Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Early Use And Importation Of China In America

THE knowledge and use of porcelain in England did not long antedate the departure of the Pilgrims for the New World. As early as 1506 one exceptional importation of Chinese porcelain bowls is spoken of ; but even in 1567-half a century later—one of Queen Elizabeth's valued gifts was a "poringer of white porselyn and a cup of green porselyn," and the notice paid such intrinsically valueless and small articles by their mention proves their rarity. Great ignorance of the processes of porcelain manufacture existed; even that learned, that marvellously well-informed man, Lord Bacon, wrote of "mines of porcelain," and had the queer idea that china was developed in the earth, out of the common clay, by some strange and mysterious process of purification. Another universal belief was, that porcelain was a sovereign detector of poison, that it instantly showed the presence of poison in any draught that came in contact with it. Shakespeare speaks once of china, in his " Measure for Measure," " a dish of some three-pence, your honors have seen such dishes, they are not china dishes, but very good dishes." Ben Jonson refers more frequently to porcelain.



By the time of Pope and Dryden, china had become more widely known in England, and these writers and their contemporaries frequently refer to it. It is not probable that much china came to England until 165o, when the English East India Trading Company was established, though the Dutch had even then a large trade with China. Doubtless tea and china became plentiful in Europe together.

Addison wrote in 1713, " China vessels are playthings for women of all ages. . . I myself remember when there were few china vessels to be seen that held more than a dish of tea ; but their size is so greatly enlarged that there are many capable of holding half a hogshead."

It is asserted that pieces of Delft ware were brought to America by the first English and Dutch settlers. It had been manufactured since the fifteenth century ; but when our Pilgrim Fathers made their night-trip through Delft, no plebeian persons had Delft ware on their tables; hence the Pilgrims could have brought few pieces to New England on the Mayflower. Nor is it probable that those frugal souls owned any India china. The earliest Dutch settlers of New Netherlands were not likely either to have brought to the new land any pieces of the aristocratic Delft ware, though I have seen many Delft plates and tea-pots that bore the reputation of such ownership.

" Blew & white ware " is however not an infrequent item on early inventories of the last half of the century. John Betts, of Cambridge, Mass., had before his death, in 1662, " Som duth earthen platters & Som other Earthen ware," valued at 6s. 8d. A citizen of Salem had in 1664 " 17 pieces of blew & white earthen ware " worth 8s. 6d. John Cross, of Ipswich, left behind him in 165o his " Holland jugs." All these were doubtless Delft or the early imitations of Delft.

The oldest and most authentic piece of stone ware in the country is the fine jug preserved in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society, at Worcester. It was the property of Governor Winthrop, who died in 1649, and was given to the Society by a descendant, Adam Winthrop. It stands eight inches in height and is apparently of German Gres-ware, and is richly mounted in silver. The lid is engraved with a quaint design of Adam and Eve with the tempting serpent in the apple-tree. Estienne Perlin, writing in Paris in 1558, says, " The English drink beer not out of glass but from earthern pots, the cover and handles being made of silver for the rich. The middle classes mount them with tin," Another writer, in 1579, spoke of the English custom of drinking from " pots of earth of sun-dry colors and moulds, whereof many are garnished with silver or at leastwise with pewter." Such is this " beer mug" or tankard of Governor Winthrop's, which is certainly three hundred years old.. Other Massachusetts colonists had similar beer-mugs. Jacob Leager, of Boston, left in 1662 a "stone judg tipt with silver;" Henry) Dunster had a " tipt jugg" in 1655; and Thomas Rix had in 1678 "3 fflanders jugs."

Lisbon ware, which was earthen ware, was left by will in Massachusetts in 1650; and Spanish platters and painted platters are mentioned in an inventory in 1656. Peter Bulkeley, of Concord, Mass., had in 1659 ten paynted earthen dishes " valued at ten shillings. In the lists and inventories of the town of Stamford, from 165o to 1676, only two shillings worth of earthen ware is entered, and Stamford planters were far from poor. In the Boston News Letter of February 9, 1712, six hogs-heads of earthen ware, including teapots, were advertised for sale. These early teapots are said to have been of black earthen ware.

One of the earliest mentions of china in America is in the inventory made in 1641, of the property of Thomas Knocker, of Boston, " I Chaynie Dish." In 1648, in the estate of President Davenport, of Harvard College, was, " Cheyney, A4. This was doubtless India china. Governor Theophilus Eaton had a " cheny basen." In the list made in 1647, of the possessions of Martha Coteymore, a rich widow (who afterward married Governor Winthrop), is seen this item, " One parcel cheyney plates and saucers, pounds4'1." Katherine Coteymore had " 3 boxes East India dishes," valued at 3 pounds. As early as October, 1699, John Higginson wrote to his brother with regard to importations from India, that " china and lacker-ware will sell if in small quantity," and with-out doubt some small importations from India were made.

