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Mugs And Porcelain
( Originally Published 1913 )
No, I am not using the word "mugs" derisively far be it from me to ridicule a collector's mistakes. We have all been outwitted by a seller some time or other, or misled by our own imperfect knowledge, or carried away by a sudden fancy into a foolish purchase now and again. There is a certain Sheffield-plate winecooler-but that is another story. Mugs are now the theme, and I mean the mugs made in England a hundred years or more ago, of porcelain.
Has cider any affinity for china not possessed by beer? Beer-mugs were usually earthenware; the porcelain mugs seem to have been made only for the orchard drink. The cider-apple flourished near the potteries at Worcester, Caughley, and Plymouth, of course; and in Norfolk, not far away from Lowestoft, as well.
But the "Davenport," "Bow ," "Longton Hall," and Staffordshire china mugs generally, were they for cider-drinkers only, or were they sometimes used with beer ? There are many varieties of old earthenware beer-mugs extant, but upon them I must write some other time.
Lettcred and Dated. A most interesting small collection of old English porcelain mugs might be made. A white china mug stands before me at this momentempty, let me add. By the ring-rim under it, the feel of the paste, the look of the glaze, and the outward curving lip or brim, I know that it must have been made at Worcester, though it bears no mark. All that is painted on it is a big gilt "L."
I wish it bore the inscription, "Eleanor Smith, 1769," say, or "Walter Williams, 1770," for that would add to its pecuniary value nowadays; dated pieces are always especially worth acquiring, and so are those painted with an owner's name. We may safely conclude that Worcester cider-mugs, bearing an owner's name and a date, were made to order as presents, or for use by some Worcestershire squire or Herefordshire yeoman who must have a dignified utensil at table for his daily beverage. Not until Staffordshire had cheapened china-making did the smaller mugs, lettered "For a good boy" or, for instance, "Thomas Baddeley his cup," come into vogue; these date from the twenties to the seventies of the nineteenth century, and will never be so valuable as the mugs of which I now write.
A Mug of Renown. The most famous of all "Worcester" mugs has passed into literature; the Gentleman's Magazine of the date took notice of it, and so did, later on, Carlyle in his "Life of Frederick the Great." "There stands on the mantelpiece," he wrote, in a long passage which can be abridged severely without injuring the purport of his extraordinary literary style, " a small china mug, declaring itself, in one obscure corner, to be made at Worcester, R-H, Worcester 1757." That statement about the mark needs verification ; no existing case of it is known, I believe. Exceedingly rare is "R-H, Worcester," with an anchor-the rebus of Richard Holdship ; it is found on a plate now at the South Kensington Museum, but without any date.
"Front side offers a poor, well-meant portrait labelled `King of Prussia,'" Carlyle goes on, about the mug; "upon whom there descends a small genius, to drop a wreath far too small for ever getting on." There is also "an enormous image of Fame," and "a circular trophy of drums, pikes, muskets, cannon, field flags, and the like ... a diligent potter's apotheosis of Frederick." It was "made of tolerable china," Carlyle added (though he knew no more of porcelain than does a bull in a china shop), and "holds a good pint." But these mugs were made in three sizes; the designs described were transfer-printed in black. There are still some of them to be bought.
Other China Mugs. The most valuable cider-mugs are Worcester scale-blue ; there are two shapes, the bell and the cylinder, and they are painted with flowers and Oriental birds. Caughley "produced bluetransfer printed mugs, the ordinary flower and butterfly pattern. "Bristol" sent out cider-mugs painted with birds and fruit, in blue on white. "Plymouth" cider-mugs were decorated with Oriental birds and rocks, or trees and Chinese pattern-ornaments.
"Lowestoft" produced mugs ornamented with ribbons, with the "Long Eliza" designs, and with blue ships. "Longton Hall" adorned cider-mugs with roses, or the " Lowestoft " pink, or with puce flowers and scrolls, or with exotic birds on panels amidst a cobalt blue ground; some Longton Hall mugs are embossed. " Oriental Lowestoft " mugs show Chinese and heraldic decorations. "Bow," too, produced mugs, decked with coloured flowers. On a "Davenport" mug I should expect to find a painted landscape and much gilding.Ordinary later Staffordshire china mugs were painted with coarse blossoms.
What the old potters called coffee-cans are mug shaped but small, and cannot be reckoned in this category. Does anybody possess a Derby cider-mug? Church Gresley and Musselburgh produced a few, I know. Did Chelsea? And-I return to my first query-were they all cider-mugs by intention, or were some of them expressly made for home-brewed ale?