Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

Dinner with George Washington

June 30, 2013

Being George Washington meant dealing with a constant stream of visitors.  Some were invited, many were not.  Some stayed an hour, others stayed several days.  A true gentleman required sufficient accouterments to properly entertain such hoards.  Washington kept up appearances with the latest fashions from England – except during those years when imports from London dropped off dramatically.

Washington bought hefty batches of fashionable English salt glazed white stoneware through his purchasing agent Thomas Knox in Bristol long before an independent America took top spot in the Chinese porcelain trade.  One order alone was for 6 dozen “finest white stone plates,” 1 dozen “finest dishes in 6 different sizes,” 48 “patty pans” in 4 sizes, 12 butter dishes and 12 mustard pots, plus mugs, teapots, slop basins, etc.

Salt glazed white stoneware appeared during the 1730′s, once the necessary materials were available.  Specifically, rock salt from Cheshire (after 1670), white ball clays from Devon and Dorset (after 1720) and calcined flint.  Just as this fine grained clay body came into use, so too did plaster molds.  By 1740 press molded salt white stoneware was all the rage.  It was cheaper than porcelain and sturdier than delft.  Salt white soon toppled delftware’s predominance – and was just as quickly supplanted by creamware

Thus marked the inception of the “dinnerware set” and the quantum leap from craft pottery to factory production.  Once cracks appeared in porcelain’s allure, China’s fortunes also waned.

Back at Mt. Vernon Washington’s order arrived, leading him to fire off a note to Knox on January 8, 1758:  “The Crate of Stone ware don’t contain a third of the pieces I am charg’d with, and only two things broke, and every thing very high charg’d.”  Despite this, another order followed:  “½ doz’n dep white stone Dishes sort’d” and “3 doz’n Plates deep and Shallow.”  (Deep = soup bowl, shallow = dinner plate.)

The January 8 note hints at another, more practical, reason for such large orders.   Pots jammed into wooden crates and tossed into ships’ holds for transatlantic shipment could suffer considerable breakage.  Buyers needed plenty of ‘spare parts.’

Salt white’s history is interesting, but that last comment gives pause for thought.  If potters today didn’t go bubble wrap crazy when packing for UPS, how would that affect our average order size?

  Salt White Plate

Readings:
Ceramics in America.  Ian Quimby, Ed.  University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville.  1972.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noel Hume.  University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2001.

Salt Glazed Stoneware in Early America.  Janine Skerry and Suzanne Findlen Hood.  University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2009.

 

Telephone

July 17, 2010

The mounted officer charged the enemy.  Or rallied the troops.  Or  maybe just smoked a pipe while out on a joy ride.  Whatever his intentions, they were important (or interesting) enough to meritDragoon 1 eternal commemoration.  His ride was depicted several times on earthenware plates made in southeastern Pennsylvania between the mid 1770′s and 1849.

So who was this rider?  A Philadelphia Light Horse Dragoon?  He often wielded saber in one hand, pistol in another.  A dragoon on the attack.  His attire suggests this, and the earliest plates date from the Revolutionary War. But  the rider probably morphed into George Washington soon after the General’s death in 1799.  Commemorative prints of Washington were widely popular then.  The rider sometimes blew a bugle, with pistol or saber accompanying, as if George were urging his forces forward.  Here was a known pattern ready to fulfill  demand for memorabilia.

Dragoon 2 WashingtonBut what about the pipe that sometimes appeared?

Possible references to intention and identity were inscribed around the rim of the plates – when one was present, the earliest plates have none.  From 1805: “I have ridden over hill and dale and have found disloyalty everywhere.”  This saying was associated with Washington’s doubts when the going was rough.

But things quickly degenerated: “I have ridden over hill and dale and everywhere have found pretty girls.”  The ride soured: “I have ridden many hours and days and yet no girl will have me.”  The rider became desperate: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his money with the girls.”  Then fed up: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his dollar in a butcher shop.”  Hope fades: “I have traveled up and down the street and yet my purse Dragoon 4 pipewas empty.”  By ride’s end, around 1849, he was delirious: “I am a  horseman like a bear, I would that I in heaven were.”

The ride reads like a decades long game of telephone.  If many potters took part, why not?  Attribution isn’t always clear, but most of these plates made after 1805 seem to be by Johannes Neesz.  If it was just old Johannes taking us for a ride, well, I’ll leave the final word to him (found on another of his plates):

In olden times it was so, that an old man’s words were taken as true.

Readings:
Lead Glazed Pottery.  Edward Atlee Barber.  Museum of Philadelphia/Philadelphia.  1907.

Tulip Ware of the Pennsylvania-German Potters.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  Dover Publications/New York.  1926.


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