Thomas Toft

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Signed charger, c. 1680, with slip-trailed decoration of Charles II in the Boscobel Oak. Charger MET DP164619.jpg
Signed charger, c. 1680, with slip-trailed decoration of Charles II in the Boscobel Oak.
Thomas Toft
DiedNovember 1698
Resting place Stoke-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, England
Residence Burslem, Staffordshire, England
Nationality English
Known for Slipware
Spouse(s)Ellena Bucknall (1663-1689)
ChildrenMatthias, John, Thomas, James, Cornelius
Parent(s)Ralph Toft & Margery Turner
Relatives Ralph Toft (brother)

Thomas Toft (died November 1698) was an English potter working in the Staffordshire Potteries during the 17th century. He and his family are known for large earthenware plates heavily decorated by slip-trailing, often in several colours.

Staffordshire Potteries

The Staffordshire Potteries is the industrial area encompassing the six towns, Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton that now make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England. North Staffordshire became a centre of ceramic production in the early 17th century, due to the local availability of clay, salt, lead and coal. Hundreds of companies produced decorative or industrial items.

Earthenware ceramic crockery and dishes

Earthenware is glazed or unglazed nonvitreous pottery that has normally been fired below 1200°C. Porcelain, bone china and stoneware, all fired at high enough temperatures to vitrify, are the main other important types of pottery.



It is thought that Toft, who may have been of Scandinavian origin, operated in the Burslem district during at least 1671-1689. The Staffordshire potters were at that time known for the excellence of their slipware; a kind of coarse earthenware decorated with a coloured clay and water mixture of cream-like consistency called slip. Sometimes a red slip was trailed on to a lighter background, sometimes vice versa. Black and green slips were also used. According to the common practice of the time, these earthenwares were glazed with a galena lead oxide glaze, giving them their characteristic yellow tinge.

Burslem town forming the city of Stoke-on-Trent, England

Burslem is a constitutional town that amalgamated to form the Federation of Stoke-on-Trent in 1910, along with Hanley, Tunstall, Fenton, Longton and Stoke-upon-Trent in 1925, following the granting of city status to become the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

Slipware aqueous suspension of a clay body

Slipware is pottery identified by its primary decorating process where slip is placed onto the leather-hard clay body surface before firing by dipping, painting or splashing. Slip is an aqueous suspension of a clay body, which is a mixture of clays and other minerals such as quartz, feldspar and mica. The slip placed onto a wet or leather-hard clay body surface by a variety of techniques including dipping, painting, piping or splashing.

Slip (ceramics) liquid mixture or slurry of clay and/or other materials suspended in water

A slip is a liquid mixture or slurry of clay and/or other materials suspended in water. It has many uses in the production of pottery, and other ceramic wares.

A dish with the Thomas Toft signature. Thomas Toft Dish.jpg
A dish with the Thomas Toft signature.

Designs attributed to Thomas Toft include mermaids, unicorns, pelicans, but also King Charles II and his wife Queen Catherine of Braganza, and numerous coats of arms. A cross-hatched rim was fairly typical of the style. The Toft style, combined with the slip trailing technique, was firmly established in the Staffordshire area by the middle of the seventeenth century. Over thirty signed dishes have been recorded but a few of them may have been made by his son, also called Thomas Toft.

Mermaid legendary aquatic creature with the upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish

In folklore, a mermaid is an aquatic creature with the head and upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The first stories appeared in ancient Assyria, in which the goddess Atargatis transformed herself into a mermaid out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover. Mermaids are sometimes associated with perilous events such as floods, storms, shipwrecks, and drownings. In other folk traditions, they can be benevolent or beneficent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans.

Unicorn Legendary creature, like a horse with a large horn projecting from forehead

The unicorn is a legendary creature that has been described since antiquity as a beast with a single large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. The unicorn was depicted in ancient seals of the Indus Valley Civilization and was mentioned by the ancient Greeks in accounts of natural history by various writers, including Ctesias, Strabo, Pliny the Younger, Aelian and Cosmas Indicopleustes. The Bible also describes an animal, the re'em, which some versions translate as unicorn.

Pelican A genus of large water birds with a large bill and throat pouch

Pelicans are a genus of large water birds that make up the family Pelecanidae. They are characterised by a long beak and a large throat pouch used for catching prey and draining water from the scooped-up contents before swallowing. They have predominantly pale plumage, the exceptions being the brown and Peruvian pelicans. The bills, pouches, and bare facial skin of all species become brightly coloured before the breeding season. The eight living pelican species have a patchy global distribution, ranging latitudinally from the tropics to the temperate zone, though they are absent from interior South America and from polar regions and the open ocean.

