IN that delightful and much - quoted book, "The China Hunters' Club," the final chapter is devoted to a most humorous description of the disbandment and ignominious extinction of the club through a fierce quarrel over a disputed piece of china—whether it were Chinese or Lowestoft. Could I, as did Charlie Baker in that story, label both my china of like character and this chapter " Canton-Lowestoft," it would fitly express my feelings when I attempt to judge and write upon the old pieces of hard paste porcelain, so common in America, called Oriental, Canton, India, or Lowestoft, according to the belief or traditions of each individual owner. I cannot give any positive rules by which to classify this china, nor any by which to judge of independent specimens. If I followed my own convictions and my own researches on this puzzling subject, I should in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred firmly state the disputed piece of porcelain to be Chinese, and I could quote in support of my views such an authority as Franks, the great china collector, who says that,
" India china (that is, china made for the East India Company for European trade—what Jacquemart calls porcelaine des hides) has on one hand been attributed to Japan, and on the other, by a still more singular hallucination been ascribed to Lowestoft."
He also says, "There can be no doubt that there was a considerable manufactory of porcelain at Lowestoft, but this was of the usual English soft-paste. The evidence of hard-paste having been made there is of the most slender kind."
Mr. Owens, in his "Two Centuries of Ceramic Art in Bristol," says, with decision :
" There cannot be any doubt that hard porcelain, vitrified and translucent, was never manufactured from the raw materials, native kaolin and petunste, at any other locality in England than Plymouth and Bristol. The tradition that such ware was made at Lowestoft in 1775 rests upon evidence too slight to be worthy of argument. The East India Company imported into England large quantities of porcelain for sale ; and in the provincial journals of the last century advertisements of sales by auction of East India china occur frequently. This particular ware, which is very plentiful, even at the present day, and which has of late acquired the reputation of having been made at Lowestoft, was simply, in form and ornamentation, only a reproduction by the Chinese of English earthenware models. The Chinese do not use saucers, butter-boats, and numbers of other articles after the European fashion, and the agents in China were compelled to furnish a model for every piece of ware ordered. These models the Asiatic workmen have copied only too faithfully. The ill-drawn roses, the coarsely-painted baskets of flowers, the rude borders of lines and dots are literally copied from the inartistic painting on the English earthenware of by-gone days."
He also says, " It is painful to see in public and private collections examples of Oriental ware labelled Lowestoft, simply because, though hard porcelain, they bear English armorial coats and initials. Many porcelain punch-bowls are to be found in sea-port towns with names and portraits of ships and very early dates. Those bowls are often attributed to the works at Liver-pool and Lowestoft. The officers of the East India Company's ships were accustomed to take out English Delft bowls and get them reproduced in common porcelain in China for their merchant friends, and many a relic now prized as of home manufacture was procured in this manner."
Mr. Prime writes more cautiously, after describing the pieces :
" These are supposed to have been made on special patterns furnished to the Oriental factories. by the East India Company. They resemble European work in the 'decoration, and many of the Lowestoft paintings seem to be imitations of these. It is, therefore, necessary to be very cautious in classifying wares as of Lowestoft fabric."
And again he says, " The presence of a single decoration like a flower or sprig of flowers in European style on porcelain is not a suffIcient reason for classing the porcelain as European.. Many such pieces were printed in Japan and in China. And others are possibly the work of decorators in Holland."
Mr. Elliott says of Lowestoft in America:
" It seems certain that this kind of decoration was done at Lowestoft ; it is equally certain that it was also done in China, from designs sent out there. I have my-self seen pieces so decorated which were imported direct from China to New Haven about the end of the last century."
On the other hand, that standard authority, Mr. Chaffers, author of " Marks and Monograms," says that" the question about hard-paste porcelain having been made at Lowestoft is placed beyond dispute upon the best authority. It was introduced about 1773," and he offers a mass of testimony to prove his statements.
Mr. Owens fancies that sailing-masters took out English Delft bowls to be reproduced in China; Mr. Marryatt and Mr. Franks, that Chinese porcelain was imported to Holland and painted in Delft ; another collector believes that Chinese kaolin and clay were brought to Lowestoft, and there mixed, shaped, fired and painted ; and still another, that Lowestoft porcelain was taken out to China to be decorated. The Catalogue of the Museum of Practical Geology in London very shrewdly and non-responsibly says of its Lowestoft specimens: " It should be understood that several of the following pieces are exhibited as ` Lowestoft china' simply in deference to the opinions of certain collectors and not as authenticated specimens."
