Christopher Potter (died 1817)

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Christopher Potter (c.1751–1817) was an English manufacturer and contractor, best known for introducing into France the method of printing on porcelain and glass.

Early life[edit]

Potter was the owner, in 1777, of an estate in Cambridgeshire, nine hundred acres of which he devoted to growing woad. At first his property was cultivated by "woadmen", who were acccustomed to hiring fields for two years; but then he employed his own agricultural labourers, which he considered an innovation. He subsequently manufactured "archel" dyes.[1]

Political career[edit]

During the American War of Independence, Potter was one of the principal victualling contractors for the British Army. In 1780 he unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary representation of Cambridge. In 1781 he was returned for Colchester, but on petition was unseated for corrupt practices.[1] In 1784 Potter had the support of Richard Rigby, and he was again returned, but the election was declared void, and had to be re-run. Potter this time lost.[2] His candidature seems to have laid the ground for the passing of an act disqualifying government contractors.[1]

In France[edit]

Settling in Paris, Potter in 1789 established potteries there, and assumed or received credit for the invention of printing on porcelain and glass, practised at Liverpool and Worcester as far back as 1756–7. Backed by the Academy of Sciences and by Bailly, the mayor of Paris, he petitioned the National Assembly for a seven years' patent, promising to give a fourth of the profits to the poor, and to teach his process to French apprentices. No action was taken on his petition, but he enjoyed for years a virtual monopoly. He also reopened the Chantilly porcelain works, which had been closed through the emigration of the Condé family; he there employed five hundred men, and produced nine thousand dozen plates a month. He opened further potteries at Montereau and Forges-les-Eaux. In the autumn of 1793, when the English in France were arrested as hostages for Toulon, he was imprisoned at Beauvais and Chantilly.[1]

In 1796 he was the bearer to Lord Malmesbury at Paris of an offer from Barras to conclude peace, for a bribe of £500,000. At the industrial exhibition of 1798 on the Champ de Mars, the first held in Paris, he was awarded one of the twelve major prizes for white pottery. At the exhibition of 1802 he was one of the twenty-five gold medallists who dined with Napoleon Bonaparte. By this time he had given up all his factories except that at Montereau, which lasted through the 19th century.[1]

John Goldworth Alger, writing in the Dictionary of National Biography, stated that no specimen remains of Potter's ordinary ware. The Victoria and Albert Museum, however, has Chantilly porcelain it identifies with the Potter period.[3] In the Sèvres Museum there was a cup, ornamented with designs of flowers and butterflies, with his initials, surmounted by Prince of Wales's feathers. In 1811 he advocated the culture of woad in France, citing his Cambridgeshire experience, and between 1794 and 1812 he took out five patents for agricultural and manufacturing processes, some of them in association with his son, Thomas Mille Potter.[1]


Potter died, apparently in London, on 18 November 1817.[1]



 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1896). "Potter, Christopher (d.1817)". Dictionary of National Biography 46. London: Smith, Elder & Co.