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Staffordshire China for Americans
Americans had been partial to the products of that area in central England known as "The Potteries" for three-quarters of a century when, about 1820, china decorated with American scenic designs began to be exported to the United States. This ware, now called "Historic Blue and White," quickly caught the fancy of the citizens of the new republic and demand increased until by 1825, more Staffordshire china was arriving here monthly than had come over in a year during the 1790's when the great Josiah Wedgwood's wares were at their height.
This transfer-decorated earthenware was usually patterned in a deep blue,although six or eight other colors were occasionally used. The designs numbered almost 700 and were used by thirty or more Staffordshire potters. These designs were not hard to come by since American artists were finding excellent material for their canvases in the scenic views of America. These in turn were often reproduced as prints or magazine illustrations and were readily accessible to the Staffordshire potters.
The dishes which resulted were handsome, inexpensive, and appealed to patriotism and civic pride. Naturally, dinner services, tea sets, and other combinations were in demand. Typical examples of these dishes are a platter and three plates. The platter has a border of medallions of roses with leafage repeated twelve times. It frames a view of the Capitol at Washington taken from a print published in 1831. This design was used by several potters who often varied the details. This particular platter bears the mark of J. úd Vv'. Ridgway, sons of Job Ridgway who started a pottery at Hanley in 1790. Design variations include the two figures in the foreground on horseback and the tall tree with odd foliage which these potters so much favored as to make it almost an additional mark. They were also partial to views of buildings rather than natural scenery.
Another popular and famous pattern produced by this firm was one showing the landing of Lafayette on his farewell tour of 1824. General Lafayette's visit to America gave the young republic, whose states then numbered twenty-four, its first chance to show what it could do in entertaining an honored guest. He arrived in New York in August and stayed thirteen months during which he was feted everywhere on a nation-wide tour. A natural product of this patriotic fervor was a liberal supply of souvenir items.
Among them were the blue and white transfer-decorated dishes from Staffordshire. The Clews brothers took the most popular print of the visit and produced a dinner service for the American trade. The print, bearing the title "Landing of Gen. Lafayette at Castle Garden, New York, 16th August. 1824," was made by Samuel Maverick, New York printer, engraver, and early nineteenth-century forerunner of the modern news photographer.
The print appeared on each dish of the Clews dinner services surrounded by a border of large and small flower clusters. Maverick portrayed the event realistically and with commendable detail. Lafayette's ship Cadmus, escorted by the three-masted ships Robert Fulton and Chancellor Livingston, is shown approaching Castle Garden, then connected with the mainland by a foot bridge. The American flag with twenty-four stars is unfurled in the breeze and, in the foreground, smoke from a welcoming salute of six cannon is plainly visible. Castle Garden was originally built as a fort on a rock formation. Later, as the narrow channel separating it from the mainland filled in, it became part of Battery Park where it was used as a recreation hall for three generations and then as an aquarium.
Although a great number of the Clews dinner services were sold in America, because of the soft earthenware and frequent use, breakage over the years was heavy. The owner of even one piece now is fortunate. Platters are especially desirable. They occur in two sizes, 19 by 14 3/4 inches and 15 1/2 by 12 inches. Clews' usual mark was a crown surrounded by the words "Clews' Warranted Staffordshire." Some pieces also have an importer's mark, "J. Greenfield's China Store, No. 77 Pearl Street, New York."
The earliest scenic dishes showed pictures of long-established towns in the east, but as pioneer settlements of the Middle West grew into cities and towns, views of them appeared, found their way to Staffordshire, and came back on blue and white transfer ware. Most of these views were used by potters who failed to mark their pieces except for the name of the view which was usually surrounded by a wreath of leaves and flowers. This platter shows a view of Sandusky, Ohio, settled in 1817 and well established by 1840 as indicated by this view, done by an unknown artist.
Other western views used by anonymous potters were Detroit, Michigan, Chillicothe and Columbus, Ohio, Vevey, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky. Among the known potters who used western views, J.&J, Jackson produced some light blue and white ware decorated with a picture of White Sulphur Springs, Delaware, Ohio. Ralph Stevenson and Enoch Wood used a view drawn by Captain Basil Hall about 1828. "Shipping Port on the Ohio in Kentucky." This port was located about two miles below Louisville. Enoch Wood also used two views of Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky.
Historic Staffordshire ware with western views is in demand today because it is attractive, rare, and shows the cities and towns as they looked a century and more ago. Some of the views are to be found nowhere else but on these dishes which were once so plentiful. The Sandusky, Ohio, view is one of the views most eagerly sought after. Originally it must have been made as regular tableware, but now even examples in the form of platters are rare and bring as much as $500.