The Old Soft Shoe

Andrew Duché of Savannah, GA was one of many 18th century devotees of the quest for a true ‘Western’ porcelain formula.  In a May 27, 1738 trustee report by Georgia’s colonial secretary Colonel William Stevens, Duché proclaimed “something very curious, which may turn to good account for transporting, and he is making some tryal of the kinds of clay; a small tea-cup of which he showed me, when held against the light was very near transparent.”

Duché next announced he “had found out the true manner of making porcelain.”  This would make him the first English-speaking person to achieve the quest.  Duché more likely had simply stumbled upon Cherokee “unaker” clay, an American kaolin.  He asked Georgia’s board of trustees for money, a 15 year patent, and more money. 

A board member asked Duché to replicate the porcelain feat.  Duché said he couldn’t until someone gave him money to build a kiln.  An interesting conversation would have ensued had a potter been present.  As it was, the obvious follow-up question was left hanging…

But Duche’s song and dance convinced Georgia’s founder James Oglethorpe.  In 1743, Oglethorpe gave Duché a trip to England to lobby potential backers there.  Duché failed on that count.  But his visit helped spark a chain of events which led to the successful replication of porcelain by other quest devotees. 

Duché’s visit inspired William Cookworthy, a London apothecary, to begin his own search.  Cookworthy ultimately discovered Cornwall stoneBow Pottery, near London, agreed to use unaker in their experiments.  Bow made England’s first true porcelain the next year with Cherokee clay.  And of course Josiah Wedgwood had his ear low enough to the ground to hear of Duché’s curious unaker clay.  Soon Wedgwood agents would be trawling Georgia and the Carolina’s for this white gold’s source. 

Back home, Duché convinced Isaac Parker to hire him.  Isaac and his soon to be widowed wife Grace were attempting New England’s first stoneware production.  Duché went to Cambridge, MA and did whatever it was that he sort of did.  But his tenure there soon ended.  He then faded to obscurity.

These were heady years when the scientific method was still not quite the fully defined, quantifiable process it is today.  Anything was still possible.  You could almost make a living at it.


The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.


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3 Responses to “The Old Soft Shoe”

  1. payday Says:

    Hello, I check your blogs like every week.
    Your humoristic style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing!

  2. Dr W R H Ramsay Says:

    Dear author,
    I read the account about Andrew Duche and was flabbergasted at the lack of research and the desire to ignore a huge amount that we now know about Andrew Duche.

    To start with try:

    and after that read a slightly differing account by Daniels (2007).

    The recent Bonin and Morris exhibition in Philadelphia all but air-brushes out of existence the one person who had to be central to the technical and compositional knowledge that set up Bonin and Morris in the first place.
    In his place we find some aged English pauper under the name of William Ball supplanting Duche. You Americans appear to have more regard for potters from overseas than you have in your home grown product – much the same as the English who dote over the idea of “wandering Continental potters”, yet their indigenous technology left the Continentals including Meissen for dead – read our Limehouse monograph to find out why.
    My wife and I have written in Ceramics in America about the ‘grand Philadelphia tradition’ but your writer seems not to want to read the literature.
    Please read the literature and stop clogging up the internet with misleading information. You may not agree with our views and I accept that but to airbrush such views out of existence is possibly less than scholarly.

    PS. We now tend to agree with Daniels that Duche never fired hard-paste porcelains in Georgia. What he showed the Trustees was in fact proto-Bow first patent porcelains – but that is a long story

    W R H Ramsay

  3. Steve Earp Says:

    I apologize for the delay in responding to your note. I want to thank you for your critique, and for the additional information about Mr. Duche.

    To explain my blog in general, and the Duche post specifically, I refer to the page about myself titled “About Stephen Earp.” It begins with the disclaimer that I am a full-time potter. I offer remarks of a generalist rather than presentations of original scholarship (as opposed to personal opinions). My aim is to relate the story of historical pottery as worthy of attention and remembrance. I simply broadcast parts of that story I find, and I believe others would find, interesting and entertaining.

    This isn’t an excuse for incorrect information, though. My admittedly limited reading is the foundation of my research. Although I doubt the book will ever be closed on completely understanding the true nature of events that occurred so long ago. Furthermore, I limit my posts to 400 words or less for brevity and readability sake. Given all that, I do the best I can.

    Which brings me to Andrew Duche. My intention was to introduce his part in the development of Western porcelain. I’m not entirely clear what you meant about airbrushing him out of history. My entire post was about his input, specifically his influence on British porcelain – incomplete though I may have written it. I base my conjecture of intent on what I gleaned from my readings – more like an editorialist would than a historian.

    I hope my response is at least understandable, if not acceptable. And I hope you will continue to follow my musings without hesitating to spur dialogue with more helpful corrections and clarifications.

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