Copeland Spode British Bone China

Identifying and Dating Both Antique and Modern Collections

Spode Italian Pattern
Alex Cooper on

British porcelain got its start in 1770 with the discovery of kaolin clay in Cornwall, England. Around 1880, the English added ground bone ash from farm animals to the wet clay, making the ceramics lighter in weight, more translucent, and stronger (according to Antiques 101 by Frank Farmer Loomis IV). By 1842, the Spode factory—an enterprise owned by Josiah Spode II and William Copeland—along with Coalport, Wedgwood, Worchester, and a number of other companies, became known for making “bone china.” Today, you can find both antique and modern versions of the coveted Copeland Spode China from antique dealers, shops, and, if you're lucky, at the occasional flea market.

History of Copeland Spode China

Josiah Spode apprenticed as a potter in the mid-1700s. By 1754, he went to work for William Banks in Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire, England. Later, he started his own pottery business, making cream-colored earthenware and whiteware with blueprints. In 1770, Spode became the master of Banks’ factory and purchased the business in 1776 (according to Warman’s Antiques & Collectibles by Noah Fleisher).

“Spode pioneered the use of steam-powered, pottery-making machinery and mastered the art of transfer printing from copper plates,” says Fleisher. “Spode opened a London shop in 1778 and sent William Copeland there in about 1784 ... At the turn of the eighteenth century, Spode introduced bone china ... [and] in 1805, Josiah Spode II and William Copeland entered into a partnership for the London business."

By the early 1830s, Copeland fully acquired the Spode operations in London and took over the Stoke plant operations until his death in 1868, when he passed the business onto his heirs. The factory was modernized in 1923, which included the addition of electric power.

Spode China Marks

The Copeland Spode China company went through a number of changes in ownership throughout its long life. Various factories produced thousands of pieces in different locations, the result yielding many different markings on varied china patterns. In fact, Pottery & Porcelain Marks by Chad Lage (now out of print), shows 31 examples of different Spode and Copeland marks dating from the mid-1700s through modern production. These include:

  • The Spode Painted Backstamp, which is handwritten under the glaze, often in red, but can be found in other colors including black and blue, too. Pieces date between 1790 and 1827 and may have a number beneath the stamp.
  • The SPODE stamp found incised in the china. Pieces date from 1814 to 1833.
  • The Copeland and Garrett mark, which was used from 1833 to 1847. It is sometimes included with the wording “Late Spode,” distinguishing these pieces with the Spode name.
  • The Spode Copeland’s China England stamp, which represents a number of marks using both the Spode and Copeland name after the mid-1800s. 

The books Kovels’ Dictionary of Marks: Pottery & Porcelain 1650 to 1850 and Kovels’ New Dictionary of Marks: Pottery & Porcelain 1850 to the Present, by Ralph and Terry Kovel, provide great references for varied Spode and Copeland marks. The marks found in the books, however, are hand drawn, rather than photographed on actual porcelain pieces.

Not all of the early pieces of Copeland Spode China are marked—some contain only a simple hand painted pattern number under the glaze. This number is often written in red and shouldn’t be confused with the date marks impressed in pieces from the late 1800s through 1963.

Newer pieces—including the ever popular Christmas patterns—are marked with elaborate "Spode Manufacturers" marks that include pattern names, making them much easier to identify.

Dating Copeland Spode China

In addition to the manufacturers' marks noted above, date marks were also used on all pieces made in the late 1800s through 1963. This datemark comes in handy, taking the guesswork out of matching the mark to the correct production period.

Sometimes the impressed marks—a letter over a number (like Y over 24, for example)—can be hard to read. You can work around this by placing a piece of tracing paper over the mark and then shading it in with a pencil to reveal the date. Or, press modeling clay directly into the mark and then hold it up to a mirror to read the outcome.

Once you’ve deciphered the letter and number, the mark is easy to decode. According to, the letters can be translated as such: J for January, F for February, M for March, A for April, Y for May, U for June, L for July, T for August, S for September, O for October, N for November, and D for December. The number below the letter represents the year of manufacturing, therefore, "Y24" translates to May of 1924.

Datemarks from 1963 through 1976 are more complicated to unveil, indicated only by a single letter. Spode & Copeland Marks and Other Relevant Intelligence by Robert Copeland provides a great resource for those wanting to learn more about Copeland Spode China marks through the years, including the later datemark letters.