Graduated set of serving dishes, c.1765-70, for John Kent, landlord at the Bell Inn and Post Office, Maidstone
A very rare set of three serving dishes in graduated sizes, c.1765, with a pseudo armorial containing a bell above the words Post Office, with the name John Kent above and Maidstone Kent below, all copied with great precision from a tavern signboard.
John Kent is recorded at this time as the licensee at the Bell Inn in Week Street, Maidstone, a well known staging post about halfway between London and Dover, where the diarist Samuel Pepys, that great connoisseur of taverns, records dining on the 24th March 1668 “… Thence to Maydstone, which I had a mighty mind to see, having never been there; … in the street also I did buy and send to our inne, the Bell, a dish of fresh fish. And so, having walked all round the town and found it very pretty, as most towns I ever saw, though not very big, and people of good fashion in it, we to our inne … and had a good dinner.”
From the Dover-Kent Archives comes the information that the Bell was originally on Gabriel’s Hill in Maidstone but closed there in 1711 and moved to 14 Week Street where it became a posting house. From that premises was issued a sale notice in the Kentish Gazette on 2 December 1769 for “A pair of well-matched, handsome, brown dock Geldings … [that] made a genteel Appearance in their Harness … [and] a neat … Post-chaise. Enquire further of Mr. Kent at the Bell Inn, Maidstone”.
By the second half of the 18th century the demand for inexpensive personalised table wares from China had reached all levels of society, from the great livery companies of London to shopkeepers and taverns. Designs were often taken from pseudo-armorial trade cards or inn signs.
Only a very few rare examples of porcelain from inns survive today. Two sets of mugs were made for Dunney Baxter, landlord of the Lord Cobham’s Arms in Buckingham, and another for John Jounson at the Queen’s Head tavern at Gravesend, the design there copying the menu card. A single punch bowl is known for John Hayward of the Black Lion Inn off Fleet Street, as is one for Thomas Green at the Spread Eagle in Southwark.
This order for John Kent is rather unusual, possibly unique, in that it included some serving dishes as well as mugs. A similar dish was exhibited at the China Institute in NY in 1973-4; while another at the Maidstone Museum was funded in 1946 by the Art Fund. The only mug known, illustrated in China for the West, is now in a private collection.
Reference : Howard, David S.; Chinese Armorial Porcelain, Volume I, p.476.
Howard, David and Ayers, John; China for the West, p. 428-29.
Larwood, Jacob, and Hotten, John Camden; English Inn Signs, plate 3 for the inn sign.
Condition : Largest dish: perfect. Medium dish: small chip filled, minor retouching. Smallest dish: small chip filled, minor retouching.