After the first decade of the century many rich Bostonians, such as Elizur Holyoke, had china. Isaac Caillowell's estate in 1718 contained " Five China Dishes, One Doz. China Plates, Two China Muggs, a China Teapott, Two China Slopp Basons, Six China Saucers, Four China Cupps, and One China Spoon Dish."

The earliest mention of the sale of china table ware which I have seen is not in 1732, as given by Mr. Felt in his " New England Customs." There are several notices of sales of china of earlier dates. In the New England Weekly Journal of April 15th of the year 1728, were advertised for sale, at the Sun Tavern in Boston, "Chainey Bowles Dishes Cups Saucers and Teapots;" and "china cups & saucers "on June 17th. This "chainey " was probably all India china. In 1729, William Welsteed, a Boston merchant, had a large number of plates and " pickle caucers " for sale. In 1731, Andrew Faneuil announced that he had for sale at his warehouse " All sorts of Dutch Stone and Delf ware just imported from Holland." In 1730 John Buining and Mrs. Hannah Wilson both advertised in the Boston News Letter, that they had " several sorts of china for sale ; " and another Boston shopkeeper announced at the same time that he was going to sell out everything he owned, including china ware, and that his fellow-townsmen had better flock to his shop, for " buyers have reason to Expect good Bargains for this will be the Packing Penny," which I suppose was the colonial slang expression for " bottom price." At a later date the " Packing Penny became " to buy the pennyworth." It was not till 1737 that china ware was sold by " Publick Vandoo or Outcry," or by " Inch of Candle," in Boston, thus showing that it was being imported in larger quantities. In September of that year there was sold on Scarlett's Wharf, with spices and silks and negro slaves,

By this time Boston milliners and mantua makers, and fan mounters, and lace menders, had all begun to announce the sale of " chayney " in their show-rooms and shops. Fair Boston dames picked their way along the narrow streets, or were carried in stately sedan chairs, to " Mistress Alise Quick's, over against the Old Brick Meeting House on Cornhill, at the sign of the Three Kings," or to "Widow Mehetable Kneeland's," to see her " Lon-don baby drest in the latest fashioned Hooped Coat and lac'd Petty Coat with petuna hood;" or to " Mrs. Hannah Teatts, Mantua Maker, at the head of Summer Street, Boston," who charged five shillings for showing her " Baby drest after the Newest Fashion of Mantues and Night Gowns and everything belonging to a Dress, latilly brought over on Captain White's ship from London "—these bedizened doll-babies being the quaint colonial substitutes for fashion plates. These modish New-English dames first pulled over and tried on the "rayls and roquilos and cardinals," and admired the ivory and cocoa paddle stick-fans ; and peeped at their own patched faces and powdered hair in the lacquered looking-glasses ; and then, perhaps, selected some flower seeds for their prim little gardens—their pleasaunces, "blew and yellow lewpin, double larkin-spur, sweet feabus, Love lies bleeding, Queen Margrets, Brompton flock, and sweet-scented pease ;" and then they turned, unwearied and unsated, to the " Choise Sortment of Delph, Stone, Glassware, and China, viz., Bowles of Divers Sizes, Plates of all Sorts, and Dishes, Teapots, Cups & Saucers, Strayners, Mugs of Divers Sorts and Colors, Creampots pearl'd & plain, Bird Fountains, Tankards," and they held up the tiny china teacups to the light and examined the painting, and perhaps sipped a little of the mantua maker's Orange Pekoe or Bohea. And I doubt not many a china teapot or teacup stood cheek by jowl with quoyfs and ciffers on colonial milliners' bills, and many a feathered " Kitty Fisher Bonnet," or silver shape, or peaked Ranelagh cap was sent home to the daughters of the Puritans, packed with " catgut," and " robins," and " none-so prettys," in an India china punch-bowl.

