Earliest Pottery Wares
THE first rare pieces of porcelain owned by the American colonists were India china ; but Delft ware, salt-glazed ware, and the tortoise-shell or " combed " wares were the earliest forms of pottery that were imported to any great extent.
Many pieces of heavy blue and white Delft have been found in New England, some being Dutch, some English. The shapes, decorations, and pastes are so similar that it is impossible for even the most careful observer definitely to judge of the place of manufacture, and there are seldom guiding and aiding marks. In Connecticut much Delft is found, sometimes with Dutch words and inscriptions. Doubtless the Connecticut planters bargained and traded with the New York Dutch, who perhaps took onions and notions from the canny Connecticut men in exchange for Delft. In New York, along the Hudson River to Albany, much fine Delft is still preserved in old Dutch families, especially in the old Dutch farm-houses and manor-houses. At the Albany Bi-centennial Loan Collection, in 1886, a fine showing was made of old Delft by representatives of the families of the old patroons—of the Ten Eycks, Ten Broecks, Bleeckers, and Van Rensselaers.
A few stray Delft wanderers may be found in Massachusetts and New Hampshire—meat-dishes and plates, pale and ugly, as if the journey inland had faded them out. On Long Island, Delft is still kept and used in Dutch families—it is not the oldest Delft, however, nor is it much prized. The typical Delft vases, decorated in blue, yellow, and white, once graced the high mantel or beaufet of many a low, comfortable Dutch farm-house in Flatbush, New Utrecht, and Gravesend, and occasionally one can still be found. A fine set is in the old "pirates' house" at Flatlands. The Dutch made many teapots, we are told, but I have never found an old Delft one in America. I have seen a few dull blue and white Delft flower-pots—possibly one hundred years old — clumsy, ugly things, whether old or new. I wish I could drive through the old Dutch settlements on Long Island—New Utrecht, and Flatlands, and New Lots, and Gravesend—and ransack the great, spacious garret of every concave -roofed story-and-a-half farm-house I passed. I know I could bring many a piece of Delft to light—forgotten and unheeded by its stolid owners.
Pewter was plainly much more valued than Delft, and India china was still more highly prized.
Old Delft tea-caddies are both curious and pretty. Here is one shown, marked with the names Aalta Evert and Gerrit Egben " and the date, 1793. It was doubtless a wed-ding or betroth-al gift. In this piece the dark-blue decoration is under the glaze, and the red and black quaint Dutch-dressed figures and the inscription are over the glaze, and were doubtless painted to order and fired when the piece was purchased for a gift or token. This labor-saving device was brought to perfection by a Dutch potter named Zachary Dextra, though the cunning Chinese and Japanese had employed it when they held supremacy over the Dutch market. If a skilled painter painted under the glaze, an inferior workman could easily do the finishing touches over the glaze.
The Delft apothecary jars are the rarest and most curious pieces seen, and form a charming posy-holder. They are eight or ten inches in height, and are lettered with the abbreviated names of drugs. " Succ : E. Spin : C.," " U. Althae," and " C: Rosar : E." are on three of my jars. They frequently have a spout on one side, and are then usually globose in shape, with a spreading base. Some have handles. When the Dutch used these jars, a century or more ago, they covered the open top with tightly-tied oil-skin and poured the medicinal or chemical contents from the spout, which, at other times, was kept carefully corked. These jars are identical in shape with the old "sirroop-pots" of Dutch museums ; for instance, the one made by Haarles, the eminent plateelbakkcr, in 1795, as a " proof of his skill," and now preserved in the archives at Delft.
The most familiar and universal decoration on Delft plates and meat dishes is the conventionalized "pea-cock " design. It sometimes takes rather a ludicrous appearance, often forming a comical caricature of a ballet-dancer. A coarsely-drawn basket of flowers is also common. I have also seen in America specimens of the " musical plates" of Delft. These bear designs of musical instruments, scores of song or dance music, or simply a staff with a few notes, a motif, accompanied usually by inscriptions, mottoes, or couplets, sometimes in Dutch, sometimes in French, the latter showing usually so decided a touch of extreme opera-bouffe equivoque that such " musical plates" would scarcely be in demand for family use, and make us turn to the Dutch-lettered pieces as being more desirable simply because the language of their decoration is less widely known and comprehended. Even these cannot be positively classed as Dutch, for the early English potters copied servilely the Dutch designs. The vases often have figures of men and animals and Dutch landscapes. A fine collection of Delft plates and placques and vases may be seen in the Trumbull - Prime Collection.
