Minton Patent Ovens, Part 3: Proof

In our Minton Patent Ovens series we’ve already examined the details of the patent behind the name and taken a closer look at some of the plans and drawings found in the Mintons Patent Ovens section of the catalogue. In this final post it’s time to find out whether the Patent Ovens were a success, both for Minton itself and for the other companies who adopted this new type of oven construction…

Back in Part 1 of this series we featured SD 1705/MS992 and from it Art Director Leon Arnoux’s expectation that Minton could save “3 or perhaps 4000 tons of coal a year” through the adoption of the Patent Oven. Thanks to SD 1705/MS971, which documents the savings of coal between the “old principle” and “new” ovens between 1873 and 1883, we’re able to see just how close the Patent Ovens came to fulfilling that expectation. Whilst the calculations show that the actual saving is closer to 2000 tons per year – the new ovens saved 20,921 tons over a 10 year period – this still equates to a 33% saving in the amount of coal used at Minton – not a trivial number!

In 1876 Minton produced a leaflet about the Patent Ovens (SD 1705/MS976) which included not just their own experience with these ovens but that of a number of “leading Manufacturers… who have adopted the Patent” too. In it the ovens are universally praised for their lower coal consumption and in many cases for helping improve the quality of the finished ware or for allowing greater quantities of ware to be included in each firing. However, given that this circular is being used as a marketing tool for the Patent Ovens it’s probably not that surprising to find that the recorded responses are all so complimentary!

For further feedback relating to the Patent Ovens we can turn to SD 1705/MS1083, a file of letters from pottery manufacturers containing responses to a questionnaire circulated by Minton in January 1887. The answers to questions regarding coal consumption, the cost of repairs and the overall effect of the ovens on the ware and the firing are certainly more mixed than those in the circular from 11 years before – in fact it’s quite hard to find a consensus across the documents for any of the questions asked:

The repairs are much less & the saving of fuel is considerable.
John Meir & Son

The repairs & renewals of Mintons Patent are more than those of the old.
Josiah Wedgwood & Son

I have found the firing to be much simpler the results being of a more even and reliable character than under the old plan
Charles Ford

We do not perceive any great difference as to evenness of fire…
Edge, Malkin & Co.

There is a saving of fuel about 15%, but you cannot use such common coals for the Mintons as for the old oven.
Josiah Wedgwood & Son

We make saving in quantity at least 50 percent…
Doulton & Co.

Despite these inconsistencies the overall reception to the Patent Oven seems to lean towards the positive, though almost always with some sort of caveat. It’s also interesting to see concerns over the type or quality of coal required, that some manufacturers have made “little alterations” to the Patent Oven design, or even that “the fireman has not got well used to the patent oven” – in dealing with such a complex & nuanced process as firing pottery perhaps certain manufacturers’ methods and materials suited the Patent Ovens better than others?

There are many more interesting stories to be found inside this part of the catalogue (we’d love to find out more about a particularly long correspondence between Minton’s Leon Arnoux and Messrs Haviland of Limoges – alas, we can’t read French!) but for now we’ll draw our adventure into the Mintons Patent Ovens section to a close.

We hope you’ve enjoyed it!