Blues made from cobalt were first used widely for painted decoration in China during the fifteenth century. Much of the porcelain imported into Europe was decorated with blue designs, and after about 1650, when tea was introduced, the volume of blue and white 'chinaware' brought back from Canton was enormous. European potters tried to emulate this fine tableware, most successfully on artificial portcelain and tin-glazed earthenwares. The imports from China decline in the 1780s, and owners of Chinese services found it difficult to obtain replacements or additions. To meet this need, British potters copied the hand-painted patterns using the technique of transfer-printing from engraved copper plates. Spode perfected this process, and his wares have never been surpassed.
Robert Copeland, son of Gresham Copeland, partner in the family-owned Spode factory in Stoke on Trent, joined the firm in 1943. He inherited his father's collection of blue and white Spode, expanded it and has researched into the origin of the patterns. He was historical consultant to Spode Limited until his retirement.