Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Potter, Christopher (d.1817)

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1195745Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46 — Potter, Christopher (d.1817)1896John Goldworth Alger

POTTER, CHRISTOPHER (d. 1817), introducer into France of printing on porcelain and glass, was probably of the same family as Christopher Potter (1591–1646) [q. v.] He was owner in 1777 of an estate in Cambridgeshire, nine hundred acres of which he devoted to the culture of woad. At first his property was cultivated by ‘itinerant woadmen,’ who, as was then customary, hired fields for two years, but afterwards he employed his own agricultural labourers, which he represents as an innovation. He subsequently manufactured ‘archel’ dyes. During the American war he was one of the principal victualling contractors for the 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. In 1784 he was again returned, but was again unseated, on the grounds of having been declared bankrupt, and of possessing no property qualification. He sat and voted while the petitions were pending. On a new writ being issued he was a third time a candidate, but was defeated. His candidature seems to have conduced to the passing of the act disqualifying government contractors.

Settling in Paris, he in 1789 established potteries there, and assumed or received credit for the invention of printing on porcelain and glass, though this had been practised at Liverpool and Worcester as far back as 1756–7 (see Jewitt, Hist. of Ceramic Art, ii. 27). 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 likewise reopened the Chantilly potteries, 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 also opened 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. In 1796 he was the bearer to Lord Malmesbury at Paris of an offer from Barras to conclude peace for a bribe of 500,000l. At the industrial exhibition of 1798 on the Champ de Mars, the first held in Paris, he was awarded one of the twelve chief prizes for white pottery—the composition, shape, and varnish being highly commended. At the exhibition of 1802 he was one of the twenty-five gold medallists who dined with Bonaparte. By this time he had given up all his factories except that at Montereau, which is still in existence. No specimen remains of his ordinary ware, but at the Sèvres Museum there is a cup, ornamented with designs of flowers and butterflies, which bears 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. He died, apparently in London, on 18 Nov. 1817.

[Annual Biography, 1818; Gent. Mag. 1817, pt. ii. p. 569; Cromwell's Hist. of Colchester, 1825; Index to Moniteur, 1800–14 (misprinted Potier); Jacquemart's Hist. de la Porcelaine, 1862; Alger's Englishmen in French Revolution; Mémoires de Barras, 1895.]

J. G. A.