Even our American writers have not paid to Lowestoft the homage
that is its due. It was, without doubt, the most fashionable of all china
in the early days of the United States, both North and South. Pieces
are still in existence which once graced the boards of such worthies as
the Carrolls of Carrollton, General Knox, John Hancock, Paul Revere, the
Otises, Quincys, and Morrises. It was great grandmother's best china,
kept in the corner closet for honored guests; and for the romance of its
history, as well as for the quaint beauty of its forms and their dainty
decorations, it is unique and fascinating. It is these things that the
American collector thinks of, first and always. Perhaps the English
take their china-collecting more seriously than we, and demand more of it;
it is doubtful if they get any more enjoyment out of it.
Our American Lowestoft, then, is a hard-paste Chinese porcelain,
made in certain shapes and styles peculiar to the ware, and decorated with
pretty designs of a distinct type, either in England or in China. In
color it is a fine, pearly tint, decorated in black, brown, purple, and
various bright colors and tints, "neat but not gaudy."
It is comparatively easy for the novice to distinguish Lowestoft
ware, because of its marked characteristics of form and decoration. These
decorations were hand-painted and usually extremely well done.
Among the decorative patterns we find dark bands, dots, or similar
conventional designs, heavily overlaid with gold. Sometimes there are
landscapes, figures, flowers, and sprigs in one color, and very often
coats of arms, crests, and monograms. Most familiar of all are flowers and
sprigs in natural colors, with delicate borders in color and gold.
From a historic point of view the armorial patterns are, of course,
very interesting. Portions of sets bearing family crests, monograms,
and initials are still preserved as heirlooms in New England and the
A very interesting pattern, which seems to have been popular, was
the Washington pattern, though it had nothing whatever to do with
Washington. It is rare enough today to furnish plenty of zest for the American
collector. The design consists of a spread eagle, shield, and stars in
shades of brown, touched with gold, and a plain border in the same
color with tiny dots of vermilion. The pattern is to be found chiefly on
chocolate sets, and the decoration was probably added to the Chinese ware
in England, doubtless especially for the American trade.
Unpainted pieces are rare in this country, and while far less
beautiful are interesting as curiosities.
The shapes show marked Chinese characteristics, and declare their
Anglo-Chinese origin. Apparently full dinner sets were not made in
Lowestoft ware, but rather tea sets, chocolate sets, and breakfast sets, as
well as odd pieces. There are squat, oval teapots with perpendicular
sides; tall, full-bodied jugs, for hot water, milk, or toddy; cups without
handles, bowls, sugar-bowls, tall chocolate pots, cream pitchers, tea
caddies, plates for bread or cake, cup-plates, and saucers.
One of the characteristic forms is the "lighthouse" chocolate pot,
tall and graceful, with straight spout, knob cover, twisted handle, and
raised flowers joining the handle to the body of the pot. All these
characteristics are decidedly Chinese, and may be found today on modern
pieces of Canton ware. Other typical Lowestoft pieces are the flat,
bottlelike tea-caddy and the "helmet" cream-pitcher.Occasionally one finds
cylindrical or , barrel shaped mugs. The twisted handle is a prevalent
The collector will find Lowestoft, as a rule, comparatively easy to
identify, because almost all of it in this country is distinctly
Chinese, and most of it bears the typical decoration. Occasionally, however,
a piece is found which was decorated in some part of England, such as
Bristol, where different motifs were used. The paste is always the same,
however hard and blue white. The question of paste is usually one for
experts to quarrel over, but in the case of Lowestoft even the novice
will soon be able to detect the difference in texture and tint.
The real Lowestoft, which is being collected to some extent in
England, is distinguished by a thick glaze, usually the rose pattern, a
creamy tinted body, and the evidence of soft paste. As before stated, there
is practically none of it in this country. The real Lowestoft is also
noticeably heavy, and there are often specks in the thick bluish
The paste and glaze, then, are matters for study. When they have
been mastered the collector has a knowledge which may prevent his being
Lowestoft, so far as I have been able to ascertain, has been but
little faked in this country. The paste is not easy to imitate, and
evidently counterfeiting has not been considered worth while. German
imitations have found their way into England, but very little into this
country. The collector is more likely, in the absence of marks, to confuse
Lowestoft with some similar, but less valuable, class of ware.
The values attached to pieces and sets of old Lowestoft vary so
widely that it is hard to publish any figures that would not be likely to
Values are influenced primarily by the quality of the decoration.
The best drawn roses bring higher prices than the crests or initials. On
the other hand, these crests and monograms are almost priceless to
those whose families have been in possession of them for
The completeness of a set is another determining factor, for it is
not impossible to secure a moderate degree of completeness, and one item
in a good set is worth far more than an isolated piece.
Lowestoft undoubtedly brings higher prices in Indiana than in
Massachusetts. Much of it was imported by the residents of Boston, Salem,
Marblehead, and other ports, both from England and from China. Captain
Elias Derby was one of the oldtime Yankee skippers who plied his trade
between Salem and Canton. It is natural that the Lowestoft should be less
scarce in eastern Massachusetts than elsewhere. The photographs which
illustrate this article were taken of private collections in that part
of the country.
Mrs. Earle, in her "China Collecting in America," which was
published in 1892, quoted the following prices: teapots, $5 to $10; plates,
cups, and saucers, with the single rose pattern, $2 each; creamer, $5; the
larger pieces, $2 to $10. Occasionally an especially fine piece brought
from $15 to $20.
Since 1892 the popularity of Lowestoft has increased tremendously,
and values have risen accordingly. The New York antique shops usually
offer a pretty good basis for estimating values. On an average, Lowestoft
in these shops is bringing just about twice as much as the figures
quoted by Mrs. Earle eighteen years ago. For example, "lighthouse"
chocolate-pots, in good condition and beautifully decorated, are worth $60 or
$85; a welldecorated "helmet" creamer, $10 to $60, and teaand
These prices may fairly be called the maximum, and yet if goods are
offered in a shop for much less they are open to suspicion. It is a
fact, however, that genuine Lowestoft often changes hands for smaller
sums. It is doubtful if the private owner of old pieces can expect to
obtain much more than 75% of the top figures at private sale.
There are handsomer and more artistic kinds of old china than the
Lowestoft, no doubt, but there is something about the quaint, sweet
prettiness of it that is somehow associated with lavender and old lace, and
the simple days when great grandmother was a happy bride, waiting
anxiously for the good ship that was to bring her wedding china from far
over the seas.