To show the doubtful eyes with which the Lowestoft aspirants are regarded by authorities in England, I will state that in, this last-mentioned catalogue but twelve lots of Lowestoft porcelain and pottery are named—a small proportion—and a sharp lesson to American collectors with their reckless and sweeping Lowestoft classifications. None of the twelve bear any distinguishing Lowestoft marks or names. The descriptions of some of these are not at all like our American Lowestoft wares. One reads : " Two plates ornamented with borders in brown and gold, and with views of a Suffolk village and river painted in sepia in a circular panel in centre of each plate."
From these few extracts which I have taken from various authorities, it is plainly seen that no decision, no judgment can be given in this Lowestoft case, that each seeker after china and truth must judge for himself.
The history of the production of hard-paste china at Lowestoft is exceedingly curious as an example and proof of the suddenness with which recent facts and circumstances may be forgotten. It seems fairly incredible that the true particulars of the manufacture of this ware (which it is alleged was produced in such great quantities from the year 1775 to 1803) should be entirely lost and forgotten in half a century's time. The descriptions and history of Lowestoft china in Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt's article in the July number of the Lon-don Art Journal in 1863, were the first to call attention ,to Lowestoft china, and I still consider him the best and most trustworthy authority on the subject. Previous to that time, in the catalogues of English Loan Collections and Museums, the name even of Lowestoft does not appear, though the ware was seen everywhere labelled vaguely Foreign," or " Oriental. At a later date Mr. Chaffers's book appeared with a warm endorsement and enthusiastic setting-forth of the Lowestoft factory and its wares, so warm and embracing in its description that Mr. Jewitt in his later-book, " Ceramic Art in Great Britain," fairly has to protest against such broad sweeping into the Lowestoft net ; and he must feel that he " builded better than he knew " when he " wrote up" the Lowestoft factory. He says : " Let me utter a word or two of caution to collectors against placing too implicit a reliance upon what has been written concerning Lowestoft china, and against taking for granted that all which is nowadays called Lowestoft china is really the production of that manufactory. If all that is ascribed to Lowestoft was ever made there the works must have been the most extensive, and-if all the varieties of wares that are now said to have been produced there were made it is asserted simultaneously—the most extraordinary on record. The great bulk of the specimens now unblushingly ascribed to Lowestoft I believe never were in that town, much less ever made there."
When Mr. Jewitt wrote thus he knew nothing about the vast additional stock of Lowestoft in America, enough additional weight to swamp forever the Lowestoft .pretensions. Mr. Jewitt also resented with proper indignation some criticisms which Mr. Chaffers dared to make upon his Art journal paper, saying, with truth, that he (Chaffers) was indebted to him for nearly every scrap of information about the Lowestoft factory that he has embodied in his work. He might say for every scrap of any importance. The three accounts form a typical example of the controversies in private life, of the minor disputes that always arise among china collectors, not only over the claims of the Lowestoft factory, but over even a single piece of Lowestoft hard paste porcelain..
The specimens of what are called Lowestoft ware that are most frequently seen in America, are parts of tea-services, punch-bowls and pitchers, coffee-pots and mugs. The pieces often bear crests, coats of arms, or initials. Shields supported with birds, and escutcheons in dark blue are also frequent. The initials are usually very gracefully interlaced. Sometimes the tea-caddy will bear the crest or coat of arms with the initials, while the remainder of the tea-service will have the initials only.
On many of the pieces the border is of clear cobalt blue (often in rich enamel), varied with gold stars or a meander pattern in gold. Some unreasoning collectors take their stand upon this blue and gold-starred border as being the only positive indication and proof to their minds that the piece thus decorated is truly Lowestoft ; but I have seen many pieces that were positively imported directly from China to America that bore this Lowestoft border. A red trellis-border and a peculiar russet-brown or chocolate border also abound on these disputed pieces, and the scale pattern in purplish pink. A raised border of vine-leaves, grapes, flowers and squirrels is seen on the beakers ; I have found both this form and decoration rare in America.
When a flower pattern appears on Lowestoft china the rose predominates. Chaffers says that the reason for this use of the rose is twofold; the arms of the English borough in which the china is said to have been manufactured or painted, is the Tudor, or full-blown rose surmounted by an open crown ; and the cleverest painter of Lowestoft ware was Thomas Rose, and he thus commemorated his name. He was a French refugee, and it is to his French taste we owe the delicate style of whatever flower ornamentation appears on this china. It is sad to read that he became blind and spent the last days of his life as a water - vender, plying his trade with two donkeys that had been given him by the town. The pieces alleged to have been painted by him, and indeed all the Lowestoft pieces, were seldom profuse in decoration. Roses without foliage or stems, little bouquets, or narrow festoons of tiny roses with green leaves, were his favorite designs. Often a piece bore only a single rose.