Of the prices paid for these colonial ceramic luxuries we know but little. The enterprising outcrier, who cried out and vandooed at the " Blew Boar, at the South End of Boston," announced in February, 1749, in the Boston Independent Advertiser, that he had " Fine blue & white and Quilted China Plates at Eleven Pounds the Dozen, or Six Pounds the Half Dozen." So the shades of our ancestors can hardly cry out to us for extravagance. These quilted china plates were, I think, from subsequent references to them, plates impressed in the paste with a basket design, as we often see now on Chinese porcelain ; or possibly with a larger, a truly quilted de-sign, such as I have seen on rare old Oriental porcelain. In the inventory of the estate of John Jekyll, of Boston (made in 1732), we learn that " 2 Burnt China Bowls were worth £2, 6 Chocolate Bowls £2, I Pr China Candlesticks Tipt with Silver £4, 12 Coffe cups with handles Li 7s." In many inventories such a number of pieces are crackt" or "mendid," and so little hint of quality or decoration is given, that it is impossible to compare justly the values assigned with those of the present day. John Jekyll also had a "sett of burnt china." The first mentioned sale of a "set" of china is in the New England Weekly Journal of April 19, 1737

A Fine Double Sett of Burnt China for sale, Enquire of the Printer." Until then the precious porcelain had been sold only in single pieces, or in small numbers. The wills and inventories of the times speak of no sets of china, though the lists of the possessions of all per-sons of wealth, the advertisements of sales of estates, contain many items of china ware. Governor Burnet, who died in 1729, owned much china-three hundred pieces—as became a man who had £I,100 spent on his funeral ; and his friend and neighbor, Peter Faneuil, had a bountiful supply of china and glass, as he had of other luxuries.

There are far more frequent mentions and advertisements of china in old New England newspapers than in other American papers of the same years. The south-ern publications of colonial times that I have seen contained no announcements of the sale of china. None appeared bearing date until after the Revolutionary War. And it is plain, from the evidence of inventories, " enroulments," wills, and newspapers of the eighteenth century, that porcelain was far more plentiful in New England than elsewhere in America at the same date. Mr.. Prime says, " Few of the people of Revolutionary times had seen porcelain ; " but when it had been advertised in every New England newspaper ; had been sold in grocers', milliners', chemists', dry-goods, saddlers', and hardware shops ; had been displayed at the printers' and book-shops and writing -schools in every town of any size throughout New England ; and sold in considerable quantities by all the little Boston shopkeepers—the Amorys, Waldos, Brimmers, Adamses, Sheaffes, and Boylstons, I fancy all New England good wives must have owned a few pretty pieces.

Doubtless the wealthiest Virginians of colonial times also had some china. It is not, however, named in Baltimore inventories until after the year 1700. Nor was it plentiful in New York; one of the earliest mentions of china in New York is in the list of the possessions of wealthy Cornelius Stienwerck, " Ten pieces of china dishes or porcelain £4." In August, 1748, the New York Weekly Journal contained its first announcement of the sale of china—"A choice parcel .of China Ware just imported to be sold at Wholesale. Enquire of the Printer." Now, the " Printer " at that date was a woman, the Widow Zenger, wife of the former owner of the newspaper, and with her assumption of the printing and editing business came various feminine advertisements such as this of china ware, others of mantuas and hair-powder, and of " bonnet-papers," which she cut and made and sold in large numbers ; but this china sale was certainly exceptional in New York at that date.

China did not abound in New York, either in Dutch or English families, until after the Revolutionary War. Nor did advertisements of it frequently appear in ante-Revolutionary New York newspapers. In an inventory made at that time of the contents of a house on the Neutral Ground in Westchester County, there were such wealth-evincing items as twenty-six horses, thirty-six table-cloths, rich and abundant furniture, bed-linen, and clothing, large quantities of fine silver ; and of pewter, " 1 Coffee Kettle,1 Teapot, 27 Dishes, 12 Plates, 12 Soup Plates, 6 Butter Plates, 3 Mugs, 2 salons, 5 basons, 6 Spoons, 3 Measures ; " and not one piece of china. This list of house-hold belongings is not exceptional. China is seldom mentioned. But few pieces of porcelain or pottery are named in the inventories of the possessions of the New Jersey farmers whose houses were burned, and whose household goods were either destroyed or stolen by the soldiers in the Revolutionary War, and who expected to receive indemnity from the Government for their losses. We discover therein that each family seldom owned more than three or four china cups and saucers. These records are extremely valuable for reference, as they are true and faithful lists of the entire household belongings of well-to-do people at that time ; they indicate that china was far from plentiful in New Jersey at that date. Watson says in his " Annals," " When china was first introduced into America, it was in the form of tea-sets it was quite a business to take in broken china to mend. It was done by cement in most cases, but generally large pieces, like punch-bowls, were done with silver rivets or wire." An advertisement in the Boston Evening Post in 1755 reads : " This is to give Notice to all Them that have any Broken China, at the Lion and Bell on Marlboro Street, Boston, they may have it mended by Riveting it together with a Silver & Brass Rivets it is first put together with a Cement that will stand boiling Water and then Riveted."

