The leading makers
Unfortunately japanners did not usually sign their work in any way. The only firm to have done so consistently was Jennens & Bettridge of Birmingham - a fact which sometimes gives rise to the impression that they were the only japanners. This makes identification of the makers of japanned pieces very difficult, though it is not always impossible.
It would be possible to search trade directories and make up very long lists of people and firms who appear as japanners or blank makers in Wolverhampton and Bilston. Heaven alone knows what good that would be. In any case W. H. Jones's book "The Story of Japan, Tin-Plate Working and Bicycle and Galvanising Trades in Wolverhampton" (1900) provides details of many japanners. Below are some of the better known (or better recorded) makers.
The building known as the Levesons' Great Hall or Old Hall or Turton's Hall lay in the area of what is now Old Hall Street. Long after Turton had left and when the place had been empty for years, it was occupied by a firm Jones and Taylor, who started using it for japanning, round about 1767. About 1783 the premises were occupied by Obadiah and William Ryton who moved their business there from Tin Shop Yard. Under this company Edward Bird was apprenticed as a painter and he eventually went on to become a Royal Academician and a painter to royalty. About 1820 this firm suffered some sort of industrial unrest and many men left, either to set up on their own or to work for others. Around this time the premises were taken over by Ryton and Walton (one of the few makers occasionally to sign their work), the company becoming Walton and Co in 1842 when William Ryton retired. Benjamin Walton built up the firm tremendously but then suffered the misfortune of being declared bankrupt and having the company wound up, only to find that the company was in fact solvent. Benjamin's son Frederick took over the firm and revived its fortunes by developing new methods, employing the best designers and painters and generally acting in a very businesslike way. But japanning at the Old Hall did not survive the general downturn in the industry. In 1883 everything was sold off and the Old Hall demolished.
William Shoolbred bought Charles Mander's japanning department in John Street in 1840. Shoolbred had worked with the japanner Edward Perry so knew about the trade but was not a skilled man. He employed Henry Loveridge, a salesman, with whom he soon went into partnership. These businessmen must have had a good business eye and a good eye for good workmen because in 1848 they built the large Merridale Works in Merridale Street and there installed the latest machinery. The firm eventually became Henry Loveridge & Co and in the third quarter of the 19th century was one of the biggest firms of japanners in the country. It made both tin and paper wares but tended to concentrate on articles of utility rather than ornament, though it was well represented in the latter field by the artist Richard Stubbs. The firm survived longer than many but closed in 1927. The Merridale Works then had many different occupants, including Corfield Cameras, before it was demolished in 1973.
Manders, so well known as manufacturers of printing inks and paints, started out as japanners. The firm was founded by the brothers Benjamin, Charles and John Mander, in 1792. Although not a single example of their japanned ware is now known to exist they seem to have been very successfull, to have produced high quality wares and to have been highly regarded. Benjamin's son, Charles, took over the company. Charles was clearly more interested in varnishes and other finishes than he was in japanning itself. After a disastrous partnership with William Wiley, he sold the japanning business to William Shoolbred, and concentrated on making varnishes which he sold to all the leading japanners and others. From that start the modern company grew.
Lawley's History of Bilston lists many makers in that town:
Another old firm in this trade is that of Chapman & Co., Ld., (formerly Farmer & Chapman), of the Caledonian Japan and Hollow-ware Works. This firm produces a considerable quantity of high class goods in both departments of its business, and have an extensive connection with consumers in all parts of the world.
In point of time, perhaps, the Batchcroft Works, formerly belonging to Messrs. J. & W. H. Baker comes next. Messrs. Baker commenced business in the year 1851, and were the first to introduce into the town the manufacture of bright block tin goods. In 1891 the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent, Mr. W. H. Baker becoming sole proprietor, and he now carries on the business, being assisted by his two sons Mr. Willis Baker and Mr. James Baker.
A very old Japan manufactory formerly belonging to Messrs. Dean is the Crown Tin and Japan Works, now belonging to Mr. John Froggatt. The buildings are of considerable extent, and the proprietor manufactures all kinds of japanned goods and tin wares, such as coal vases, trunks, toilets, bowls, baskets, &c., the machinery employed being of the newest and most adequate kind.
Another very old japanning works, formerly carried on by Barker & Co., is the Beehive Works in Tame Street, now owned by the "Old Beehive Company."
At the Carlton Works of Messrs. Seager & Co. - a more recent addition to the Japan industry of the town - a great variety of goods of the ordinary kinds are got up, and to these must be added several specialities which command a ready sale in the Birmingham market.
Another factory of a similar kind is that of the Britannia Japan Works, of which Mr. James Bird is the proprietor. Mr. Bird was formerly a partner with Mr. James Jones at the Beehive Works, but on the dissolution of the partnership some years ago, started the present concern. He is the manufacturer of the usual classes of japanned goods.
Another well known firm is that of Messrs. Smith & Lidington, of the Earl Street Works, of which Mr. F. G. Lidington is the sole proprietor. The goods manufactured by this firm are of good quality and of the usual variety.
The firm of Mr. James Motlow, Japanner and Galvanizer, carries on a large business at the works in Dudley Street, where a large number of hands are employed in both departments.
An important firm engaged in these allied trades of japanning and Tin Plate working is that of Messrs. Scott & Harris, the Star Japan Company. This firm manufactures a very large variety of goods, both of the best and common qualities to suit all markets.
Messrs. Bradley & Co., of the Mount Pleasant Works, manufacture very largely all kinds of Galvanized Goods, and their productions bear a good reputation among consumers.