The mugs and tea and coffee pots usually have twisted or double handles crossed and fastened to the main body of the piece with raised leaves or flowers.. The large pieces, such as punch-bowls and pitchers and the helmet creamers, sometimes have an irregular surface, as if, when in the paste, they had been patted into shape by the hands. I have often seen this appearance also on blue and white undoubted Chinese ware. The mugs are both cylindrical and barrel - shaped ; the cups are handleless, as are usually the cups of all Oriental china manufactured at that date.
Mr. Chaffers says that occasionally the smaller pieces of Lowestoft will be seen embossed with the rice pattern or basket work. I have never seen a piece thus em-bossed but was as plainly and unmistakably Oriental as a Chinaman's pigtail and his almond eyes.
The oval teapot shown on page 208 is a typical Lowestoft piece, though not a choice one; and by many ignorant collectors all teapots of that particular shape, with twisted handles held to the body with embossed leaves, no matter with what other decoration, are firmly assigned to the Lowestoft factory. Many unmistakably Chinese pieces, however, are seen in this exact shape ; for instance, a beautiful rice-pattern teapot in the Avery Collection, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This piece is rich in gold and blue, but has the knobs, twisted handles, and embossed leaves of the Lowestoft pattern. Perhaps, in spite of its Chinese rice-pattern, and the, quality of the paste, Chaffers would class it as Lowestoft.
There are found in America certain Oriental vases of typical Lowestoft decoration which are usually in one or the other of two shapes, cylindrical with suddenly flaring top (or rarely an ovoid cylinder with similar top), or a vase with small base, sharply bulging out at half its height, and as suddenly contracting to a small neck. These vases, in sets or garnitures of three or five pieces, the two end vases always alike, graced the mantel of many a " parlour " a century ago, and were frequently decorated with initials or coats of arms. Such are the beautifully-shaped vases with exquisite blue, brown, and gold decoration, given by Lafayette to Cadwallader Jones of Petersburg, Va., one of which is here shown. These vases exhibit the impressed basket-work design ; they are in perfect preservation, and have recently come by gift into the possession of the Washington Association of New Jersey.
There are into English collections a few specimens of the early soft - paste Lowestoft manufactures, which were always decorated in blue, which bear Lowestoft names or distinguishing dates. Indeed, these blue and white pieces are the only ones that do have designating Lowestoft marks, or bear dates, which seems to me a very significant fact. I have never found any of these blue and white Lowestoft pieces in America, either marked or unmarked, nor do I know of any marked Lowestoft pieces in any American collection. There are none in the Trumbull-Prime Collection. I have seen a few rather coarse blue and white Delft-ware pieces which I suspect might be classed as Lowestoft.
I fear that in this attempt to throw light, or rather borrow light, on the Lowestoft question, I have not succeeded very well, and have perhaps cast a deeper shadow.. There is one other condition which has influenced and helped me to form my condition of mind about Lowestoft china, and that is the situation of the town. It is the absolute " 0 Land's end," the extreme eastern point of England ; the sand and some of the clay necessary to make all this porcelain would have had to be trans-ported from the extreme western' Land's end "of Corn-wall, and the great supply of coal to burn in the kilns, from the extreme northern coast of Northumberland and Durham—two most inconvenient and expensive contingencies. It was, however, near to Holland, that great producer of Delft-ware, and had an extensive trade with that country, and Dutch vessels constantly entered the Lowestoft port. And the first productions —the only marked and. dated ones—are all blue and white and resemble Delft-ware : none are of porcelain. The Dutch also were great importers of Oriental china. Of course we must believe that some china also came.. out of Lowestoft, but these are some of the very bewildering accompanying conditions that we cannot crowd out of our minds.
It is difficult to assign prices or values to pieces of Lowestoft china, for, as in other wares, the quality of the decoration, of course, influences the price. Tea-pots similar to the one shown on page 208 are often offered for from four to eight dollars—one sold in the Governor Lyon sale in 1876 for $5. At that same sale Lowestoft plates of ordinary design, with single rose decoration, brought $1.5o each ; cups and saucers of similar design, the same price. A pretty dish of gold and buff, with brownish bird in the centre, brought $3.
A helmet creamer, with decoration of grapes .and vines in gold and brown, brought $4; this is a decoration and shape frequently seen in America. One bearing the Morse coat of arms is here shown. One very curious piece ,a custard - cup belonging to a "marriage set," sold for $6.50. This cup was decorated with festoons and bunches of roses, and on one side was a hand holding two medallions, with initials, tied together with a lovers' knot of ribbon, with the motto " Unit." On the other side were two coats of arms held and supported in the same manner. It is said that this idea of a marriage set was in high fashion a hundred years ago. At the S. L. M. Barlow sale in New York, in February, 1890, the prices of Lowestoft pieces were higher—partly because the specimens were better. A sugar box with blue and gold ribbon decoration sold for $5, teapots for $8 and $10.
