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Old China

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



CHINA constituted an important part of the household equipment in colonial days, and while not as antique as pewter and wooden ware, it outrivaled both in beauty and popular favor. Its daintiness of coloring, variety of make, and exquisiteness of texture afforded a welcome change from the somber-colored and little varied ware hitherto used ; and its fragility proved of wondrous interest to the careful housewife, causing her to bestow upon it her tenderest care and to zealously guard it against harm, since it was her delight to boast that her sets were intact. To-day it is equally appreciated, and it is displayed on the shelves of built-in cupboards, with all the pride of possession exhibited by its original owners.

Old cupboards are somehow always associated with old china in this country, and in most in-stances they are worthy of the admiration in which they are held. In colonial times, cupboards formed a decorative feature of the house furnishings, and they were fashioned with as much regard for shape and finish as the rooms in which they were to be placed. In time they came to be considered almost indispensable adjuncts, and with their increase in favor, their development became marked. Perhaps the finest type is that with the shell top, some excellent examples of which are still preserved, notably in the Brown Inn at Hamilton and in the Dummer house at Byfield, Massachusetts.

Of all the old wares used here, salt glaze is most rarely found, most collections including not even a single specimen. This is probably due in a great measure to its fragility; it is not owing to its scarcity of import, as large quantities of this ware were brought here in early times. Examples now found are principally of Staffordshire manufacture, made between 1760 and 1780, though much of the ware that was made about 1720, belonging to the so-called second period, was shipped here.

A study of all forms of salt glaze is of interest, but that of English manufacture is of most importance to American collectors, for it is that type that the colonists imported, and with which American collections are most closely associated.

The process of salt glaze manufacture was known in England as early as 166o, and a familiar legend as to its origin was that it was accidentally discovered through the boiling over of a kettle of brine, the salt running down the outside of the earthen pot, and, when cold, hardening upon it, forming a glaze. This theory has been discredited by later scientists, and it is not unlikely that it was the invention of some imaginary individual, but however that may be, the ware in itself is of unusual attractiveness, and records show that upon its introduction into Staffordshire, it superseded in favor the dull lead glaze.

The first ware finished by this method was coarse and brown, a type that remained in vogue until the early years of the eighteenth century, when a gray ware was produced. Some of this latter found its way to America, but the type most familiar here is that manufactured in the closing years of the eighteenth century, a ware with a white or nearly white body, thin and graceful in contour, and characterized by a very hard saline glaze.

Pepper pots, soup tureens, plates, and pitchers were among the most common pieces manufactured, though teapots in various shapes, bottles, vases, etc., were also made. Some of these pieces have a plain center and decorated border, while others show an entirely decorated surface.

Another output of the Staffordshire factories, now much valued here, are the old toby jugs, many excellent examples of which were brought here and have been carefully preserved. In their way they are as interesting as the finest china bits, their gay coloring and quaint shape affording a striking contrast to the delicately tinted and daintily shaped Lowestoft and like wares.

The first tobies were in reality scarcely more than hollow figures to which a handle had been attached, but as time went on they grew more and more like mugs, and while at first the cap or hat lifted off, forming a cover, the succeeding style had the hat incorporated into the mug.

Tobies are broadly classed as Staffordshire, and while this is probably true of a large portion, Dutch and German tobies as well as French ones are not uncommon. A supposed example of the last named is included in the Page collection at Lynn, and is known as the Napoleon toby. It is thought to be French from the fact that the likeness of the little corporal is not a caricature. English potters delighted to depict Bonaparte, but they seldom - gave him the attractive countenance of this jug. They made him tall and thin, or short and abnormally fat, and they decked him in queer clothes, and labeled him "Boney." This jug depicts Napoleon in a very pleasant guise, suave of countenance and very well dressed. There is a smoothness of texture and finish about the work which marks it as distinct from the English tobies, which unfortunately frequently lacked these desirable qualities.

