Once upon a time there was a sailing ship – a two masted bark to be exact – named the U.S.S. Liberty. An image of this ship was indelibly affixed to the side of a creamware pitcher made shortly after December 23, 1801.
The ship was there because of the technique of transfer printing (ceramic decals), mastered in the early 1760’s by John Sandler and Guy Green of Liverpool, England. Transfer print creamware from Liverpool was all the rage in the United States from independence till after the War of 1812. That war’s embargo and its economic havoc ultimately destroyed Liverpool’s potters, and helped Staffordshire become “Pottery to the World.” But that’s another story…
So there, on December 23, 1801, was the U.S.S. Liberty. It’s flag proudly flying. Then came December 24, 1801. The Liberty was ravaged, dismasted in bloody battle. This can be surmised because, turning the pitcher around, that scene is revealed on the other side.
My question is, Who ordered this pitcher to be made? The captain’s widowed wife? The captain of the other ship involved? Who, or what, did this ship encounter? Does the pitcher commemorate a defeat? Or a victory? Was it even a real event, or simply an allegory?
In any event, the thing I like about this pitcher is that by asking such questions, I feel I am brought closer to the lives of the people who made and used these items. I believe that contemplating pottery down through the ages makes this a particularly enjoyable exercise.
Anglo-American Ceramics, Part 1. Transfer Printed Creamware and Pearlware for the American Market, 1760-1860. David and Linda Arman. Oakland Press/Portsmouth, RI. 1998.