A device found on Lowestoft pieces is very common in America—or at any rate, in New England—and is frequently and erroneously supposed to be an armorial bearing. It is a monogram or cipher written within an oval or an escutcheon, backed by an ermine mantle, surmounted by a wreath on which are perched a pair of doves. This device was doubtless sent to China to be painted on a service as a wedding gift, and proving popular was often repeated. I have seen it on many pieces in many families, in gold and various colors, the monogram or initial only being different. A letter is in existence, written by a gentleman in China in 1810, to a fair bride in Hartford, saying that he sends to her as a wedding gift a set of porcelain with this decoration. Portions of the set are still owned by the bride's descendants. This of course proves the device to have been painted in China. Perhaps it was painted in England also, but I doubt it.
There is a very pretty Lowestoft design which I have seen upon dinner- and tea-sets belonging to several families in New England, which may have been made specially for the American market, or at any rate must have been sent here in large quantities. It consists of the American shield and eagle in shades of brown touched with gold, with a pretty delicate border of the same colors, and tiny dots of vermilion. I speak specially of this design because it is often offered for sale as " George Washington's China," on the slight foundation, I suppose, of having upon it an American shield and eagle ; and not only offered but sold, and no doubt exhibited with pride by collectors of Washingtoniana. One lucky dog of a relic - hunter recently secured in New York a Washington " teapot with this design for the sum of $75 — a paltry amount, as he considered it. There are a number of pieces bearing this decoration in the Trumbull- Prime Collection, a portion of a set belonging to a member of Mr. Prime's family. A coffee pot of the set is here shown. This service was purchased in England in 1804. The gilt lettering on it, as on others that I have seen, is much worn, while 'the decoration is in perfect condition..
As an indication of the vast amount of Lowestoft wares to be found in America, let me state that in the Governor Lyon sale there were forty-nine lots labelled Lowestoft, and many more among the historical pieces, while there were only six of Delft, three of Bristol, five of Chelsea, etc. As Governor Lyon collected nearly all his pieces of English porcelain in America this might be thought to be a fair means of judging of the proportion-ate prevalence of china called Lowestoft, but I think the number is hardly high enough. In the Trumbull-Prime Collection are at least a hundred and fifty pieces of Lowestoft, to which, however, Mr. Prime does not definitely assign that title, but explains the doubts and questions as to the ware. There are no rice-pattern or basket-work pieces among them.
In New England seaport towns, where there has been during past years a large direct trade with China, vast quantities of Lowestoft ware are found. It would, of course, be argued from this fact that such porcelain is Chinese, and in truth it is Chinese in nine cases out of ten. And I presume the reason that I am so incredulous about Lowestoft china, is that I have really seen so little, my Lowestoft studies having probably all been in Chinese porcelain. Then, too, the Lowestoft factory, had it sent all its wares direct to America, could never have furnished our vast supply, from which we still have plenty of specimens to dispute and quarrel over.
And is it not strange that we have no record of this vast trade in English porcelain ? Who ever knew of a vessel arriving in an American port from Lowestoft ? Who ever saw an advertisement of Lowestoft china in an old American newspaper ? On the other hand, we know well how Chinese porcelain could have been brought —nay, was brought—in vast quantities to New England ; for though New York took the lead in sending a single ship direct to Canton in 1784, the question of the China trade had been agitating Salem for a year previously, and in Connecticut, state aid had been asked to further direct commerce with the Orient. This aid had been at once refused by the prudent home-staying farmers in the Legislature. Providence, Newport, and Boston quickly awakened to the rich possibilities of the new commercial opening with the Orient, but Elias Haskett Derby, of Salem, known as the Father of the East India Trader" crowded his great vessels across the ocean to Canton and brought home rich stores of Oriental products. His fine Grand Turk sailed from Salem in 1785, and the return cargo doubled the money in-vested ; and in the rooms of the East India Marine Company at Salem is a great Lowestoft bowl bearing paintings of the Grand Turk and the date, Can-ton, 1786, which proves that that piece positively was neither made at Lowestoft, painted at Lowestoft, brought to Lowestoft, nor exported from Lowestoft. From that year to 1799, of the hundred and seventy-five voyages made by Derby's stanch ships, forty-five were to India and China. He had four ships at one time at Canton. In 1793 three Indiamen brought into New England ports $14,600 worth of China-ware ; " one of these ships, the Rising Sun, landed at Providence. And Billy Gray, of Salem, the largest ship-owner in the world at that date, sold many a hogshead of china-ware from the cargoes of his great ships, the Light Horse, the Three Friends, the Lotus, the Black Warrior.
