Biography: The Della Robbia Pottery was founded in 1894 in Birkenhead by Harold Steward Rathbone (1858-1929) and Conrad Gustave d'Huc Dressler (1856-1940). Rathbone, son of a wealthy local business man, Philip Rathbone, had been a pupil of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown. Dressler was a sculptor and potter. Giovanni Carlo Valentino Manzoni also joined the pottery in early 1894, leaving to establish his own pottery, the Minerva Art Ware Manufacturers in Hanley in July 1895. Manzoni returned to the pottery in June 1898, staying until its closure in 1906.
The pottery was established as a true Arts & Crafts pottery on the lines advocated by William Morris, using local labor and raw materials. The pottery produced is characterized by lustrous lead glazes and patterns of interweaving plants, typical of Art Nouveau, often with heraldic and Islamic motifs.
Dressler was mainly responsible for the decorative architectural panels inspired by the work of the Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia and his family. Dressler left the pottery in 1897 to establish his own pottery, the Medmenham Pottery, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
The Della Robbia mark is usually handwritten on the base of pieces with a ship device, and often the initials of the designer and decorator.
The costs of making the Della Robbia products was greater than the prices that could be charged. Even with the introduction of the professional services of a thrower and kiln man, as well as the use of commercial glazes and raw materials, the pottery could not make a commercial success of itself. In 1900 Marianne de Caluwé joined the pottery, injecting finance as well as bringing a new direction with her strong Art Nouveau influence. New exhibition venues in Scotland, even a renewed interest in the pottery's wares from 1900 through to 1904 could not help it survive, and the pottery closed in 1906.