English tobies are sometimes classified as young and old tobies. The terms are expressive, for the young toby is a figure standing, as if full of vigor and life, with a jovial, happy-go-lucky expression, while the old toby is represented seated, with a worldly-wise face that has the appearance of having experienced life to the fullest. Both types always carry a mug in one hand, or both hands, from which a foaming liquid is about to issue. The coloring of the old toby is principally yellow, while the young toby is a combination of brown and yellow. Of course, both these colorings are varied with others..

Tobies show considerable variety in modeling and decoration. Some are jovial in appearance, others placid, and still others leering. In fact, every kind of a toby is represented, except a dry one. In addition to depicting the figures of human beings, some tobies represented animals, and not a few were in the form of teapots. The latter were generally finished in blue, with a band of green and a bit of copper luster, and in height they varied from twelve to eighteen inches.

Although these drinking mugs were made in many factories, none bear hallmarks, save those made at Bennington, and, in consequence, those are more highly prized by connoisseurs. A unique specimen among the output of this factory has no mug in the hand, the arms being arranged close to the body, which has the appearance of having no arms at all.

Delft ware, which is at the present time enjoying great favor among collectors, made the country where it originated famous, and its history is in reality the history of Holland's commercial rise.

Besides its age, old Delft has the charm of individuality. As the designs were handworked, the ware lacks the precision in drawing that later stamped pieces have, and shows softened outlines instead of sharply defined pictures. Nor is old Delft ware so intense in coloring as its descendants of today. Comparing them side by side on a plate rail, or hanging on the wall, old Delft is told by its soft, beautiful blue. Then there is the charm of association.. Coming from a nation of thrift and exemplary housekeeping, Delft, much more than fragile glass, aristocratic china, or curious foreign objects, appeals to the collector as a cheerful, comfortable, homelike thing to collect.

There are undoubtedly many good specimens in this country to-day, but many more are inaccessible. Connecticut, as well as New England generally, has considerable, for the merchant princes who brought so many other treasures to Eastern ports brought also Delft. How much more of this charming old ware is hidden under peaked roofs of story-and-a-half farmhouses in some of the old Dutch settlements along the Hudson and on Long Island, is unknown, but perhaps we shall know in another generation or so.

Among our specimens we find more of the English than the Dutch Delft. The latter, which is the original ware, took its name from the town of Delft, where the ware was first produced, and which, for several centuries, continued to be the chief center of the Delft industry. Although it was probably made as early as the latter part of the fifteenth century, but little is known of it until about one hundred years later. Its origin was an attempt on the part of Dutch potters to imitate, in a cheaper form, Chinese and Japanese wares.. At that time were made large importations of Eastern wares, and Holland, as the only European power allowed a port by Japan, had a great variety of types to copy. The first potteries were established at Delft about the year 1600, and almost from its inception the industry was protected by a trust. For nearly one hundred and fifty years, the protection of this trust or "Guild of St. Luke" made Delft an important manufacturing center, giving employment to nearly one twelfth of its inhabitants. The best examples of this old Dutch Delft are beautiful copies of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, which are hardly distinguishable from the Oriental.

A fact worth noting in connection with the rapid rise and great popularity of Delft is that the combination or Guild which was instrumental in the prosperity of the industry was also at least partly responsible for its downfall. In Holland, an independent maker could not flourish, but the progressive English made it very well worth while for workmen to emigrate.

There was another and perhaps more potent factor in the decline of the Dutch Delft industry; the very success of Delft potters became their ruin. The market was glutted with their products, and there ceased to be the same demand for it as formerly. Gradually, the English ware, made of better clay, although cheaper in price, sup-planted the Dutch ware, even in Holland, and as early as 176o the struggle for existence began among the Dutch potteries. Of the thirty establishments existing in the beginning of the century, only eight were working in 18o8, and most of these soon after stopped.

The most common pieces made, in point of numbers, were the Delft plates. Some excellent examples of these are found in the Page collection at Newburyport, one, a peacock plate, being a good example of Dutch Delft in one of its most popular patterns. Another shows the design of a basket of flowers, and this same adornment is on an old English platter, a piece that deserves not only a compliment to its beauty, but also a tribute to its Dutch-English durability, since within a few years it has been used to hold all of a New England boiled dinner.

