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Dish - The Mermaid dish

The Mermaid dish

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Staffordshire (made)

  • Date:

    1670-1689 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Toft, Thomas (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Lead-glazed earthenware, with trailed slip decoration

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery, case 13

Object Type
Great dishes such as this were probably used in the 17th century as display objects. They perhaps copied more refined dishes of painted delftware (tin-glazed earthenware). After the publication of the Reverend A.E. Downman's Blue Dash Chargers in 1619, the quaint biblical name 'charger' became attached to these objects, whether delftware or slipware (wares of coarse red clay decorated with a white liquid clay known as slip). The striking image of the mythical Mermaid was popular and well known in the 17th century from inn signs. As well as having a strong visual and mystical appeal, it was easily adapted to the shape of the dish.

Social Class
Staffordshire slipwares must always have been relatively cheap. But whereas functional cups and posset pots were probably sold at fairs and taken in wicker panniers on horseback to distant parts of the country, these huge dishes emblasoned with the name of their maker seem to have been made as local advertisements for the (widely varying) skills of their creators. Despite the many surviving examples, they were apparently completely ignored in Staffordshire until Enoch Wood acquired two specimens for his factory museum, which opened about 1816.

Although such wares were recognised as interesting examples of folk pottery by the time that the South Kensington Museum acquired this piece in 1869, it was only in the 1920s that the writings of the art critic Herbert Read helped to raise them to the level of English Primitive Art. The striking simple image perfectly adapted to its 'frame' on the dish was much admired by early studio potters such as Bernard Leach (1887-1979).

Physical description

Shallow dish, slip-trailed earthenware, 44 cm x 7 cm, decorated with the image of a mermaid.

Place of Origin

Staffordshire (made)


1670-1689 (made)


Toft, Thomas (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Lead-glazed earthenware, with trailed slip decoration

Marks and inscriptions

'Thomas Toft'
Decoration; on lower section of rim of the dish.; painted


Depth: 7 cm, Diameter: 44 cm

Object history note

Made in Staffordshire and signed by Thomas Toft (died in 1689)

Descriptive line

Dish, decorated with the image of a mermaid, slip-trailed earthenware, Thomas Toft, England (Staffordshire), ca.1670-80.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This famous 'Mermaid' dish by Thomas Toft shows his masterly control of the slip-trailing technique and a natural sense of design. Little is known of Toft and his contemporary Staffordshire slipware makers, whose main production must have been useful household wares. Large dishes like this may have served as advertisements for such goods. [27/03/2003]

Subjects depicted



Ceramics; Earthenware


Ceramics Collection

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