Lustre Pitchers And Teacups
( Originally Published 1919 )
Aren't they dear? Don't you love them? I do, and yet none of them are mine; they are all I—'s, and I admire them almost enough to break the tenth commandment, but not quite, for envy scourges the, soul, and if you cannot collect without it, then you will do very well to leave collecting alone.
Now I might make this little article a didactic treatise on lustre wares; inform you that they were made by the early Persians; that wonderful lustrous pottery was known to Spain in the Middle Ages; that John Hancock, a Staffordshire potter, rediscovered the lost process in 1769 while working for Josiah Spode; and that the more famous Josiah Wedgwood himself experimented with it later in the eighteenth century. All this I might discuss in detail, but, you see, I want to tell you about these especial pieces, and mingle fact with description as I go along, just stopping to name over the list of lustres for you: ruby, gold, copper, bronzed purple, lilac, pink, steel, silver, stenciling, and resist lustre.
The lovely silver resist pitcher first in the group is one of L —'s heirlooms, having be-longed to her great-great-grandmother. Sentimental considerations apart, it is very desirable, being quite five and a half inches tall, of quart capacity, in "proof" condition, and excellently decorated. Here I am breaking my promise and being pedagogical, quoting a definition of "resist." and "stenciled" lustre because I find that so few people know them apart. "The term `resist' is derived from the method adopted in order to secure a white pattern or one of another color, such as blue, canary, etc., on a silver or copper lustrous ground. A white surface or one of the other shades (there are specimens with more than one ground shade) is first laid on the clay body, the outline is painted or stenciled on with a substance such as glycerine, or some other preparation which would quickly become detached in water. The whole pattern is lustred over with the metallic solution, and allowed partly to dry. The ware is next washed in water, whereupon the glycerine preparation covering the outline or pattern washes off, but the metallic solution is not affected by the bath, or, in other words, it `resists' the water." The ware is next fired, to complete the process. This method uses much more of the lustre, and would doubtless occupy more time to accomplish than the process of stenciling, and it explains in a measure why fine resist examples are expensive to procure. On the other hand, it must not be overlooked that certain varieties of lustre treated with fine stenciled designs are also difficult to purchase. It will be noticed that the stencil leaves a lustre pattern on the prepared ground, while the resist process leaves a white or blue pattern on a gold or silver self-ground, according to the kind of metallic glaze employed.
Can you see how charming the next pitcher is? This type is called Leeds Lustre, — if you ever go-to the Antiquarian Rooms at Concord, Massachusetts, you will find a piece almost absolutely its mate, — and the body is cream and of that ridged ware so connected with the English city that gives it its name. There are three "house" designs set in medallions, and observe, please, how very like the shape of the one shown is to the old Fairbanks House at Dedham. Stripes of lustre divide the medallion designs, and a beaded line separates the rose pattern at the top from the lower part. These roses are slightly in relief, and the tone is - a deep bronzed purple. More than a hundred years ago it came from Scotland overseas to Canada, where it was bought by a collecting cousin of L--'s. It is nearly as tall as the first pitcher, but its capacity is not so great.
The third pitcher is perhaps L 's finest piece: quite six inches in height, of a clear copper, with the raised figures so much in the classic spirit that you feel as if it must at least have been made under the influence of Wedgwood, if it did not come directly from his potteries. The background is a soft blue, the color I like to think of as watchet blue, and there are five figures (six if you count the basket) : a child kneeling with flowers; a woman standing with basket on head; Cupid blowing a trumpet and riding on a queer ecru-pink bull spotted with black; a kneeling woman; a girl holding a votive offering of garlands; and a large flower-basket. A range of six colors is employed in these figures: green, yellow, red, pink, dark blue, and black, and the whole feeling is full of charm. It came from Maine, from the little old house of a little old lady who lives on a point of land that juts down into one of the branches of the Kennebec River. I think that it must be a very alluring spot in more ways than one, for L says that there were, besides, old drawn-in rugs and black and gold mirrors and a most attractive Stiegel toddy-glass that belonged to the little old lady's great-great-grandfather.
Another pitcher with the same foundation color as this is the first, one in the group that stands like "the great, big bear, and the middle-sized bear, and the little, wee bear." The blue, however, is a trifle duller and the texture of the paste somewhat less fine; but it is, nevertheless, filled with the same classic spirit, the band at the top being very like the grape-vine design on a Wedgwood sugar-bowl and creamer in my own collection. This suggestion is further accented by the use of the formalized sprays and acanthus leaves in copper lustre. The two smaller pitchers in this group are much less remark-able — the first, copper lustre with a green leaf and pink flower-pattern ever so slightly raised; the see and, a tiny thing with just a broad band of plain green.
The raised figures on the next two pitchers have a very different effect, for, if the two others are classic odes of pottery, these are naive bucolics in pink lustre, quaint hunting-scenes with a very rural air. The ground is a creamish-white that time has mellowed and yellowed a little. On the left-hand pitcher the slender tree-trunks of pink lustre support a heavy verdure; and pink lustre, too, are the droll mother-animal — we don't know quite what she is, but she looks like a llama and her trotting baby. On the other side is a dotted pink lustre male with branching antlers, undoubtedly of the same species. The decoration below the lustre band at the top is quite different from any other that I have ever seen, a queer scroll design with green spot centres. This pitcher always makes me sad when I look at it, be-cause it represents an auction that I did n't go to, an auction where there were mirrors and andirons and pewter; even a grandfather's clock that H found lying out in the grass, and that,was sold for five dollars. The second pitcher shows huntsmen brave in pink lustre coats and gaiters, with polka-dot dogs in attendance; on the other side, more dogs and a kneeling hunter displaying a trophy of the chase — and this we think a rabbit, though its design is pink polka-dots like the dogs — to an old man with a gun, who resembles the local squire. A pink lustre hound's head forms the end of the handle, and the border is the fairly conventional grape and leaf design. The heights of these pitchers are seven and six inches respectively.