Delft tile was produced almost as commonly as plates, although at first it was used to illustrate many designs essentially Dutch, and also religious subjects. It is on record that the Boston News Letter of 1716 advertised the first sale of "Fine Holland Tile" in America, and in that same paper, three years later, is a notice of "Dutch Tile for Chimney." From that date on, all through the century, one may find recurring advertisements of chimney tiles, on the arrival of every foreign ship. They must have been imported in vast numbers in the aggregate, and they were not expensive, yet they are rare in New England.

Americans have always been patrons of Delft ware, and as a result a representative lot of the very best types is found here, and while it is to be regretted that the old tiles are not included in any great numbers in this list, yet those preserved are eminently satisfactory.

An English writer has said that controversy always makes a subject interesting. Lowestoft was already so enchanting a topic that the search-light of exposition was scarcely needed to reveal additional charms.

Of the several wares that have been labeled Lowestoft, there seem to be four distinct varieties. There is the Simon-pure, soft-paste, Lowestoft china, made and decorated in the town of Lowestoft ; there is the so-called Lowestoft, which is purely Oriental, being both made and decorated in China; there is probably ware made in China and decorated in Lowestoft and there is probably ware made in Holland and decorated in Lowestoft. All of these may bear the printed name of the town, since members of the company which traded in them resided at that place. Doubt has been cast upon every one of these four wares, but the first two, at least, seem to be cleared of all uncertainty.

For the last half of the eighteenth century, a factory existed at Lowestoft. This is true, beyond the shadow of a doubt. It was, however, a small factory, employing at its best but seventy hands, and having but one oven and one kiln. It is simply impossible that great quantities of hard-glaze porcelain should have been brought from over-seas, to be decorated, and then fired in this one small kiln. If the whole output charged up to Lowestoft had been really hers, the factory must needs have been the largest in England, which it certainly was not.

The first ware produced was of a dingy white, coarse, and semi-opaque. The glaze was slightly "blued" with cobalt, and speckled with bubbles and minute black spots, which seemed to show careless firing. When viewed by transmitted light, the pieces had a distinctly yellowish tinge. There was never any distinctive mark, as in the case of Crown Derby.

About 1790 a change for the better took place in the character of the ware. Certain French refugees, driven from their own country by the lawlessness of the great Revolution, began to come into England. One of these men, who was named Rose, obtained employment at the Lowestoft works, where he soon became head decorator, and introduced taste as well as delicacy of touch into the product. Underneath many Lowestoft handles will be found a small rose, which denotes that the work was done by him. The rose is his mark, but before this was known, people supposed that it merely represented the coat of arms for Lowestoft borough, which was the Tudor rose.

Roses set back to back appear on the highest grade of Lowestoft china ; and at its best the ware was finer than any sent out by Bow and Chelsea. The Lowestoft red is of a peculiar quality, varying from carmine to ashes of roses, and often approaching a plum color. Roses and garlands of roses in these lovely hues of pink and purple distinguish this china. Dainty and familiar are the flowers and sprigs in natural colors, with delicate borders in color and gold.

A familiar style of decoration was that of the dark blue bands, or dots, or other figures, heavily over laid with gold and often with coats of arms. This ware is a hard-paste porcelain, and was doubtless made and decorated in China. The fact that some of it bears the mark of "Allen Lowestoft," and that Mr. Allen was manager of the Lowestoft works at this time, proves nothing beyond the fact that when the dealer sent his order to China to be filled, he ordered his name marked on the bottom. Small quantities of undecorated ware may have been brought from China and Holland to be painted, but we have no record of any such transactions ; the duty was heavy, and the amount of such ware imported must have been inconsiderable. China was doing this same work for other countries, and it is only reasonable to suppose that the managers of the Lowestoft factory sent the greater part of their orders to China to be filled by Chinese work-men upon Chinese material.

This also explains the failure of the company. It is recorded upon good authority that the ruin resulted partly from the sharp competition with the Staffordshire wares, but was precipitated in 1803 by the wreck of one of the vessels carrying a cargo of porcelain, and by the burning of the Rotterdam warehouse by the French army.

