Archive for the ‘ceramic research’ Category

The Old Soft Shoe

March 9, 2014

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.



Lake Hitchcock

March 4, 2012

Lake Hitchcock doesn’t exist.  But I learned something about it when picking up bricks in my yard after my old chimney collapsed/was torn down. 

Old bricks are useful for any number of things.  I gathered up the debris and stored it for, well, whatever.  Many of the bricks had the name “Pray” on them.  As my house is 120 years old, there must have been a Pray brick making company somewhere near here at that time.

Casual research (ie; Google) into the Pray Brickyard exposed an entire field of brick obsession.  There are research sites, forums, blogs, etc.  How interesting can a brick be?  If you’ve ever stood inside a Hoffman brick kiln during a firing and saw the glowing stack, you’d probably say “Ok, this is pretty cool.”  (Especially if the brickyard was located in the shadow of a live volcano and operated by a consortium of ex-convicts freed on the condition that they keep the yard going.  But that’s another story altogether…)

Brickyards appeared in Virginia by 1612, and were soon found throughout the colonies.  Mid century laws regulated dimensions, molds, and (as in a June 10, 1679 order by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) that clay be dug no later than November 1 and turned over in February or March a month before production.  Large scove kilns could hold 200,000 bricks and take almost a month to fire.  By the 1850’s stoneware’s predominance combined with widespread building and land improvement projects led (forced) many redware potters into the brick, tile and drainpipe business.

But all that is economic necessity.  The love of brick developed later, so that by the mid 1980’s billboards throughout England proclaimed “Bricks make Britain beautiful.”  True enough.  (There was even a one hour TV special on this wonderful building material hosted by non other than Prince Charles.)

Anyway, back in Massachusetts, where did Robert E. Pray get the clay for his bricks?  The clay was obviously dug up right there in his Greenfield, MA brickyard yard from the 1840’s to 1960’s .  But the deposit for his bricks was laid down over 15,000 years ago.  During that time the area was under a gigantic Pleistocene lake.  This lake, which doesn’t exist anymore, is known today as Lake Hitchcock.

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850. Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

The English Country Pottery, Its History and Techniques.  Peter Brears.  Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT.  1971.

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

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 Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968. 

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850.  Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.