Though Connecticut farmers and law-givers looked with timid and unfavoring eyes on the possibilities and dangers of Oriental commerce, Connecticut merchants were not to be left behind in the race for the golden prizes of India. A great ship was fitted out in New Haven, and the story of her first voyage in 1799 and of its rich results reads like the wonder-tales of the East. The ship was manned by thirty-five Connecticut men, sons of respectable and well-to-do families; many of them were graduates of Yale. In its provisioning and furnishing merchants of New Haven, Hartford, Weathersfield, Farmington, Stamford, and other neighboring towns joined or "ventured." The ship took no cargo. She sailed to the Falkland Islands. The crew killed 80,000 seals, packed away the skins in the ship's hold, and then sailed to Canton. The Neptune was the first New Haven ship that furrowed the waves of the Pacific. The sealskins were sold to Canton merchants for $3.75 each. With $280,000 of the profits the Connecticut boys laid in a rich store of Oriental goods, tea, silks, and 467 boxes of fine china. These goods were sold in New Haven at enormous profits. The ship paid to the Government, on the results of that single voyage, import duties which amounted to $20,000 more than the entire State tax for the year. Mr. Townsend, the builder of the ship, cleared $100,000 as his share of the profits; the super-cargo, that useful and obsolete officer, took $50,000, and the thirty-five Yankee sailors and the Yankee merchants all tasted the sweets of this phenomenal venture. Thirty-six other Connecticut merchants joined at once in a venture in another ship, and the Cowles Brothers, of Farmington, fitted out three vessels for Canton, and vast amounts of Lowestoft porcelain were brought back by them to New Haven.
It is only recently, and even now only among china-collectors and what a Newburyport dame called " city-folks and Yorkers " (that is Bostonians and New Yorkers—or city people in general), that the pieces spoken of in the last few pages would be called Lowestoft. In country homes all are still Chinese or India porcelain. It is the favorite tradition told of nearly every piece, even of undisputed English wares of the last century, that " my grandfather brought that bowl to us from Hong Kong," and even when you point out the Caughley or Staffordshire marks, the owners are unconvinced and openly indignant. Chinese porcelain evidently denoted much higher aristocracy than English ware in early Federal days, and the sentiment lingers still among simple folk. Crests, arms, and initials are very common, "put on for us in China," and the ".China " or " India" tradition, must in such cases never be openly doubted.
Much specially decorated porcelain did come to us from China ; there is plenty of proof in old letters, bills, diaries, and shipping receipts, that persons in both America and England ordered services of porcelain such as we now call Lowestoft, to be made and decorated for them in China. These orders were sometimes filled in a manner which was vastly disappointing. Miss Les-lie, the sister of the eminent painter, related that she ordered a dinner-service to be made and painted for her in China. She directed that a coat of arms should be placed in the centre of each plate, and made a careful drawing of the desired coat of arms and pasted it in the centre of a specimen plate, and wrote under it, " Put this in the middle." What was her dismay when, on the arrival of the china, she found on every piece not only the coat of arms, but the words, indelibly burnt in, " Put this in the middle."
Another person ordering porcelain in China sent out a book-plate as a guide for outline in decoration, and was -much disgusted when the service arrived to find it painted by the literal-minded Chinese artist in lines of funereal black like the book-plate, instead of the gay colors the china-buyer had desired, and which were then so fashionable.
But I feel that in all this about the questionable Lowestoft I am neither quite fair nor quite liberal to the claims of the far Orient. We do not regard with doubt or with question of English co-operation all the contributions of China to our early table-furnishings. About the pieces just described, many collectors are reckless in judging and naming, and too often unjust to our Asiatic ceramic purveyors ; but much porcelain came to America which is known and acknowledged to be Chinese, and which has never for a moment had the shadow of suspicion of Occidental manipulation cast over it—I mean " blue Canton china." A hand whose clear and perfect touch made beautiful, yet rendered truthfully everything she described, wrote thus of such porcelain :
"The china here, as in all genuine Salem cupboards, was chiefly of the honest old blue Canton ware. There were shining piles of these plates, which while they are rather heavy to handle, always surprise one by being so thin at the edges. There were generous teacups like small bowls, squat pitchers with big noses, and a tureen whose cover had the head of a boar for a handle. And in all this the blue was dull and deep in tint, with a certain ill-defined vaporous quality at the edges of the lines, and the white of the cool greenish tinge of a duck's egg. You can buy blue Canton today, but it is not old blue Canton."
The stanch ships of Elias Haskett Derby, of William Gray, of Joseph Peabody, brought to Salem hogsheads and boxes and crates of this old blue Canton china ; it still lingers close-hidden and high-shelved in Salem cup-boards ; it has been crushed grievously under foot in Salem attics ; has been sold ignominiously to Salem junkmen, and also proudly and eagerly bought by Salem collectors.
