Coalport China Museum is home to some truly spectacular displays of china and porcelain but, amongst the finery, it is the humblest looking objects in the collection which are arguably the most significant.

Spectacular Collections

The Coalport China Museum contains wonderful displays of Coalport and Caughley porcelain dating from the 1770s, through to the twentieth century. Objects range from the magnificent  Northumberland vase, standing over half a metre high, to hand painted miniature items less than 3 cm tall. 

However, some of the most historically important objects in the collection are small porcelain discs, 33 mm across, with the green printed back stamp of John Rose & Co, and a printed number.

When you compare these discs to spectacular objects such as the Northumberland vase, or the elaborate dish made for Tsar Nicolas, they seem a little lacking in drama. They do, however, provide a very personal and direct link with the past.

The Northumberland Vase, porcelain, 1856-1866.

Women and girls at work at Coalport, c. 1890.

Factory Systems and Piecework Rates

Coalport China Works was founded in 1796 under John Rose, and developed throughout the 19th century. The works adopted a system after Josiah Wedgwood’s example, which was based on the  concept of a production line. Each process in manufacture was carried out by a different person and the piece of pottery would move through the factory from department to department.

Workers producing the pottery were paid 'piecework' rates meaning they were paid according to the number of items they made but it was quite typical for a dozen items to count as a 'piece' rather than a single item. While a 'dozen' generally means 12, in the pottery industry a dozen could refer to 18, 24 or even 36 items if the rate of pay was particularly low. Workers were only paid for items ‘good from kiln’ so if anything did not survive the firing process, they would not get paid for their work, regardless of the fact that damage in the kiln was not likely to have been their fault. 

This piecework system of payment meant that each worker and their output needed to be accurately identified.

Clocking In

As Coalport China Works adapted to expanding markets and to changing technology, more buildings were erected on the site and others were altered, with the result that the works became very disorganised. Unfortunately for the workers, this made it difficult to accurately keep track of who had made what, and how much they were due in wages.

However, when Charles Bruff took over management of the Coalport factory in the 1890s, one of his first actions was to bring organisation to the working practices. Bruff began by instituting a simple ‘clocking in’ system using a numbered token for each worker. The discs were naturally made of porcelain and used ceramic transfer printing. Each disc represented an individual – a real person who contributed to the finished products of the factory. There are three of these discs in the collections of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.


Coalport clocking in token, excavated at the Coalport site. We do not know who it belonged to.

Token number 290 belonged to Annie Evans who, along with her four sisters, was a Coalport paintress. She started work on 7th February 1913, the day of her 11th birthday. Her father was William (Mike) Evans, who was a local Quoits Champion 1901-1903. This token was donated to the museum by her daughter, who now lives in Australia.

Token number 286 belonged to Ted Aston, members of whose family were employed at the Coalport Works throughout the nineteenth century.

The third token, number 197, was excavated at the Coalport site; we do not know whose it was.

These small simple objects represent all the skilled, hardworking people who made Coalport a world-renowned producer of pottery and porcelain.

Photograph of a group of paintresses at Coalport, c. 1900.