that is printing decoration over the glaze, usually in black from copper plates, as with this jug. Although he was occasionally described as a ‘manufacturer’ he probably bought-in many of the pieces that he decorated as blanks from other pottery firms.
Shortly before Fletcher died in 1802, his collection of over 450 “well-selected copper plates of most approved patterns, some new” were advertised for sale in the Staffordshire Advertiser.
Despite this advertisement the copper plates weren’t finally disposed of until 1807 when Fletcher’s “House, workhouse, two warehouses, printing and painting shops and other appendages necessary for carrying on the business of Enamelling, Printing, situated near the New Hall manufactory at Shelton” were auctioned. The location of his business was in the upper part of Shelton, in what would now be described as part of the town of Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.
Fletcher was not necessarily an engraver himself, but either employed engravers to work for him or bought designs from independent engravers. Comparatively few of these printed designs were original: with little or no effective copyright protection they were largely adapted from existing prints which were then re-engraved onto sheets of copper, ready for use by pottery printers. Pottery engravers didn’t have to go far to find inspiration as local booksellers and stationers stocked suitable images to use:
Subjects like this one of a happy family were popular with the potters’ customers, as were idealised images of childhood and courtship, and many of Fletcher’s 450 “well-selected copper plates” would have been of a similarly sentimental nature