"Fine Holland Tile" was advertised in the Boston News Let-ter of June 11, 1716-the first announcement of the sale of Delft in America, though not in the form of table-ware—and in the same paper, under date of Au-gust 10, 1719, we find a notice of " Dutch Tile for Chimney." From that date, all through the century, in the various newspapers, we find constantly recurring advertisements of Delft chimney tiles on the arrival of every foreign ship. They must have been imported in vast numbers, and were not expensive; "9 dozen Dutch tiles,1 10s., 10 dozen Dutch tiles, £2 1os.," were the values assigned. In spite of these facts I have found them very rare in New England—they have wholly disappeared. In historical rooms, in museums, they may be seen, but seldom in old houses. The Robinson Douse in old Narraganset has a fine set ; in a few old houses in the Connecticut valley I have seen sets of the coarsely painted "scripture tiles " so disparaged by Benjamin Franklin, but they are rare. Even on Long Island and on the banks of the Hudson they are now seldom found. Story-tellers of New England life usually place blue and white tiles around their Yankee fireplaces, but they are more plentiful in the imagination of such narrators than in reality. With the various changes in the manner of heating New England dwellings, the chimney tiles have all vanished, even when the houses still stand, and nearly all the old city houses have been entirely removed to make way for more modern business structures. English potters made tiles in such close imitation of the Dutch that it is impossible to distinguish between them. Doubtless many of the " blue and white chimney tile" so largely advertised were English manufactures imported under the name of Dutch tiles, while still others were not chimney, but roof tiles.
There have been found in New England, in numbers which seem rather surprising when we consider their age, ale-jugs of gray and blue stone-ware which are universally known as Fulham jugs. They resemble in quality and coloring the German stone-ware or our common crocks, being of the same gray ware with a lead glaze. They are decorated with rich blue like the German wares, and have an incised design of leaves and scrolls, circles or simple flowers. I have seen a number which bore in the front an oval medallion with the incised initials G. R., sometimes also a crown. These are said to refer to Georgius Rex, the first of the English Georges. I know of one G. R. mug which has an additional interest in the form of a bullet of the Revolution imbedded in its tough and uncracked side. Some of these Fulham jugs have apparently had silver or pewter lids attached to them. They are what are known as bottle-shaped, round and protuberant, narrowing to a small neck and base ; others are more slender, almost cylindrical. There are no marks to prove them to be Fulham jugs, but as such they are known.
Other Fulham jugs are found of brownish mottled stone - ware with hound handle and raised decoration in the body of figures of the chase, and with mask of Bacchus forming the nose. These have been frequently reproduced in American potteries and when unmarked, it is difficult to determine which are English.
Pieces of salt-glazed ware have been found in country homes by many china-hunters, and are among the most pleasing articles to be obtained. The date of their manufacture was from 168o to 170. An interesting story is told of the discovery of the process of glazing this ware. A servant maid having, in the year 1680, allowed a pot of brine to boil over, the dull earthen pot containing the brine became red hot, and when cold was covered with a bright glaze.. A sharp potter perceiving it, at once utilized the hint. The story is pretty, but it can scarcely be true, for such a glaze could not be formed in an open place. But salt-glaze there is, and in America too, of the very earliest manufacture—Crouch-ware, or, as it is incorrectly and inappropriately called, Elizabethan-ware. Crouch is the name neither of a person nor of a place, but of the white Derbyshire clay. The paste made from this clay is very dense, and is of a greenish tint. The Elers-ware of buff ground with simple raised scrolls and rosettes of white are also of early date.
Some of the salt-glazed pieces were shaped by pressing the moist paste into metal moulds, other pieces were " cast " in moulds of plaster of Paris, the slip or liquid paste being introduced to line the mould, and allowed to set, and this operation being repeated until the piece was of required thickness.. As the taste for light delicate wares increased, some were made as light and thin as paper. If the piece were cast " the handles, nose, and feet (if it possessed any) were moulded and placed on separately. The moulds used were frequently the worn-out moulds that had been used for casting silver-ware ; hence pieces of salt-glazed ware usually resemble in shape the pieces of silver of the same date.
The characteristic feature of salt-glazed ware—the quality from which it derives its name—is its glaze. This is easily recognized. It does not run and spread like other glazes, but seems to form into minute coagulated drops or granulations resembling somewhat the surface of orange-peel. The glaze is often unequal, being higher on some portions of the piece than others, the vapor of soda (through which the glaze was made) not penetrating with equal power to every point. Thus one side of a piece may be dull and the other highly glazed.