China appears to have been more plentiful in Philadelphia than in New York. Benjamin Lay, the "Singular Pythagorean Cynical Christian Philosopher," to show his hatred of the use of tea, brought in 1742 all his wife's china into the market-place at Philadelphia, and began to break it piece by piece with a hammer; " but the populace, unwilling to lose what might profit them, overset him, scrambled for the china, and bore it off whole." As the " Singular Pythagorean Philosopher's " wife was dead, this wanton destruction of her dear china was not so cruel as at first appears. An old lady wrote in 183o, about things as they were before the War of Independence—" Pewter plates and dishes were in general use. China on dinner tables was a great rarity. Glass tumblers were scarcely seen. Punch, the most common beverage, was drunk from a silver tankard. China tea-cups and saucers were half their present size, and china tea-pots and coffee-pots with silver nozzles were a mark of superior finery. Where we now use earthen ware they then used Delft ware imported from England, and in-stead of queen's ware (then unknown) pewter platters and porringers made to shine along a dresser were universal. Some, especially country people, ate their meals from wooden trenchers."

That frugal and plain-living man, Benjamin Franklin, though he constantly impressed upon his wife, as well as upon the public, the wisdom and necessity of great economy, and the propriety and good taste of simplicity in all modes of living, still could find time and money to pick out for her, when he was in England, and to send to her many a piece of china for her beaufet in Philadelphia. He writes thus from London, in February, 1758, to his Deborah : I send you by Captain Budden a large case and a small box containing some English china, viz : melons and leaves for a dessert of fruit and cream or the like ; a bowl remarkable for the neatness of the figures, made at Bow, near this city; some coffee-cups of the same; and a Worcester bowl, ordinary. To show the difference of workmanship, there is something from all the china workers in England; and one old true china basin mended ; of an odd color. . .. . I also forgot among the china to mention a large, fine jug for beer, to stand in the cooler. I fell in love with it at first sight, for I thought it looked like a fat, jolly dame, clean and tidy, with a neat blue and white gown on, good-natured and lovely, and put me in mind of—somebody. Look at the figures on the china bowl and coffee-cups with your spectacles on, they will bear examining." This was certainly a very tender attention on the part of Franklin, and one particularly grateful, doubtless, to his good dame, if she loved china as do others of her sex. In 1765 she wrote to her " dear child " (of over three score years) while he was in France, and thus describes a room that she had been furnishing : " The blue room has a set of tea-china I bought since you went from home, a very handsome mahogany stand for the tea-kettle to stand on, and the ornamental china." This latter clause refers doubtless to the fine English pieces which he had sent her eight years previously. In spite of all this fine array, Mrs. Bache wrote thus to her father, on October 30, 1773 " We 'have no plates or dishes fit to set before your friends, and the queen's ware is thought very elegant here, particularly the spriged. I just mention this, as it would be much cheaper for you to bring them than to get them here." Let us hope her father took this broad hint and brought the " spriged " dishes 'to his daughter; and as there still exist among her descendants, pieces of a set of china bearing little sprigs, I choose to think that they are parts of this very set.

A very interesting pitcher of English ware of yellowish paste, with a raised design of vine leaves in varicolored lustres, is known to us by the name of the Province House Pitcher, because it was found, with two tall pewter drinking -cups, hidden behind a panel in the wainscoting of the historic old Province House in Boston. I fear it is not old enough to have been held by the fair hands of gentle Agnes Surriage, but I doubt not some romance attended its imprisonment.