I wish I could show more distinctly the colorings in the group of copper lustre pitchers below these on. The first., eight inches in height, is seven-sided, the lustre unusually clear and intense, and the decorations pink and purple clusters of grapes and vivid green leaves. The second is a trifle darker and less lambent, with a two-and-a-half green band stenciled with a copper design — a really uncommon effect. The third, seven inches tall, has a narrow upper band and a broad lower band of apricot yellow with a design stenciled in copper, too, and all three are very vigorous, yet very different types of the bronzed tones.
L —'s gold-lustre pitcher is a very fine specimen, fully six inches high, and of rather more than one quart capacity. The wide lower band of pink-purple lustre shows the familiar "house" design, and the inside rim also has a broad pinky stripe. This is another trophy from Maine, but since it was bought directly from a dealer, its history is all unknown to me.
And now I am proudly displaying the loveliest pitcher L has, the loveliest lustre piece, too, I think I have ever seen, barring that Swansea mug that even now I behold in my dreams: a rose lustre that had somehow caught the soft glory of a sunset and forever imprisoned it in china. It is small, — a fraction between three and a half and four inches, — with a purple "house" design, the best interpretation of this well-known theme that I have ever found, for the trees are real trees, and you can look into distances. It is the sort of pitcher to enchant a child; it depicts a landscape where if I were not so small I might live for good and all.
The four creamers grouped together are all small ones, none more than four and a half inches high. It is unfortunate that this photograph reveals so little of the charm of their color and design, and particularly unlucky that the prettiest one of all — the second on the right-hand side — shows hardly at all. Until I met the little purple treasure, I thought it the most attractive of all my acquaintance. The narrow band is pink with a deeper-toned lustre sprigging; the broad band white, the creamy-white that you see inQueensware, with a scroll-and-flower pattern in pink lustre and yellows and bright green. First in the group is the "Spotted Sunderland" lustre pitcher, pink with a purplish cast; the other two are variants of the "house" design, yet quite different, for the enclosing medallions are round on the taller piece, oval on the shorter, and the separating motifs are quite unlike. In both, the tones of pink are very fresh and clear. As for the little mugs, I find them charming in their quaint colors: copper bands and handles, pink lustre in curves, and touches of green and a tawny orange-red that really combine wonderfully.
The Odd Fellows pitcher is more interesting than beautiful; although the pink spotted lustre deco-ration is good in tone. The design is one of the transfer processes, like the Liverpool ware. On one side is a symbolic group, the pattern a little blurred, as if the paper had been crumpled. Below you read, "Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd Fellows." The other: side depicts a river busy with commerce and a bridge spanning it, and the inscription is as follows: "A West View of the Cast Iron Bridge Over the River Wear, Built by L. Bur-don, Esquire. Span 238 feet, Height 100 Feet, Be-gun 24, September 1793, Open'd 9, Aug. 1796." In the front is a five-pointed star in black outline, with the initial "G" in the centre. The middle piece, a Spotted Sunderland lustre cup-plate, is delightful, the tonc decpening almost to a purple and lovely in its shading, while the centre is blue Stafford-shire. But the cup and saucer, like the pitcher, has interest for its chief charm. It must be early nineteenth century, for the costumes shown are Empire, and it is full of that larmoyant feeling that people had who were very happy only when they were very miserable. A band of lilac lustre encircles both cup and saucer; on one side — oh, I wish you could really see it clearly! — are three children touchingly clustered in a "cemetery" weeping before their "Mother's Grave," and on the other side, still in deep purples, are three disproportionate-sized "Orphans." To enliven the situation the "Mother's Grave" is repeated in larger, less compact grief, on the saucer. Can you imagine a more fitting receptacle for "the cup that cheers and not inebriates"? Well, L keeps it on a shelf in her cabinet!
The real teacups you see grouped must below these last. Of course, there are more, but these are the prettiest, and I am allowed, sometimes, for a great treat, to have that dearest one of all, the one in front with the maple-leaf and the clusters of berries. The color that. you cannot see is a happy pink with a little lustre vine, green leaves, and bright blue berries. Almost its rival in beauty is the one beside it, crude blue and reddish flowers spaced between lustre and green leaves. Truly they are all lovely, and hunting for lustre cups for your tea-tray is quite as fascinating a pastime as discovering historical glass cup-plates; not easy to find, but rewarding at last the real devotee of their worth.
I wish that you could have seen me as I carried, oh, so carefully},, these precious pitchers out to be photographed in the full light of the piazza. No acolyte at any altar ever walked more reverently than I did. On the whole, it was a wonderful experience; but I feel that it has aged me, and if any one of you wants to court nervous prostration, allow me to recommend your handling another collector's lustre treasures. But I wish, too, that you might have sat beside me yesterday at I. 's Sheraton table as I studied with loving attention their every charm. By some happy chance the flowers in the centre were pink and purple asters, delicate shades that echoed the tones of the pieces before me. I know now that of "everything that pretty bin" pink lustre is the apotheosis of all prettiness.