Rotterdam, where Lowestoft ware was stored, was the seat of an immense commerce between Holland and China. It seems but natural that their trade in common Delft wares should lead the Lowestoft company into communication with wholesale importers of Chinese porcelain, from whom they could purchase large supplies ; and should also lead them into the establishment, in England, of a more highly remunerative branch of their business, through underselling the Dutch East India Company.

It was customary for the Dutch firms to send over to their foreign settlements shapes and designs obtained from European sources, to be reproduced by native hands. The Lowestoft people did what all other merchants had done before them, and through the same channel forwarded to China the designs of coats of arms, English mottoes, and initials that were to be printed upon the porcelain which they had undertaken to supply.

And so the great conflagration of the Lowestoft controversy was furnished with fuel, and there is no knowing where it will end, because conclusive proof is so slight in each case and the partisans so eager and aggressive. Meantime, our grand-mother's sprigged china remains a joy and a delight, whether or no we dare to call it genuine Lowestoft.

There is no mystification about Crown Derby, but the old ware, which along with Lowestoft was beloved of the colonists, is as distinctive as any, and fortunate indeed is the individual who can boast of having in his possession a specimen. The works of Derby were established by a French refugee, named Planche, who had been sojourning in Saxony until the death of his father, when he came to Derby in 1745, bringing with him the secret of china manufacture, as he had learned it in Saxony. We have reason to suppose that he made in Derby many china figures of cats, dogs, shepherdesses, Falstaffs, Minervas, and the like, which William Duesbury, who was an expert enameler in London, colored for him. Unfortunately, none of this early output of the factory was marked, and in consequence it has become sadly confused, not only with the work of Bow and Chelsea, but with that of Lowestoft as well. After 1770, a mark was adopted, and the ware after that date is easily distinguishable.

William Duesbury bought out Planche's interest in the Derby works, though he did not dispense with Planche's services. Keenly artistic, with a taste at once discriminating and appreciative, Duesbury combined a winning personality with his intellectual gifts. He possessed the faculty of securing the services of potters of unusual worth, and throughout his management, which continued until his death in 1796, he maintained in his output a standard of pure English art work of the highest order.

Prominent in the group of potters in his employ stands the name of William Billingsley, who was connected with the factory from 1774 to 1796. At Derby he established his reputation as a painter of exquisite flowers, and his work is characterized by a singularly true perception of intrinsic beauty and decorative value, being original and unhampered by traditional technique. The rose was his favorite flower; he invariably painted the back of a rose in his groups, and his justly famed "Billings-ley Roses" are exceedingly soft in their treatment. Another favorite of his is the double-flowered stock, either yellow or white, and always shaded in gray.

In 1785 Duesbury associated with himself his son, the second William Duesbury, and then followed the most successful period of the work, being in reality the Crown Derby epoch par excellence. After the death of the elder Duesbury, the second William Duesbury became sole owner of the Derby works, but failing health compelled him to take Michael Kean into the firm as partner. After the death of the younger Duesbury, Kean assumed control of the whole works, but his mismanagement soon resulted in the sale of the factory to Robert Bloor in 1810.

This marked the commencement of a new dispensation, and after this date the trademark became "Bloor-Derby." For a time things went on in the old way, but soon Bloor, in his eagerness to amass a fortune, yielded to temptation and began to put on the market ware that had been accumulating in the storehouse for sixty years, and which Planche and the Duesburys had considered of inferior quality and discarded. This ware he decorated with so-called Japan patterns, to hide defects ; and, to make a bad matter worse, he used for coloring the flowing under-glaze blue, which was wholly unsuited to the soft glaze of the Delft ware, and was sure to "run" in the glost oven.

The train of ruin was now well laid, and by 1822 Bloor was forced to resort to auction sales in the factory, in order to dispose of his output. The result was an utter loss of reputation for factory and product, and before the manufacture had reached the century mark of its existence, Derby china was relegated to the past.