By Revolutionary times a change appeared in the character and quality of the china that was imported to America. In the Connecticut Courant of September, 1773, we read in the advertisement of the " Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse," on King Street, Boston, that they have " for little more than sterling cost, a fine sortment of Crockery Ware, consisting of almost every kind of China, Glass & Delph : Cream color, white, blue & white, black, brown, agot, tortoise, melon, pineapple fruit pattern, enaml'd, and many other kinds of Stoneware. A few complete table services of very elegant printed and painted and guilt ware ; " and at a later date " Cream Color Pyramids, Candlesticks, Inkstands, & Chamber Lamps." The advertisements of this importing house are found in the files of New England papers for many years. Every notice of " English goods " arrived from England for Jolley Allen, for Hopestill Capen, for Cotton Barrell, three thrifty Boston shopkeepers, contained items of English and of India china. " Large & Neat Sortment of India China Dishes of Various forms & sizes, viz : Pudding, Soup, Mackrel, round, oval, Octagon, ribb'd, scallop'd. Also a variety of table & Butter Plates ; Patty Pans, Bowls & Sauceboats." Even in war times there still was china in many shops outside of poor besieged, war-swept Boston, though often only " a few crates well Sortid considering the Scarsity." By 1778 china began to pour into other ports than Boston. In New Haven were sold in August of that year (and strange to tell, were advertised to be sold at the very highest price) " Oval. Dishes of Several Different Sizes, small Cream coloured Plates, Punchbowles, cream colour'd Teapots, Red ditto, Blue ditto, Cauliflower ditto, Cream colour'd coffee cups & sausers, Tortoise shell bowles, enamel'd flat bottom cups." The cream-colored wares of Wedgwood and of Liverpool make, were evidently just beginning to be fashionable, though the latter had been named in the Boston Gazette as early as 1749. In 178o we first see the advertisement of Queen's ware in the Providence Gazette, the Connecticut Courant, the Boston newspapers. In October, 1783, " An Assortment of Yellow ware such as cups, saucers, mugs," was advertised in the Providence Gazette, and again "Yellow ware both flat and hollow," meaning plates and pitchers. Yellow ware was Liverpool ware, and is still so called by country people on the sea-coast. In 1783 there came into Baltimore, on the ship Brothers, from Liverpool, " Queen's ware & Liverpool ware," and on the ship Yungfrau Magretha, from Copenhagen, more Queen's ware; and on the ship Pacifique, from France, " boxes and barrels of china ware ; " and on the ship Candidus, from Amsterdam,

Delph ware "—and these vessels with their cargoes were all advertised at the same date, bewildering Baltimore housewives with the array of " richness." Then came announcements of "burnt china "—as if it were not all burnt! In May, 1785, " Beautiful Pencil Chinney Tile," and then frequent announcements of " Pencil China," "Pencil ware," " Pensil'd Yellow ware," all of which were one and the same—Liverpool ware printed with engraved designs. " Enameled ware " doubtless meant glazed ware, and was so called to distinguish it from the unglazed wares of Wedgwood. The "Amiled Milk Pots in the Boston Evening Post of 1749 were doubtless also enamelled. In 1784 and 1785, in all American newspapers of note appeared announcements of sales of Nottingham ware, a favorite importation before the war. Soon, with the growth of ship-building and Oriental trade, came the vast influx of Oriental porcelain direct from China, and advertisements of Canton china crowded the columns of every American newspaper.

It is interesting to note the various shapes of china and the names of the pieces that were imported in colonial and Revolutionary times, as well as the variety of wares. In the Boston News ,Letter of 1742 I find " china boats for spoons." In the Boston Evening Post in 1749, " china mugs, pitchers, and Turk caps," which latter mysterious articles were, I am sure, china also. What are "Mint Stands in delph," or rather what were they in 1751 ? In 1753 they had "custard-dishes" for sale; and did they have "terines" or " terreens" before 176o ? I do not find them named at an earlier date. A year later came "sal-lade bowls" and the first "china handle coffee-cups," though John Jekyll had had handles on his cups in 1732. Not until 1772 do I find " Enamel'd Tea cups & Saucers, with handles to the cups." In. 1763 china patch-boxes and china sweetmeat boxes came to New England. China stoves were advertised, but I think they were rare. " China tumblers, with covers," seem strange to us. What were the "yellow klinckers and Red glaz'd pantils" advertised in the South Carolina State Gazette in 1787 ? China "sweetmeat and pickle saucers" came in 1773, and half pint blue & white enameled Basons with Sawsers." China milk-jugs, milk-pots, milk-cups, milk-ewers, and creamers, all antedated the milk-pitcher. We had sugar-boxes, sugar-basons, sugar-pots,' and sugar-dishes before we had sugar-bowls. " Twifflers " were of porcelain also —pudding-dishes we call them now.

" China voiders " also are advertised for sale. These colonial ceramic articles of nomenclature most unpleasing 'in sound to modern ears, were really only an ancient type of what are known to dealers nowadays as " crumb-trays." Into a voider fragments of food remaining on the table—bones and the like—were gathered after a meal by a voiding-knife. Pewter voiders abounded, and "china baskets and voiders " appear in newspaper lists in 1740.

Doubtless many of these voiders and Turk caps, twifflers, and mint-stands have descended to us, but are known now by the uniform and uninteresting name of dishes.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com