Life and family

Mermaid charger by Ralph Toft Charger, Ralph Toft, Staffordshire, c. 1660-1680 - Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art - DSC08678.JPG
Mermaid charger by Ralph Toft
Charger in the Toft style, with slip-trailed decoration of Charles II in the Boscobel Oak, c. 1685 Charger of Charles II in the Boscobel Oak LACMA M.86.151.jpg
Charger in the Toft style, with slip-trailed decoration of Charles II in the Boscobel Oak, c. 1685

Very little is known about Toft's life. His father died in 1669. He married to Ellena Bucknall on 21 April 1663. Toft died a pauper in 1689 and was buried at Stoke-upon-Trent, now one of the six towns making up the city of Stoke-on-Trent, on 3 December 1689. His wife Ellena died two years later in 1691. They had five children: Matthias (b.1663), John (b.1664), Thomas (1670–1723), James (b.1673) and Cornelius (1677–1728).

Poverty state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money

Poverty is the scarcity or the lack of a certain (variant) amount of material possessions or money. Poverty is a multifaceted concept, which may include social, economic, and political elements. Absolute poverty, extreme poverty, or destitution refers to the complete lack of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs such as food, clothing and shelter.

Stoke-upon-Trent component town of the city of Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-upon-Trent, commonly called Stoke, is a town that amalgamated with Hanley, Tunstall, Fenton, Longton and Burslem to form the county borough of Stoke-on-Trent in 1910. This county borough was granted city status in 1925 becoming the City of Stoke-on-Trent.

Stoke-on-Trent City and unitary authority in England

Stoke-on-Trent is a city and unitary authority area in Staffordshire, England, with an area of 36 square miles (93 km2). Together with the neighbouring boroughs of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Staffordshire Moorlands, it is part of North Staffordshire. In 2016, the city had a population of 261,302.

Toft became the grandfather to seven children although he did not live long enough to witness any of their births. Two, Maria (1701–1703) and Matthew (b.1698) were the children of James. Whilst Carol (b.1706), Cornelius (b.1703), Edward (1698–1701) and Standley (b.1700) were all the children of Matthias and his wife Dorothy Dickinson (d.1713). Much later, Charles Toft, Sr. (circa 1828-1890) was a leading designer for Mintons, and his son Albert Toft (1862–1949) was a sculptor, whose career was dominated by public commemorative commissions in bronze, especially of Queen Victoria.


Mintons was a major company in Staffordshire pottery, "Europe's leading ceramic factory during the Victorian era", an independent business from 1793 to 1968. It was a leader in ceramic design, working in a number of different ceramic bodies, decorative techniques, and "a glorious pot-pourri of styles - Rococo shapes with Oriental motifs, Classical shapes with Medieval designs and Art Nouveau borders were among the many wonderful concoctions". As well as pottery vessels and sculptures, the firm was a leading manufacturer of tiles and other architectural ceramics, producing work for both the Houses of Parliament and United States Capitol.

Albert Toft English sculptor

Albert Toft was an English sculptor.

Queen Victoria British monarch who reigned 1837–1901

Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. On 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India.

Surviving Work

Examples of his work can be found in:


United Kingdom

Victoria and Albert Museum Art museum in London

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the world's largest museum of applied and decorative arts and design, as well as sculpture, housing a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Potteries Museum & Art Gallery Art museum & local museum in Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery is in Hanley, one of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire. Admission is free.

United States

Three tiny fragments of Toft pottery including a shard inscribed '...OFT' were found three feet below ground at the corner of Stafford Street and Trinity Street, Hanley in 1953. [1]

Other Toft potters

Ralph Toft

Ralph Toft (b.1683) was probably Thomas' elder brother, he shared the name of their father. Ralph's name appears on many typical Toft-style dishes decorated with a double-headed eagle, cavaliers and ladies, or with a mermaid, two being dated 1676 and 1766.

Ralph married Christabell Hatton (d.1693), the couple had no known children.

James Toft

James Toft (b.1673) was Thomas' fourth son, it is believed that he is the maker of a number of Toft dishes that bear his name.

Cornelius Toft

Cornelius Toft (1677–1728) was the youngest son of Thomas. A two-handled incised white salt-glazed loving cup is inscribed as follows:

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  1. Evening Sentinel, 25 November 1953
  2. Catalogue, Burlington Fine Arts Club (1914)