Spode China & the Titanic

By Michele Brouder

For well over two hundred years, Spode has been synonymous with the best of English china. Over the course of its history, beautiful, elegant pieces have been produced by the company. Founded by Josiah Spode I in 1776, the factory was located in Stoke on Trent in England, home to the pottery industry in England. Other manufacturers there include Wedgewood, Minton, and Royal Doulton. According to the Spode Museum Trust Website, Mr. Spode is recognized as “having developed the technique for underglaze transfer printing on earthenware c.1784 and to have produced the first printed ‘Willow’ patterns 1784-90s.” Later, Mr. Spode would be credited with the development of bone china.

Titanic A La Carte Restaurant

Above, the À la Carte Restaurant aboard the Titanic, reserved for First Class passengers only, decorated in the Louis XVI style, which could seat 137 patrons at a time. Intact Spode dishes were recovered from what is believed to be the debris field of the À la Carte Restaurant.


In 1806, when the Prince Regent visited the factory, Spode was appointed as “Potter to the Prince of Wales,” which indicates not only the quality of the wares produced but the esteem in which they were held even then. It’s most recent Royal Warrant was as ‘Manufacturers of China to H.M. Queen Elizabeth I’ in 1971.

Backstamp on the reverse of pattern R4331, the Spode dessert plateTherefore, it should come as no surprise that the famous shipping company White Star Line would purchase Spode for its liners. The White Star Line is probably best known for its three luxury class liners, The Olympic, the Britannic, and the ill-fated Titanic. Unfortunately, Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic also ended up in a watery grave after hitting an underwater mine while serving as a hospital ship during World War I.

Spode Pattern R.4332 shown on a Boston shape cup and saucerThese luxury liners would have procured different types of china from various companies for the different classes, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  White Star did not directly purchase from Spode itself choosing instead to use an agent, Stoniers of Liverpool.

Exactly what type of Spode tableware was on board the doomed ship was unknown until salvage expeditions of the Titanic were undertaken after 1987. Spode themselves kept no records of who had purchased their wares and what they would be used for.  The Spode catalogue itself contains a staggering number of about 75,000 patterns. And Stoniers, who had facilitated the transaction, have no surviving records after they were destroyed during World War II.

At least two different types of Spode were used on the Titanic. Whether they were used as a dinner service for first class, a souvenir gift for the wealthy, or something else remains unknown as no records exist as to their purpose on the luxury liner. 

Pattern 1/9608, originally introduced in 1899, was a ‘Greek key’ design in gold and cobalt. Patterns R4431 and R4432 were also a luxurious gold and cobalt. R4431 is believed to have been used on both the Titanic and the Olympic. Of all the china services on board for 1st, 2nd and 3rd classes, the Spode R4332 was the most elegant and expensive.

The underwater wreck isn’t the only place where Spode has mysteriously turned up. Spode fragments and pieces have washed up on the beaches as far away as Patagonia in South America. Due to the variety of pieces, it was thought that they were part of a cargo load rather than the dinner service of the mystery ship that carried it, though to this day, the origins have not been confirmed.

Thousands of pieces of discarded Spode as early as the late 18th century have been found right at the sight of the factory in England. While most are from after the death of the founder, Josiah Spode  I, there is hope that with further excavation, some pieces may be found that were actually produced during the first Mr. Spode’s era. 

Should you be so lucky to discover a pottery fragment on your travels, it may prove difficult to identify its creator without a significant portion of the pattern or more importantly, the maker’s mark on a piece or fragment. 

Spode Shards

The Patagonia fragments: the Spode Museum Trust and the Spode Society were both contacted by a man in Argentina, who sent images of Spode’s Copeland and Garrett wares that had washed up on the shores of Patagonia. The Museum reported that, “One local had collected others off the beach and decorated his lavatory with them, cementing them into the walls.”


Mrs. Janice L. Rodwell, of the Spode Museum Trust, says “unless the piece has a Spode, Copeland & Garrett or Copeland mark it would be extremely difficult to distinguish it from any other piece of England ceramic of similar date.”

Sea pottery is the result of broken fragments of china, pottery, stoneware, and ceramics being tempered by both the acidity level of the lakes and oceans and buffed by the sand and silt of the water resulting in a tempered piece or fragment. If you should find a china piece with the Spode mark or suspect a fragment may be a piece of the fine china, the museum does offer an identification service to aid in your research at www.spodemuseumtrust.org

Discovery of a pottery piece can’t help but make us wistful, imagining a long-gone dinner service or wondering about that last cup of tea drunk before it ended up in the bottom of an ocean as we hold the patterned remnant in our hand. A fragment in time that has outlived the memory.

(The Spode Museum Trust graciously provided assistance with the research of this article. All Spode images courtesy the Spode Museum Trust.)

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine July/August 2018 issue.


Hello …. very much finding in Centinela del Mar (Argentina). Written for my mail and me send picture my colleccion for you. Me identify varius pieses interesting. Tank you !!

Walter dario Puebla July 25, 2021

Hello, want to know if you still make the same dishes that were made for the Titanic ? If you do I would like to buy a setting of 8, complete sets.Please let me know. Thank you, Sandra

Sandra Nevares April 13, 2021

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