Many a " venture" was sent out by New England dames to " far Cathay" in these East India trading-ships, and many a pretty blue Canton teapot and cups and saucers, or great ringing punch-bowl came home from China in return for the hoarded egg-money, the inherited Spanish dollars, or the proceeds of the year's spinning and weaving. Do you know what a " venture " was a hundred years ago ? It was a gentle commercial speculation in which all Puritan womankind longed to join, just as all New England ministers legally and soberly gambled and revelled in the hopes and disappointments of lottery tickets. An adventurer in those days was as different from an adventurer of to-day as was an undertaker of 1792 from an undertaker of 1892. When a ship sailed out to China in the years following the Revolutionary War, the ship's owner did not own all the cargo (if cargo of ginseng it bore), nor send out all the contents: of the bags of solid specie that were to be invested in the rich and luxurious products of the far land. There were no giant monoplies in those days. All his friends and neighbors were kindly and sociably allowed to join with the wealthy shipmaster in his risks and profits, to put in a little money on speculation—in short, to send out a sum large or small on a "venture." Sometimes orders were given that this " venture" should be invested in special forms of merchandise ; sometimes it was only placed in the supercargo's hands to share in its proportion the general profit. Complicated books must Elias Haskett Derby have had to keep through all these petty "ventures," but good profits did that honest man render, though he left at his death the largest fortune of any American in that century. Women, fired by these alluring profits and assailed by a gambling obsession, sold their strings of gold beads, their spring lambs, their knitted stockings, and eagerly sent out the accumulated sum by the ship's purser, and received in return tea, spices, rock-candy, crapes, china, anything they coveted for their own use or fancied they could sell at a profit. Men, too, sent out a " venture" as a gift to their new-born children, or to fill their own pockets ; fair maids bought through a " venture" their bridal finery. From Bristol one young miss sent in to a shipowner her gold earrings to " venture" for " a sprigged and bordered India muslin gown of best make," and she got it too, thin and sheer, close-sprigged and deep bordered, just as well selected and carefully conveyed as if she had "ventured a hundred pound."
The newspapers of the times abounded in advertisements of blue Canton china, such as this from the Columbia Centinel of December 19, 1792 :
" Superfine Nankin blue enamelled landscape and fancy pattern China-ware direct from China : among other articles are complete dinner setts, tea coffee & breakfast do, Teacups & saucers & Teapots separately do ; dinner breakfast & dessert flat & Deep Plates ; Punchbowles Mugs & Pitchers."
Frequently the china was sold direct from the vessel, or from the wharf alongside. How truly Oriental that old Canton china must have been to Boston and Providence and Salem dames when they had tiptoed down on the rough old wharf in wooden clogs or velvet-tipped golo-shoes, their fair faces covered with black velvet masks if the weather waxed cold or the wind blew east ; when they had seen the great weather-beaten ship, with its stained sails and blackened ropes and cables—the ship that had brought the fragile porcelain cargo to port—the Lively Prudence, the Lively Peggy, the Lively Sally, the Lively Molly, or any of the dozen great ships named by Yankee shipmasters and ship-owners for the lively young women of their acquaintance. They had been on board the Indiaman, perhaps, and smelt its bilge-water and its travelled stale ship-smells ; had watched the strange picturesque foreign sailors, barefooted and earringed, as they brought the packages and spread out the boxes on deck, or carried in their brawny arms the great crates on Scarlett's or Rowe's Wharf; and with their bronzed tattooed hands took out the precious porcelain from its rice-straw packing and rice-paper wrapping. How that old blue Can-ton must have savored forever to the fair buyers of the "bloom raisins," the cinnamon, the ginger, palm-oil, gum-copal, and ivory, the tea, the otto-of-roses, that had been fellow-travellers for months in the good ship's hold ; and have spoken, too, of far-away lands and foreign sights, and of "the magic and mystery of the sea." Truly, we of to-day have Iost all the romance, the sentiment, that brightened and idealized colonial shopping, when we know not the ship, nor scarcely the country from whence come our stores.
In Newport, in Bristol, in Providence, in Boston-wherever ships could sail from port, and wherever favoring winds wafted them back again, vast stores of this old blue Canton ware have been and can now be found ; " tall coffee-pots, with straight spouts, looking like light-houses with bowsprits ; short, clumsy teapots with twisted handles and lids that always fall off ; jugs, tureens, helmet-pitchers, and sauce-boats. At the recent disbandment of the family and selling of the home of one of the old presidents of Brown University, a score of old Canton platters were found behind trunks and old furniture under the eaves in the garret. Too heavy, too cumbersome to be used on our modern tables, they were banished to the garret rafters, and there prisoned, were forgotten. In past years when roast-pig and giant turkeys were served on that hospitable board, these great platters proudly held their steaming trophies; but now we have changed all that—the turkey is cut up surreptitiously in some unseen corner, and the blue Can-ton platters, dusty and cobwebbed, lie forgotten in the garret.