Many beautiful specimens of Crown Derby were imported to this country, one of the finest being in Mrs. William C. West's collection at Salem, showing the head of Bacchus with grapevine and wreath decoration, the whole beautifully colored.

Expressive of the greatest heights which English pottery reached, is the ware of Wedgwood, and a review of his achievements forms the most interesting chapter in the history of England's ceramic art. Of a family of potters, Josiah Wedgwood early exhibited the traits which later made him so justly famous, and a review of his life from the age of eleven years, when he was put to work in the potworks, as a thrower, until his death in 1795, covering a period of fifty-four years, is a review of the most remarkable story of progressiveness in a chosen profession ever recorded.

During the early days of his pottery making, about five years after his apprenticeship had expired, Wedgwood became associated with Thomas Whieldon, a potter who had attained considerable success in the manufacture of combed and agate wares, and the period of their partnership, which ended in 1759, was of benefit to both. One of Wedgwood's first successes was made at this time, in the invention of a green glaze which Whieldon used with excellent effect on his cauliflower ware.

With the expiration of this partnership, Wedgwood returned to Burslem, where he soon purchased an interest in the Ivy Works, where he worked independently, and laid the foundation for many of his future successes. Among other things he experimented in perfecting the coarse cream wares then on the market, and six years after his coming to the Ivy Works he succeeded in producing his first real achievement, "Queen's Ware."

The success of this ware was most pronounced, and its popularity caused Wedgwood to realize that a division of labor which would allow him to look after the creative part and supply some one else to care for the commercial side of the undertaking was most important. In 1768, Thomas Bentley was taken on for this purpose, and at the new works, to which Wedgwood had previously removed, and known as the Bell House or Brick House, the new regime went into effect. The popularity of Queen's Ware had netted him enough to allow him to make finer productions, and after the finish of several schemes, in 1769, he removed to the famous factory known as Etruria, where his finest work was accomplished, and at which place he remained until his death.

The several wares he manufactured are as varied as they are beautiful, and, in addition, he possessed the power to reproduce in a remarkable degree. This is best exemplified in his replica of the famous Portland Vase, which is so perfect that it has often deceived even connoisseurs. An amusing incident is related in connection with one of his reproductions, a Delft piece of a dinner set, which had become broken, and which he fashioned and sent to the owner by a messenger. The messenger started for his destination, which was but a short distance, but he did not appear again for a week. Upon his return, Wedgwood questioned him, and learned that the family was so delighted with the reproduction that they had kept the messenger, feasting him the entire time.

While old Wedgwood in all its forms is appreciated in this country, for some reason or other cream ware and jasper ware are especially favored among American collectors. Fine pieces of both are included in the Rogers collection at Danvers, the jasper piece being an especially fine specimen.

A review of old china would not seem complete without including the luster wares, several excellent examples of which are in American collections. Silver-tinted comes first in point of rarity, though the rose-spotted Sunderland luster is a close second in this respect, and really commands a higher price.. Originally, silver luster was a cheap imitation of silver, and first specimens were lustered inside as well as out, to further increase the deception. When the ware became common, and the deception was well known, silver luster was used only on the exterior of vessels in decorations, and occasionally in conjunction with gold luster. After 1838, which year marked the introduction of electroplating, silver luster declined in favor, and shortly after the completion of the first half of the nineteenth century ceased to be manufactured. Numberless beautiful articles were made of this ware, including quaint candlesticks, teapots, cream jugs, bowls, salt cellars, and vases.

Copper and gold luster are likewise shown in a variety of attractive forms, and these, unlike silver luster, were never made as shams. Wedgwood is credited with having first made the copper-and gold-lustered wares, but authentic proof of this is lacking. Jugs were often lustered with gold and copper, the latter usually characterized by bands of brilliant yellow or colored flowers, sometimes printed and sometimes painted. The gold luster was especially fine, and it is this type, together with copper luster, that is most commonly found. Excellent specimens of gold-lustered ware are found in a collection at Lynn, one piece of exceptional interest having been secured at the time of the civil War by a party of Northern soldiers while devastating a Southern plantation.



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