In 1780, George William Coventry, the fifth Earl of Coventry, lost his eyesight in a hunting accident. The Earl commissioned the Worcester Porcelain Manufactory to produce a set of fine china with finely articulated raised decorations so that he might still experience the pieces through touch. Out of such a tragedy, beauty was born as the ‘Blind Earl’ porcelain pattern.
This tale is, however, closer to fantasy than fact. Readers will notice that this dish dates 10 years prior to the Earl’s famous accident; indeed, examples of this Worcester pattern can be found as early as the 1750s. Historians suspect that Coventry experienced hereditary blindness and the hunting accident story was fabricated as a way to disguise this. Perhaps he commissioned the pattern earlier, or maybe he acquired a set as his vision deteriorated. In any case, the pattern became known as ‘Blind Earl’ and was produced into the 19th and 20th centuries.
This pattern is beautiful both tactually and visually. The exquisitely painted decoration, attributed to the James Giles workshop, cannot be ignored. The brilliant green leaves are accented with insects: butterflies, a ladybug, and an ant. The inclusion of the lady bug an ant is a feature rarely found in the Blind Earl pattern.
While most antiques and works of art scream, “Don’t touch me!”, tactile experience of this exquisite dish is a prerequisite for true appreciation.