These vast stores of blue Canton were doubtless part of the cargo of the Ann and Hope, the beautiful and stanch ship that in 1799 bore into Providence " one hundred and thirty boxes of chinaware in tea- and dinner-sets." In I800 she again brought into port three hundred and sixty-two boxes and one hundred and twenty-four rolls of chinaware, together with such other delightful Oriental importations as two bales of gauze ribbons, seven boxes of lacquered ware, five hundred Chinese umbrellas, sixty bundles of cassia and five boxes of sweetmeats, forty jars of rock-candy, and twenty tubs of sugar-candy. In 1802 came on the Ann and Hope one thousand and forty-eight boxes of chinaware, but, alas ! no sugar-candy, or sweetmeats for Providence lads and lasses, but instead forty disappointing boxes of rhubarb.
Hot-water plates of Canton china did every well-regulated and substantial New England family own, deep hollow vessels, with their strong heavy bottoms and little open ears. Not very practical nor convenient of use were they— or, at least, so it seems to us nowadays. And another and common form of coarse blue and white Chinese ware which our grandmothers had by the score need not be despised by china collectors—the old, high-shouldered ginger-jars that fifty and seventy-five years ago were so good in color. Some are mammoth jars holding nearly a gallon, that are decorated with a chrysanthemum pattern in clear dark blue, and when set on the top of a corner cupboard need not fear even the proximity of a cabinet specimen of costly old hawthorn. A few members of the aristocracy of ginger-jars exist, not in common plebeian blue and white, but with a greenish ground covered with red and yellow enamelled flowers. These were never sold in China, but were used as presentation jars, being usually given by some Chinese grandee or trader to some Yankee sea-captain, or sent to America as a token of respect to some American merchant or ship-owner. They sell readily for $5 each in an out-of-the-way antique shop, for thirty in a fashion-able one. Six shockingly dirty specimens were found in a hen-house on an inland farm on Long Island, and after being pumped upon for a long season at the horse pump, and swept off vigorously with a birch-broom, they revealed their original glories of color, and after a thorough cleansing and disinfecting now grace teak-wood cabinets in New York homes..
A very dainty form of Oriental china was seen in many hospitable homes in the beginning of this century, a form now obsolete. I mean a " toddy-strainer." It was a shallow, circular saucer or disk of fine Oriental ware, blue Canton or Nankin, or white and gold .Oriental porcelain, and was pierced with tiny holes. It was about four or five inches in diameter and bore two little projecting ears or handles, which were fastened to the body of the strainer by embossed leaves. On the edge of a flip mug or a toddy glass the ears of the toddy strainer rested when used, and when the toddy was poured from the great punch pitcher into the glass, the strainer pre-vented the lemon- and orange-seeds from entering the glass below. These toddy strainers are no longer imported in our temperance-ruled and invention-filled days, and being of frail china, have seldom outlived the years when they were in such constant, jovial, and hospitable use. Nor have I seen them elsewhere than in the seaport towns of Narraganset Bay. I fancy some luxury-loving, toddy-drinking, money-spending old Newport merchant invented, explained to the Chinese, and imported to America these pretty porcelain toddy strainers.
Sometimes a single odd or beautiful piece of Oriental china was brought to America in the olden times by those far-roving and home - bringing old sea-captains, and the single specimen still exists—a stranger in a strange land. Such is the graceful little ewer here shown, a piece of Persian shape, but of pure Chinese paste, and "with antick shapes in China's azure dyed." This design, with its "little lawless azure-tinted grotesques," forms a piece curious enough to be worthy a place in any cabinet. Such also is a dull-green enamelled and crackled bowl which I own, and a Chinese dish of antique earthen-ware, which has been mended and riveted by some Oriental china-mender with gold wire. A great blue and white tall jar with red lacquered cover is unique in size as it is in its contents—long strings of sugar-coated Chinese sweetmeats, sweetmeats so unpleasant and outlandish in flavor and so mysterious in appearance that they were regarded with keen disfavor by simple stay-at - home New Englanders, who invested the innocent ,sweets with alarming attributes, and laid them under suspicion of concealing within their sugary surfaces bits of all the heathenish edibles—sharks' fins, birds' nests, puppies tails, and other unchristian foods that had been seen and even tasted in foreign lands by bold travelled mariners. Hence there still lie at the bottom of the great jar a few silken strings of shrivelled; unwholesome-looking black knobs like some strange Oriental beads; despised by generations of sweet-toothed children of the Puritans, and now too adamantine in consistency to be tasted or nibbled even by the boldest gourmand or curiosity-seeker of to-day.
Posy holders " are found of India china with a rich decoration of red, blue, and gold, with little flecks of green, the cover pierced with holes to keep the sterns of the flowers in place; " bowpots also of similar porcelain and ornamentation.
