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American Views On Old Blue Staffordshire
Miss Comstock is one of the foremost authorities on antiques and has been for many years the American Editor of The Connoisseur. It would have surprised the nineteenth century English potter, Andrew Stevenson of Cobridge in Staffordshire, to know that one of his platters intended to sell for a few shillings would one day bring over a thousand dollars. The price of $1,225 was given at a New York auction sale a few years ago for a Stevenson platter showing New York from Weehawk. Of course not all Staffordshire shows this amazing increase in value, but the old blue dishes with American scenes on them have become a serious interest for the collector. The reason is that they are truly remarkable as an accurate, contemporary picture of early nineteenth century America, at a period when the growing national consciousness was uniting people everywhere in pride of country. New cities were springing up. When Lafayette returned to this country in 1824 he found at Troy, N. Y., a city of eight thousand where he was unable to find a few houses where he might ask for food and shelter when he was in the army of the Revolution. The new cities demanded a record, and this they received from the many excellent views which were published at New York and Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century. The Staffordshire potters used these views or sent their own artists to make sketches. The designs were stamped on pottery by means of copper plates. The process was known as transfer printing and was first used by James Sadler of Liverpool in 1756. About forty years later the Staffordshire potters began to use this method in printing American views of pottery designed for the American market. The color, dark blue, was chosen because it covered well and did not allow blemishes to show. Blue and white as a color combination also had a certain prestige, because of the highly desirable blue and white pottery and porcelain from China, and the Delft ware of Holland. The blue that was used was deep and rich, and the making of it became a "lost art" for a long period although in recent years it has been rediscovered to the extent of making some very deceptive forgeries possible.
The chief potters were Enoch Wood & Sons, J. & W. Ridgway, Andrew Stevenson, James and Ralph Clews, J. & J. Jackson, T. Mayer, Ralph Stevenson & Williams, and there are a few known only by their initials and a few unknown makers. Different border patterns were used by each potter, so that these are virtually a signature. Enoch Wood, for instance, often used borders showing sea shells, but also employed at times a flower and fruit design. Joseph Stubbs introduced an eagle among flowers and scrolls, on his platters , with a view of the dam and water works at Fairmount on the Schuylkill, Philadelphia. James Clews used a flower design with long tailed tropical birds, showing the Hudson and Ft. Montgomery.
Subjects include views of cities, of churches, almshouses, theaters, colleges, fine private mansions, prisons and inns. There are views of the Erie Canal, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, early steamboats, such as the Chancellor Livingston (the last boat designed by Fulton, and the Chief Justice Marshall of the Troy Line. Historical subjects include a Battle of Bunker Hill and Penn's Treaty with the Indians, while Franklin's Maxims are found on an attractive set which inculcated at meal time such wise sayings as "a penny saved is a penny earned."
Among the rare subjects in the Hearst collection is an unusual platter by an unidentified maker, showing sea shells in the border something like those used by Enoch Wood of Burslem. In the center is a design picturing the great naval engagement of the Revolution, the Bon Homme Richard capturing the Serapis off Flamborough Head. This was the occasion on which John Paul Jones gave his historic answer to the English commander when he was asked to surrender, "I have not yet begun to fight". The engagement lasted into the night, and the appearance of the moon is a distinguishing feature in pictures of this event. So far as is known, this is the only rendering of the Serapis and Bon Homme Richard on Staffordshire.
Another historic subject is the View of Ft. Montgomery on the Clews. This plate illustrated Ft. Montgomery, a little below West Point, was one of the two defenses of the Hudson River during the early part of the Revolution, and was taken and burned by Sir Henry Clinton in 1777. The view was drawn by an Irish artist, W.G. Wall, who did the drawings reproduced in the engravings called the Hudson River Portfolio, an important series of prints showing the beauties of the Hudson River, which was issued in New York early in the nineteenth century. Clews used these designs in a series of china designs which he called the Picturesque Views of the Hudson.
"The Site of the City of Washington". This dark blue plate was design by an unknown maker. It shows a prospect of the new capital whose site was chosen by Washington, Jefferson and Madison on the rolling plain between the Potomac and the eastern branch of the river.
The pride of Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century was the new water works erected in 1813 on the Schuylkill at Fairmount on land purchased from Robert Morris. The engineer Frederick Graff designed an efficient system of supplying water to the city which was later imitated in Europe. The buildings were handsome and the works along the dam picturesque. Many printmakers of the time have left us views of Fairmount. Joseph Stubbs' view shows only a corner of the water works as the buildings in the distance are private mansions. The design was drawn by Thomas Birch and engraved by R. Campbell, being published in 1824, and Stubbs made use of it shortly after.
An interesting design is the one known as the Winter view of Deerfield, Mass. The artist is unknown but the potter is James Clews. In the foreground is the historic elm under which the Berkshire Minute Men were organized in the Revolution, and the fence around it which was erected in 1820. The Meeting House in the center is the Congregational Church, of which the famous architect, Charles Bulfinch, was the designer.Part of it still stands and is known as the Bulfinch Meeting House of Pittsfield. The Baptist Church, Maplewood Inn and Berkshire Hotel, the last erected in 1826, are also shown. In the foreground is a village character known as "Crazy Sue." A further description of this and most of the other views illustrated here will be found in Ellouise F. Larsen's American Historical Views on Staffordshire China.
"The View of Harvard platter" is based on a drawing by A. J. Davis, who later became a well known architect in New York City, of the firm of Towne and Davis. It shows Harvard Hall in the center, with Hollis and Holworthy Halls and Holden Chapel on the left, and Stoughton on the right, the nucleus of buildings around which the present university has grown, although when Davis drew this picture the college was already an old one, almost ready to celebrate its Bicentenary.
"Old Blue" was made in a district in Staffordshire known as "The Potteries," about ten miles long and five miles wide, and in the year 1829 when the factories were at the height of their production about fifty thousand people were employed. A group of towns were in this district, including historic Burslem where pottery had been made since 1686, and where Enoch Wood, one of the first to put American scenic views on his pottery, established a factory about 1783. Other towns were Tunstall, Fenton, Longton, Hanley and Stoke-upon-Trent,In 1910 these all merged into one town, that Stokes-upon-Trent, which is about one hundred and fifty miles from London. Pottery is still to this day made there.