Chintz ware has roots in the 17th century, when English artisans were inspired to hand paint their ceramics with the floral patterns seen on fabric imported from India. But it wasn’t until the late 1920s, when the lithographic transfer method developed and allowed for tighter, more detailed patterns, that today’s collectible chintz ware burst onto the scene. Royal Winton, known as the premier producer of chintz china, launched its first pattern, “Marguerite,” in 1928. And its wide success was followed in the coming decades by more than 60 Royal Winton patterns, as well as a slew of chintz ware-producing companies.
Little Rock collector Jeanne Spencer’s first and most treasured chintz ware is a Royal Winton cup and saucer set purchased at a Dallas antique shop in the mid-1980s. Jeanne, who had first learned of chintz ware during classes in design school, has since amassed an impressive 460 pieces. “My mother surprised me with my first chintz ware, which I had discovered and regretted not buying, as a Christmas gift,” she remembers. After that, Jeanne was hooked, and began visiting antique shops and malls on a quest to expand her collection, which now includes stacking tea pots, toast racks, salt and pepper shakers, dishes, mustard pots and much more.
In the beginning, Jeanne purchased all the chintz, chipped or not, that she could find, with the caveat that it had been made in England. While she eventually gave way to collecting a smattering of pieces from Germany, Czechoslovakia and Japan, she prefers the warm ivory background of the English variety to the cooler white of other types. The contrast of a black backdrop also appeals to Jeanne, though one of her favorites is Lord Nelson Pottery’s “Rose Time” pattern, featuring bright pink and yellow roses on a creamy backdrop. “The word ‘cheery’ is often associated with chintz,” Jeanne notes. “It was intended to be used by common working people to brighten their gray days and bring happiness and joy into their everyday lives.”
Because the value of chintz ware has increased exponentially, Jeanne chooses to display her collection throughout her home, in cabinets and on walls, rather than use it on an everyday basis. She is also very careful to distinguish between the more collectible old chintz ware, produced between the 1920s and 1960s, and the less valuable look-alike versions produced today. “The new is very shiny, whereas the old has a dull finish,” she describes. “The newer prints also lack the detail.”
But certain occasions call for something special. Jeanne has been known to set a formal tea table with chintz teapots tied with satin ribbons, as well as a variety of cake plates and demitasse cups adorned with doilies and nosegays. And this beautiful combination is a reminder of the reason that Jeanne started her collection in the first place. “I saw that several pieces had different patterns but seemed to work together,” she remembers. “What I like most is that the pieces are different but, at the same time, alike.”