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About Design Registers

Design Registers features a selection of 300 designs registered by designers, individuals and companies from the mid-Victorian period, in order to obtain copyright protection. Submitted to the government department responsible for administering the registration, the Board of Trade (BT), these records are held by The National Archives. This new exhibition covers designs registered from 1864 to 1871 included in the volume referred to as BT 43/68.

Whether the designs submitted were detailed line drawings or examples using early photography, they show marvellous examples of jugs, plates and other treasures (including urinals!). Many of the entries registered include designs for famous ceramic companies such as Wedgwood, Belleek, Minton and Royal Worcester.

Design Registers also contains a number of curiosities catalogued in BT 43/68 alongside the typical ceramic items; in some instances they include actual items. Some gems among the miscellaneous items are needlework cases, betting books and even early Clark's shoes designs.

Since BT 43/68 is currently unfit for production to readers due to its fragile state, Design Registers provides unlimited public access to 300 designs. The designs featured in the exhibition – selected from 911 within BT 43/68 – can be viewed time and time again, causing no damage to the original. In addition the zoom feature means that amazing detail, barely noticeable to the naked eye, can be seen.

The digitisation of the designs for the exhibition illustrates how new electronic advances contribute to documentary conservation. Yet this project could never have been carried out without the preparation and conservation of BT 43/68; a process that took over 900 hours.

216821 - John Mortlock - 14 February 1868 - Jug
216821 - John Mortlock - 14 February 1868 - Jug

Indeed, this exhibition was driven entirely by the need to preserve BT 43/68, and also to make the records publicly accessible. For over 10 years David Beaton, a self-confessed enthusiastic collector and student of ceramics, has worked with The National Archives to improve accessibility to BT 43/68. Working as a volunteer, David used his 35 years' experience as a collector of ceramics to research and write captions for the exhibition.

David's unflagging passion for discovering more about the designs, whilst minimising the damaging cumulative effect of handling the original designs, has led to Design Registers.

The current exhibition is, however, just a very small selection of the wider BT records held by The National Archives. In fact, the complete design collection of BT ranging from 1839 to 1991 provides a fascinating insight into the evolution of style, decoration and consumerism for over 150 years.

How to research registered designs

Alongside the designs on display from BT 43/68, details about the designs were gathered from a separate ledger in The National Archives collection, BT 44/8. This is where details of the date of registration, the proprietor, their address and a short description of the item registered may be found (previously published in Handbook of Pottery & Porcelain Marks, JP Cushion and WB Honey, Faber & Faber, London, 1956).

  • The proprietor recorded in BT 44/8 is the owner of the copyright and not necessarily the manufacturer or designer of the item
  • The date given in BT 44/8 only indicates the day of registration of the item. Popular designs could be manufactured for many years so the registration date cannot be used as an indication of the precise date of manufacture of any item

To find the full details of a registered design, enthusiasts would need to look in both volumes.

The volume BT 43/68 in its entirety contains registered design numbers in Class IV (Earthenwares) numbered 178787 to 252173 and spans a date range of 22 September 1864 to 1 May 1871. BT 44/8 contains designs numbered 1694 to 408849 and covers the greater date range of 22 September 1842 to 29 December 1883. Classes BT 43 and BT 44 form the holdings of Registered Designs held under the Designs Act, 1842 (5 & 6 Vict. c. 100).

The design registry separated designs to be registered into various classes according to the substances used in their manufacture. An individual number was allocated to each design registered and recorded in a class, in this case Class IV. The title for Class IV - 'Earthenwares' does not give a true representation of all the items that may be found within this class. The Class IV volumes also contain items made from ‘other solid substances', items made from leather, stone and even soap may also be found here. To obtain copyright protection the design proprietor had to mark each item with the letters ‘Rd’ (meaning ‘Registered design’). The mark also consisted of a letter and number date code in the form of a diamond mark issued by the designs office. It is details of these marks that people need to have when they come to The National Archives to research a design.

For help in researching a design.