The largest and finest example of salt-glazed ware which I have seen in America is the exact duplicate of the best specimen in the Museum of Practical Geology, in Jermyn Street, London, numbered G. III. It is thus described in the catalogue of that museum " Large oval soup tureen, cover, and stand. Height, ten inches; greatest diameter, fourteen and one-half inches. Body decorated with pressed ornaments, including scroll-work and diaper and basket pattern ; the tureen mounted on three lion's claws with masks." This tureen is dated 1763. The beautiful and delicate specimen found in America is absolutely perfect. It bore the difficult process of making and firing (specially difficult in so large a piece), crossed the water to the new land of Virginia, passed through generations of use and the devastations of the Revolutionary and civil wars, was gathered in by a travelling dealer, brought in safety by rail to New York, and ignominiously sold for a dollar and a half to its present proud possessor. It was doubtless cast in the same mould as the one in the museum. Another similar piece is in the well-known English collection of Lady Charlotte Schreiber.
A large number of smaller pieces of salt-glazed ware have been found, including salt-boxes, creamers, and one beautiful teapot which is so graceful and unique in de-sign that it has been honored by being borrowed by a prominent china-manufacturer in England to reproduce in his modern ware. Thus this frail waif from the middle of the last century has thrice crossed the ocean in safety.
The pitchers shown are of salt-glazed ware and may be Crouch-ware, though they are apparently of rather later date. The first bears in a heart-shaped medallion a design of high - colored children at awkward play, and is labelled " Sportive Innocence." Similar ones are frequently found in America. I know of at least a dozen. Some bear on the reverse side a different design with the same children entitled " Mischievous Sport." In this the boy is frightening the little girl with an ugly mask.
Other pitchers of precisely the same shape and border-decorations in orange, green, and blue have different designs in the medallion, a peacock being frequently seen. The farmer's pitcher has the motto " Success to Trade," and is surely older as well as gayer in color than the " Sportive Innocence" pitcher.
There were imported to America in great quantities, as is shown by many eighteenth-century advertisements, " tortoise shell " and " combed pattern " wares, also the pretty cauliflower, melon, and pineapple wares that have been reproduced in our own day. These were manufactured chiefly at Little Fenton by Thomas Whieldon, a man who influenced much the potters' art in England from the year 1740 to 1780, during five of which years he was a partner with Wedgwood. There are only two specimens of these wares in the Museum of Practical Geology, and Mr. Jewitt wrote in 1873: " These wares are now very scarce and are highly and deservedly prized by collectors." At the time he wrote he could have gathered in America scores, even hundreds, of pieces of the Whieldon wares for English collections. Dr. Irving Lyon, of Hartford, has a fine collection of them which he picked up in the cottages of the Connecticut Valley—a collection which any English china-lover would envy.
Whieldon was a man of great energy, with a practical knowledge of his art, and he spent much time in his works perfecting his patterns and processes. He compounded the bright green glaze so admirable in his ware, shown so beautifully in the cauliflower and melon pat-terns, through the contrast with the cream color. He also was a modeller, and from the imitation of leaves, and fruits, and vegetables derived his best-known and most successful patterns, and the novelty and ingenuity of many of them charm us even in the present day. The bird and animal shapes being grotesque rather than useful, seldom came to America. I have seen here, how-ever, several tortoise-shell cows and one combed bird. The tail of the cow forms the handle of the pitcher, the liquid being poured from the nose. Reproductions of these are now made at Jeffords Pottery in Philadelphia. Little cradles and posy-holders, too, are found, sometimes with dates. Whieldon's two-handled "parting-cups," ornamented with raised grapes, leaves, and tendrils and a head of Bacchus, are much more scarce than the melon and cauliflower teapots, mugs, and dishes; and his perforated ware I have never seen in America. Some of the pieces of his 'manufacture are stamped and afterward shaped somewhat by hand, others are cast, others pressed in moulds. The "cast " pieces are considered to be of earlier date, and may be known by their being thinner and more delicate than the moulded ones. The mottled browns, greens, and yellows of the tortoise-shell and combed wares, like all of Whieldon's decorations, are under the glaze, and are very rich in tone, forming a delightful bit of color in cupboard or cabinet. Occasionally a purple mottle is seen. The colors were sponged, floured, or blown on, painting and printing on pottery being then unknown. These pieces of Whieldon's are all unmarked, and doubtless many specimens in America came from the Wedgwood factory, for similar wares were made there.
