Tygs or Tankards

First published Winter 2004 in the Scandy Magazine of the Torquay Pottery Collectors Society

Tygs or Tankards – a  themed collection.

When first collecting Torquay Pottery I was attracted to the country style pottery shapes, a few of which were shown in books and called tygs. Tyg... this a term of obscure origin used to mean a multi-handled drinking vessel. The origins of tygs would seem to be closely associated with the styles of work produced by the West Country potteries of Donyatt, Fremington, Braunton, and Barnstable.

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They may be seen as link between traditional English Country Pottery that concentrated on producing functional items for everyday use and the period of growing affluence in the country together with the demand for brighter better styled and decorated ceramics of the Arts & Craft Movement which also aimed to maintain traditional skills.

Compared to the refined best of the South Devon potteries, some tygs may easily be dismissed as crude and clumsy in both design and execution, but we should not forget their craft origins. They are good honest country style pieces of pottery, hand thrown on a wheel. They have a naive charm and quaintness, often with mellow colouring together and simplistic decoration in slip, usually accompanied by interesting sgraffito mottoes. Sometimes if they are those from Exeter, a touch of fun or curiosity is caused by the addition of spurious dates.

It is believed that originally, way back in time, more than one handle was added to items like mugs and tankards to lengthen their useful life if one of the handles got broken as there was a spare one ready in place. The applied handles, usually rolled or press extruded can sometimes be found with press moulded foot like terminals or they may be tooled on to give better adhesion to the body. Most tygs have just two or three handles, but when it is two opposing handles they are often described as loving cups.

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The South Devon tygs were in most demand around the turn of the 19th century with just a few produced later. Most of the tygs were made by Aller Vale Pottery, the Exeter Art Pottery and by Hart & Moist - Exeter with just a few made by the Longpark and Watcombe potteries later on

My first tyg, dry based unmarked Aller Vale with scandy and unusual ‘Biddiforde, maryners’ motto remains my favourite.  Around the top it has a brown ‘flown’ and wavy border pattern quite unlike the more precise yellow and green tadpoles and dots below. This brown top border, some believe, to show a Staffordshire influence. Shown is the ‘Biddeforde’ tyg with another with a fine, interesting motto relating to the alphabet and books for children.

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Shown below are the style of tygs with the handles at the back like a pair of angel wings and on a waisted shape, this is the Aller Vale shape number 275. Compare the ‘cruder’ early style of tyg on the right with the neater small S2 (Scandy on green) white clay tyg in the middle, one wonders if we are seeing on one hand, the production from the cottage art schools and on the other, those of the Aller Vale pottery works, or is the difference just the time scale?

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Shown next are three other Aller Vale white clay unmarked tygs, that  would have been produced in the Aller Vale works as they have the pattern coded decorative designs  of K1, K2 and a C1.  Each were seemingly produced close in time with each other.

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Note the tyg below with Ivy leaves done in cream slip and covered in a green glaze that also makes the pot body such a dark rich brown. This pot has very refined press moulded terminals to the handles looking like feet. Longpark also produced tygs in this design and shape.

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The larger tyg of the three is in Barbotine style which is seldom found these days, likewise the two tone green C3 next to it is equally scarce, so I’m pleased to have both of them also.    

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The smallest tyg is from Longpark, an N1 Scandy at just .55cm high, and strangely it is marked with 96 as the shape number. It can be seen with a Longpark ‘Tintern Abbey’ tyg (not to be confused with the similar Aller ‘Windmill’ decoration), this tyg looks identical in shape to the Aller Vale Cockerel tyg on the right, not surprising, when one remembers that Longpark Pottery was started up by some of Aller Vale’s premier workers. The Cockerel tyg with the ‘Good Morning’ inscription is worthy of further interest as it is unusual for a commemorative of the 1902 Coronation to be decorated in such a way. This tyg carries the Gaelic inscription ‘Dhai gleidh an Righ’ on one side and ‘God Save the King’ on the other and is back stamped with the impressed ‘John Ford & Co Edinboro’ mark. John Ford & Co was Edinburgh’s principle manufacturer of fine flint glassware during the late 19 century, they had a retail shop there and the retail business continued until 1959.

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Many interesting tygs can be found from those produced at Exeter, by both Exeter Art Pottery 1891-1986 and Hart and Moist 1896-1932. At first glance many of these pots may seem to be the same but this is not so, for if more than a quick glance is taken, each will be seen to be individual in its own way. Most of their tygs are earthy, having a ‘county’ or ‘peasant’ feel to them. Illustrated above are three EAP tygs, each with the EAP marks containing number 63 or 64. The numbers are used to indicate both shape and size, for example number 63 is the same shape but a smaller tyg. Many early  EAP tygs will be marked but a lot are not so, two points to note that will to help identify these early tygs from the later intermediate ones, are the thicker more bulbous handles with  stubby terminals, also the three grooved (compared to relief) lines around the pot near the top of the tyg would  seem to be almost exclusive to that early period.

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The vast majority of tygs do have similar recessed or relief lines near the top and just a few later EAP tygs have a rouletted or round impressed pattern not seen elsewhere. Throwers at their wheels would have created these lines as a finishing touch after forming the pot shape by the use of a slate smoothing rib with notches cut in it, this would be laid up against side of the soft clay shape to impart the raised lines. A smaller serrated rib pressed into the soft clay would have been used to make the less common grooves. Both types of Exeter have three bold lines, whereas Aller Vale’s are either three or four fainter lines or grooves. Aller Vale tygs have these fine line rings. We only know of one H & M Exeter pot without line ring banding and the Watcombe sail boat tyg is also without it.

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Note the Hart & Moist tygs above with the simple but pleasing decoration that can be found and the stylised Art Nouveau tyg with the verse, From rocks and sands and barren lands… Good fortune set me free.. And from great guns and woman’s tongues… Good lord set me free. Also another has an impressed pattern ring around the top with, Words are easy like the wind…  Faithful friends are hard to find. The last blue floral decorated tyg ultimately says – If you can’t be easy…  Be as easy as you can. The end K.P.