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( Originally Published 1913 )
Mystery hangs about the blue-dash chargers. Many collectors of pottery have never seen one, few collectors have ever possessed one, I dare say most readers begin in ignorance of what blue-dash chargers actually are. Well, they are large circular dishes, usually about IA inches in diameter, though some are 18 inches in diameter, and some only two-thirds that largest size. Around the rim of most of them are flat dabs or dashes of blue ; hence part of their name.
Chargers. Note that they are called chargers, not plates, or platters, or dishes. Remember that John the Baptist's head was brought, in on a charger, and think (as Mr. Dick did) of the head of King Charles I. The decollated head of the "Royal Martyr" is indissolubly though invisibly connected with these blue-dash chargers, for they all have reference to the tragical after-history of the Stuarts.
Rare but not Impossible.-Mr. Downman, a great connoisseur in blue-dash chargers, made a list of seventy-eight in all-ten at the British Museum and South Kensington, twelve in the Teuke collection at Saffron Walden, six in the Boynton collection, eleven in the Downman collection, two in the Daunay collection, six in the Clarke collection, nine at the York Museum, four in the Liverpool Museum, and eleven in small collections and dealers' shops. But I am sure that they are more numerous and less locked up than that. Mr. Downman priced them at from £Z 5s, to £8; but ten years ago I bought one at Oxford for Us. 6d., and during the last three years I have acquired four for 5s., 7s. 6d., 10s., and 17s. respectively. There are others about-I have seen them ; but not at prices anything like so small as those.
Described. You will see them most easily, to know them again, in the museums. They are decorated in broad rough style, and invariably with blue, green, tawny-yellow, and rich purplish-brown. On the front they shine with a thick whitish glaze, often iridescent ; at the back the glaze is greenish or yellowy, and does not always cover the whole of the surface. Often there is a hole, for hanging by, in the inner ring-rim on which the charger stands. Sometimes the outline of a cavalier is sketched in blue at the back. There are no makers' marks on them. The subjects of the designs on them are these: Adam and Eve (a satire on William and Mary of Orange, for the fruit which Eve is handing to Adam is an orange, not an apple) ; Charles II, William III, James II, Queen Anne, the old Pretender, Prince Eugene, the Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Ormonde, tulips, lilies, stags. All these are connected with Stuart history, and as the chargers do not ever seem to have been used at table, or for any household purpose, the conjecture is that they were tokens of political significance, that hung in houses occupied by friends to the Stuart cause. The tulips refer to Holland, of course, and the lilies to France ; to the particular significance of the horned stags I will not specially advert.
Where Made? Nobody can be sure where the blue-dash chargers were made. Most people say Staffordshire. In the Hodgkin sale two of them were catalogued as " Bristol delft." They are certainly delftish, and have that slightly flesh-coloured hue in the glaze at the back of them which is characteristic of Bristol delft. On the other hand, most of them were picked up by their earliest collectors on the other side of England, between London and York. But, again, a whole series is thought to have been made at Loughor in Wales. On some of them there is an inscription in Dutch, and the inference is that they were made by a Delft potter from Holland, John van Hamme, who established a pottery in Lambeth during the Jacobite period. Only a few are inscribed, however, and most of the few with initials only, as, for instance, M.W.R., for William, Mary, and Rex or Regina.
Addenda. Whatever their origin, they make a difficult, and therefore all the more fascinating, "line" for a collector to pursue. Not all of them are blue dashed ; the smaller sizes are often wholly green or yellow on the rims. The blue dashes seem to have been an easy way of imitating the scollops in the edges of some of the series. There is a good deal of meaning to be discovered in some of the pictures on them. I have one of Charles II making his escape in disguise as a servant ; he carries baskets on his arm, on his left is the mansion he quitted, on his right the oak in which he took refuge, but the " acorns " on that tree are oranges instead. On another I see Marlborough, the trimmer, Mr. Facing-both-ways, half painted blue (for the Loyalists), and half yellow (for the Orange party). A French connoisseur who saw my chargers said " Montelupe, tres vieux," and no doubt two of them somewhat resemble the coarse majolica kind of dish that used to be made at Montelupe, near Florence. But they are English, quite English, connected with our national history ; and redolent of plots and mystery still.