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Tumbledown Dick

Last week I showed how British porcelain makers imitated Chinese designs, and this week I have another beautiful example of this. The design on this cheerful Spode plate from about 1824 is called "Tumbledown Dick". It is a famous design of a bird hanging in beautiful peony flowers on a ground that is called "cracked ice".

So why "Tumbledown Dick?" There are various theories but the most likely one is that it was inspired by the word "dicky bird", probably a small bird such as a tit. The word was popularised by an old English nursery rhyme about Simple Simon. Simple Simon rhymes tell the adventures of a rather dim child who has all kinds of misadventures; the rhymes are funny and serve as a sort of "what not to do". My grandmother recited Simple Simon rhymes to me when I was a little girl, but they have been around since Elizabethan times - the first time one was recorded was 1685.

In 1764 Simple Simon rhymes were published in modern English for the first time, and they became a great hit. One of the rhymes goes:

"Simple Simon went to look If plums grew on a thistle; He pricked his fingers very much, Which made poor Simon whistle.

He went to catch a dicky bird, And thought he could not fail, Because he had a little salt, To put upon its tail.

He went for water with a sieve, But soon it ran all through; And now poor Simple Simon Bids you all adieu."

In the year 1824, when this beautiful little plate was made, this was quite recent and the "dicky bird" would have been a familiar term. So a dicky bird hanging in the large stems of peonies, as copied from a Chinese design, would easily become a "tumbledown dick".

In cockney English (the slang of London) there is still an expression: "I haven't heard dicky bird about it", which means I haven't been told about something.

This plate has had a very interesting production process. First, the outline of the bird and the flowers was transfer printed in flow blue. Then the cracked ice etching was transfer printed in brown, giving the illusion of a brown ground. Then the colours were applied in enamels - but under the glaze rather than on top, which was how it usually happened. Then the plate was glazed, and finally it was gilded. As the colours are under the glaze, these Tumbledown Dick items have a lot less wear than the usual transfer printed and hand coloured items of that era. You can find this beautiful plate here in my shop. You can see all my plates here, and all my Chinoiserie items here (and don't say you haven't heard dicky bird about it now! 😆). If you always want to see the latest additions, follow me on Instagram... I post pictures and a story every single day 🌸🐦🌺

Happy weekend, try and catch a dicky bird - and #keepdistancestayconnected ! 🏡


This week's new treasures:​



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