I hardly know how to account for the fact that I have found so few, comparatively few, pieces of undoubted Wedgwood ware in old houses in New England. That vast quantities came to America we cannot doubt. Wedgwood says so himself in his letter quoted on page 88. In other letters he refers again and again to consignments made to the American market, "the green and white wares," " the Queen's wares," " the cream wares," etc. That these consignments were sent largely to the various points supplied from the Charleston and Philadelphia markets is known, and in those regions the black basalts-ware, at least, is more plentiful than in New England. Much Wedgwood ware must have come also to the ports of Boston, Newport, and New Haven. These wares may have been plentiful in the Connecticut Valley, but I have seen little in other parts of New England. A good opportunity of studying the various productions of the Wedgwood factory is given through the specimens in the Trumbull-Prime Collection. There are at least one hundred "lots" of Wedgwood there shown, and the cameos and intaglios, the jasper-wares, the basalts, the queensware, the painted wares are all illustrated by choice and varied pieces.
The story of Wedgwood's life I will not even give briefly, though the beauty and lesson of it make one long to tell it till every American china-manufacturer learns to read between the lines the story of personal supervision, patient trial, unwearied labor, honest ambition, and liberal broadness that made his life a success and his productions a delight. Miss Meteyard and Mr. jewitt have given it in careful detail, and every word is of keenest interest and importance to the china-collector. From these books, and from the beautiful volumes of engravings and photographs of Wedgwood ware pre-served in English collections, the American china-hunter can learn, if not from the specimens themselves.
A few of the Wedgwood cameo medallions are found in America. Wedgwood sent as a gift to Thomas Jefferson three exquisite medallions ; two were oval and one oblong in shape. They were in blue and white jasper, with mythological designs. The largest was twelve inches long and six inches wide, and bore the lovely design of Cupid and Psyche with troops of attending loves. Jefferson had them set in the front of a mantel in a room at Monticello, and one of them dropped out and was destroyed before the family sold the house. The others were picked or cut out and stolen. Mrs. Ellen Harrison, the oldest living descendant of Jefferson, tells me that during a visit to Monticello, some years before the present owner took possession, she found on the floor a tiny bit of blue jasper showing the foot and leg of one of the loves. Thus did this English cherub cast from his feet the dust of an inartistic and relic-hunting nation of vandals. Oh, the pity that things so beautiful could be so wantonly destroyed ! Would that everything that Wedgwood made had been endowed with qualities of immortality and indestructibility to live forever as lessons and examples for future generations of potters.
Occasionally a jasper medallion is found here with Wedgwood's famous anti-slavery design, a kneeling slave with fetters falling from his hands, and the motto, " Am I not a Man and a Brother?" Dr. Darwin says that " Wedgwood distributed many hundreds of these to excite the humane to attend to and assist in the abolition of the detestable traffic in human creatures."
" Whether, 0 friend of art, the gem you mould
Many found their way to America and a few are still preserved.
Occasionally also a rich dessert-service of old Wedgwood ware is seen. Two superb ones were brought across the water by a sea-captain at the beginning of this century and landed at Hudson, N. Y. A fair young bride saw and coveted one of these china treasures, but stern and frugal parents were horrified at the thought of spending seventy dollars for such an unnecessary luxury. The bridegroom, Silas E. Burraws, at a later date the starter of the monument to the mother of Washington, more extravagant and more indulgent, bought it as a wedding gift. It is " queen's ware" of the rich blue, red, and gold design which is known among American dealers as " Queen Charlotte's pattern." The fruit dishes and comports are of the unique and perfect shapes often found in Wedgwood ware. I have seen a single plate of this pattern in a shop labelled with the price " thirty dollars." The price given for a similar one in the South Kensington Museum was four pounds. I know also of one or two dinner services of yellow Wedgwood ware, with the vine and grape border in white, early works of Wedgwood, clear and firm in outline and beautiful in quality.
The frail fluted bowl, the graceful pitcher with twisted handle, and the fragile creamer of queen's ware shown on page 1 are all Wedgwood of lovely shape and so thin and delicate a paste, that it is wonderful that they have been safely preserved for a hundred years outside a collector's cabinet, and stranger still, have been used upon the tea-table of a country home.
A pottery was founded at Castleford in 1770, and black basalt ware, much like Wedgwood's, was made, and white stone ware which must have been imported to this country in vast quantity, for specimens are not rare. A teapot commonly seen is here shown. It is found both in black basalt, a curious brown ware, and salt-glazed cream ware. Special raised work designs of the figure of Liberty and the American eagle were used, and the sugar-bowls, creamers, and teapots bearing such designs were doubtless made entirely for this market. The white surface of Castleford ware was frequently divided into compartments by raised lines which were colored blue or green. Teapots were made with lids hinged on metal pins, or with sliding lids, and were exceedingly pretty and convenient. They are often called Wedgwood, as are also pieces of Castleford black ware.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )