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Antique Jars And Jugs
DID you ever stop to think of the amount of historical interest surrounding a stoneware jug or an earthen jar? Once upon a time-when I was a little girl.-my mother owned a gray jug which she admired for its graceful, curving lines. That was the day when one woman out of ten collected pitchers and I often wondered why someone did not start collecting jugs. My ideas on the subject were hazy, for I had not then heard of antiquarians who prize the jugs fashioned by the famous potters of Germany and England.
To the collector with a vivid imagination, pottery has a vital appeal. If you are such a person, you will recall the fact that the making of pottery is an old, old art-older by far than written history! You will remember that both the jar and the jug were early forms of pottery-and suddenly they are rich with the memories of the past!
Is it my New England upbringing, I wonder-for as a child I listened by the hour as my grandmother read the words of glowing color and eastern imagery from the Old Testament-that makes me so often bring to mind the verses from it and the scenes of ancient Hebrew history? When I say "kiln," I picture the building- of the Tower of Babel whose top was to reach unto Heaven! This reference in the third verse of the eleventh chapter of Genesis is the first record of pottery.
"And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick and burn them thoroughly."
But if the Hebrew writings contain the first allusions to the manufacture of pottery, the early Egyptians have the honor of first making it. Egyptian water-jars and wine-jugs have been preserved. It was usual for the bodies of these jugs to be made of cream clay, and the red and black decorations were designs of the symbols of Egypt and of the characteristic, profile-face drawings of the human figure.
Are you familiar with "Pottery and Porcelain," written by William C. Prime, and published in 1878? It is a fascinating book, assembled by a man who sincerely loved the beautiful and collected examples of it in various forms. For me the book has a personal appeal, since it was written at Lonesome Lake Cabin in the Franconia Range of the White Mountains, a region with which I am wholly familiar. Lonesome Lake call be reached only on foot or on horseback. An ideal spot in which to write! And, after busy hours of mental work, a lovely lake, stocked with trout waiting to be caught! The head of our family, no mean fisherman himself, remembers Dr. Prime as his boyish ideal in the art of Izaak Walton. "I Go A-Fishin,"' written in the splendid, full sentences of the Victorian Period, is a book full of joy for the lover of the out-of-doors. And this reminds me of something delightful! An eighteen year old lad told me that he collected Dr. Prime's books, added photographs of the Franconia region, and had them rebound.
I know that I am wandering far from the subject of jars and jugs! My excuse is that Dr. Prime has written so entertainingly of one of the subjects in which I am interested and has summed up the art of making pottery so ably in the introduction of "Pottery and Porcelain." May I quote from it, as it gives exactly the impression I wish to convey?
"Pottery is the oldest, the longest, the most widely diffused of human arts. . . . It is its own historian. . . . Every people, civilized and barbarian, has practiced the art in one or another form. The first fire that was kindled on clay soil baked the clay, and would naturally suggest to the builder of the fire that he could thus convert a soft and easily moulded substance into a hard and permanent article of use. So it is not strange that savage tribes have made pottery. Accident might color the surface, and from such accidents it was an easy step to the use of various colored clays and pigments, and thus to systematic decoration. . . . Whenever trade was established, and men made pottery for sale or barter, the forms and decorations would be such as were most likely to be acceptable to the people expected to purchase. Thus prevalent styles would be indications of public taste; and the work of the potter being permanent, the baked wares endured for ages without change, the ceramic art takes precedence of the others as the index of the human character in various ages and countries."
The demand for a piece of pottery caused its birth. The water-jar was created to fill a definite need in lands lacking abundant water and the wine-jug grew from the conception of an idea for a vessel to hold the common beverage of eastern countries. In the days of splendid feasting in ancient Greece, wines were dipped out in jugs called oinochoe. They were carried around the room by pages who poured the fragrant drinks into the guests' wine-cups. Far more beautiful were the oinochoe than the common prochoos, the jugs used for holding the liquids of everyday fare!
Mentally to leap across the centuries from the pottery of Greece to that made by the German potters requires a nimble mind, but it is in their work and that of the English craftsmen that we are especially interested. So I ask you to take the jump and to imagine yourself examining a piece of the beautiful stonewares, made of heavily baked clays and sand glazed with salt, which came from the hands of the German potters, or artists, as we might call them. For the stoneware made along the Rhine and in Holland was, in many cases, a true development of an art. There are many different forms and the jug is one of them. We hear frequently of human intrest. Surely one type of these jugs has it to the nth degree. This was popularly called "The Graybeard" because the bearded head of a man appeared on the jug at the lid where the liquid was poured. Graybeards were imported from Germany to England and were copied by the Dutch craftsmen who had settled there. The jugs eventually became a rather common form of English pottery. Graybeards varied in size from the largest which were about fifteen inches high to the smallest, six inches in height. They always had the bearded faces, but they might, too, be ornamented with coats-of-arms, popular mottoes, bands, medallions, and relief decorations. It may be that you know this jug by the name of "Bellarmine" rather than "Graybeard." It acquired its new name in England during the reign of King James I, and was given as a form of ridicule of Cardinal Bellarmine.
More ornamental jugs than the graybeards were made of this fine stoneware by the German potters.
Dr. Prime says, "Cans or mugs were made covered with ornamentation in relief, or impressed so as to produce reliefs in arabesques, sometimes enclosing figures, in beautiful bead and scroll work; apostle mugs, a low, large mug, with the apostles in niches surrounding it; flat circular bottles; jugs in rings, and in double rings, one at right angles with the other; in short, an endless variety of forms all more or less beautifully ornamented on the surface."
There were numerous ancient potteries in England. Crude jugs fashioned by hand and decorated with incised bands were produced by the Saxons, and the Normans made useful pottery vessels which were sometimes glazed with green and yellow. One jug of the Norman period was covered with yellow glaze and decorated with the picture of a crude horse.
The earthenware of the Middle Ages was crude and common in quality. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries glazed green and yellow jugs were fashioned and were moulded frequently in the shapes of animals.
An awakening in any form of art always brings something vital into its history. With the close of the sixteenth century, a new incentive came to the art of English pottery-making, for Dutch craftsmen began to settle in England. The collector of jugs will notice that in 1626 two Dutchmen received an English patent for manufacturing stone jars and jugs of Cologne ware.
It is obvious that in order to make pottery one must have clay. There was abundant clay in Staffordshire, so there settled potters who found it exactly the thing to use in making that coarse pottery which later developed into the wares displayed in the corner cupboards of America. In the seventeenth century the Staffordshire potters began the manufacture of the first of the blue and white pottery resembling the Delft types. The shade of blue was that which we now know as Delft Blue. As for jugs-during the last part of the century, dated jugs of enameled pottery, embellished with the words, "Sack and Claret," appeared.
Jars must have been indeed important pieces of pottery, for laws were passed concerning them. Coarse pottery jars for holding butter were sold in English markets. Evidently they did not always contain the desired weight of merchandise, for, in 1661, Parliament passed an act saying that each jar must hold fourteen pounds of butter. Besides regulating the size, it also ordered that the materials employed in the manufacture of the jar be so hard that the moisture absorbed should not increase its own weight of six pounds.
Christmas was a long period of merry-making, jollity, and often uncouth fun and brawling and lasted until Twelfth Night or the fifth of January. The Colonial planters of the south followed the good old customs of "Merrie England," but the settlers of Massachusetts had no love for the frivolities of Christmas. "The very name smacked to them of incense, stole, and monkish jargon," says Alice Morse Earle. She adds that in old Narragansett, settled by Episcopalians, the two weeks before Christmas were full of visiting and feasting, and that for many years previous to the Revolution both planters and slaves entered into the holidays with zest.
To add good cheer to the merry-making of English Christmases, posset was drunk on Christmas Eve. It was made of hot ale combined with spices and sugar, and bits of oatcake and bread were added. A covered jar, or posset-pot, had the honor of containing the fearful mixture, and this dish was handed down in the family from one generation to another. The posset was taken with a spoon, and lucky, indeed, was the fortunate youth or maiden who drew out the lucky coin or the wedding-ring which had been dropped in the posset-pot!
The American colonists had their own concoctions, adapted from those of their ancestors. "The English settlers who peopled our colonies were a beer-drinking and ale-drinking race," Mrs. Earle assures us. "As Shakespeare says they were `potent in potting."
Judge Sewell's diary refers to sack-posset along with other drinks. It had the ale foundation combined with sack. It was thickened with eggs and cream. Sugar, nutmeg, and mace were added and the mixture was boiled for hours.
But this is straying from Staffordshire and its possetpots and jugs. Let us return. So I now ask you if you have ever seen a puzzle-jug? It was a type made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and well does it deserve its name! This is the secret of the puzzle-jug, it empties its contents by a secret passage. "There were generally three spouts from the rim," Dr. Prime tells us, "the handles and the rim being hollow. If the drinker covered two of the spouts with his fingers, he could drink with safety."
These quaint mottoes are listed in "Pottery and Porcelain."
"From mother-earth i took my birth, Then formd a jug by Man, And now stand here, filled with good cheer: Taste of me if you can."
The second is an invitation to the merry gentlemen of those days of great eating and hard drinking.
"Here, gentlemen, come try, yr skill, I'll hold a wager, if you will, That you don't drink this liqr all Without you spill or lett some fall."
The third is brief and to the point.
"The ale is good, taste."
That part of Staffordshire known as the "Potteries" included a district of towns adjoining each other for a number of miles. The first articles made were butterjars and tygs-large drinking-cups with handles of such size that three or four people drank from one cup. From this humble beginning were built up the famous potteries which produced such quantities of wares for the American trade during the early part of the nineteenth century.
Brown-ware jugs, with hunting scenes in relief, were made at Fulkam. Sometimes these jugs were decorated with grotesque figures of monkeys, and it is interesting for the collector of the products of Vermont potteries to note that a hound-handled pitcher was turned out at Fulkam.
From the middle of the eighteenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth, brown jugs and puzzlejugs were manufactured at Nottingham. "Nottingham Ware" had a slight metallic lustre, was very hard, and was salt-glazed.
There is an interesting tradition concerning the discovery of salt-glaze. It is said that about the year r68o a servant girl was preparing brine to cure pork. She poured it in an earthen jar and, placing it over the fire, went away and left it. During her absence the liquid boiled over, and the pot became red hot. The sides of the jar were glazed with the concoction. This accident led to the adoption of the use of salt-glaze over brown wares and was used in the Staffordshire potteries.
No story of this kind could be complete without a reference to the popular and jolly Toby Jugs. There are some writers who claim that the rotund figure portrayed on the "Tobys" represented our own Benjamin Franklin. True it is that no American of his dav was better known on the Continent and in England than "Poor Richard." Other authorities claim that the hearty figure was that of "my Uncle Toby," dear to the many readers of Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy." There were various types of Toby jugs, for all the Staffordshire potters took a hand at making them. They were imported to America and at once became extremely popular. "Toby" wore a cocked hat whose front point formed the mouth of the jug. Frequently he held a long-stemmed pipe in one hand and a mug in the other. Sometimes the goodnatured creature was seated in a chair, at others only his head and bust formed the jug. Toby jugs were decorated in realistic colors and were most enticing. So get out your copy of "Tristram Shandy" and re-read the descriptions of Uncle Toby, but do not expect to saunter into the nearest antique shop to buy a genuine Toby jug, for they are hard to find.
Jugs decorated with printed pictures-one of the best known is the King of Prussia in full armor-and jugs lavish with the rich designs and colorings characteristic of this type of pottery were made by the Worcester Porcelain Company. One specimen of Bow porcelain is a cream-jug, supported on the backs of bovine creatures, and b°aring on the front a realistic bee in full relief!
So I might write on, telling of the jars and jugs of America, but I shall stop here in Old England in the days of good cheer and open-handed hospitality which Washington Irving described as "breaking through the chills of ceremony and selfishness and thawing every heart into a flow."