I have not found in my china hunting any old blue hawthorn jars, nor any fragile pieces of " grains-of-rice " porcelain, nor sets of covered saki-cups in scarlet and gold, nor dainty translucent cups that seem naught but glaze, though I have been shown them in other collections as country treasure-trove.. I have seen a few tall green crackle vases and jars, of age and dignity enough to chill unspoken within our lips any inquiry regarding or suggesting purchase.
-A few stray polychrome Chinese bowls of the description known as " real Indian" I have found, and I hear that whole dinner-services of such wares were imported. General Gage had one in Boston, and a few of its beautiful plates escaped destruction at the "looting " of the Province House. But the old services of Oriental china that I have seen have all been blue Canton or Lowestoft. The graceful blue and white vase here shown I at first sight fancied to be Chinese, but now believe to be Persian. As the country owner of this oddly-shaped and rather curiously-decorated vase knew nothing of how it had been acquired by the members of her family, nor how long it had been possessed by them, nor whence it came, nor indeed anything, save that it had stood for many years on her grandmother's best room mantel-shelf, it may be a comparatively modern piece of ware. I have woven about it and haloed around it an Arabian Nights romance of astonishing plot and fancy, in which a gallant Yankee sailor, a hideous Arabian merchant, and a black-eyed, gauze-robed houri fill the leading parts ; and perhaps my imaginative story of the presence of the Persian. outcast in a staid New England farm-house is just as satisfactory as many of the wondrous china tales we hear.
An everlasting interest rests in all Oriental china in attempting to translate the meaning of the Oriental stamps and marks. I have never deciphered any save a. few of the hundred forms of Show—the Chinese greeting, " May you live forever," and the marks on one old Chinese bowl, which signified wan, a symbol used only on articles made for talented literary persons ; Pö koo chin wan " for the learned in antiquities and old curiosities," and the mark of the instruments used by authors —the stone for grinding ink, the brushes for writing, and the roll of paper. I was highly delighted, and indeed very proud, when I discovered the meaning of these Chinese letters. I tried to fancy that it was a significant coincidence—a friendly message from the old world to the new—that pointed out that I too belonged to what is in China the ruling class, the literati. But the more closely I examined my literary tickets, the more de-pressed I became. I found, alas, that these flattering marks were never placed on my bowl by the Orientals; they were skilfully painted over the glaze in oil colors by the base, jesting Occidental who gave the piece of old porcelain to me.
The china called Lowestoft was, without doubt, the kind most desired and most fashionable in early Federal times throughout both North and South. Such was the dinner-service of the Carrolls of .Carrollton, with bands of rich brown and gold and a pretty letter C. Such was the family china of William Morris; of John Rutledge, with the initials J. R. and the shield and eagle ; and the tea-service of John Dickinson, with blue and gold bands and his initials. Of Lowestoft china was one of the beautiful services of General Knox—his " best china " that was used on state occasions. It was banded. with delicate lines of pale gray, black, and gold, and the rich coloring of red, blue, and gold was confined to the decoration in the centre of the plate. This was an eagle with extended wings, bearing on his breast the seal of the Society of the Cincinnati, a round shield with a group of appropriate figures surrounded by the motto, "Omnia relinquit servare rempublicam," a motto certainly very significant of General Knox's patriotism. The eagle was surmounted by a wreath of palm or laurel leaves tied with a knot of blue ribbon. Beneath the eagle were delicately formed initials about half an inch in height—L. F. and H. K.—the H. and K. intertwined just as General Knox always wrote them. This beautiful service was a gift to Mrs. Knox from her rich grand-father, General Waldo ; a wedding gift, it is often asserted, though I had hardly supposed that her relatives, being so bitterly opposed to the mesalliance of the " belle of Massachusetts" with the young clerk in a book-shop, had given her any such rich tokens of approval. Then, too, the runaway match was made at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and Mrs. Knox, following her husband from battle-field to battle-field, would hardly have needed or thought of such fine china. The fact that it bears the decoration of the seal of the Cincinnati, points to a date after the establishment of that society.
Lowestoft, too, was the china table-ware of John Han-cock, the table-ware that he ordered to be thrust one side and replaced by old-fashioned pewter. And when he lay in his bedroom groaning with the gout and heard the rattle of a china plate on the table in the dining-room below, he ordered his servant to throw the precious but noise-making dish out of the window, and the thrifty black man saved the dainty Lowestoft by throwing it on the grass.
But the everyday china, the common table-ware, of all these good American citizens and patriots—Knox, Hancock, Paul Revere, the Otises, Quincys, and a score that might be named—the plates and dishes of china from which they ate their daily bread, were not of Lowestoft, but of honest old blue Canton.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )