Archive for the ‘Minton’ Category

More Acquainted With China

March 28, 2010

18th century Jesuits made great travel writers.  18th century China made great fodder for European imaginations.  Together, they made Voltaire say “We are perhaps more acquainted with China than with many provinces of Europe.”  Sadly, Voltaire’s comment might well have been true (to this day some parts of France are unrecognizable to others).  By the mid 1700’s, Chinese blue and white porcelain was already an intimate part of Europe’s Decorative Arts landscape.  Combined with a major tea craze, a touch of arm-chair exoticism, and the growing power of various East India Companies, you can almost see the logic…

If honesty mattered, Angola in southern Africa could have received top billing.  Angola’s “acquaintance” with Europe and it’s American colonies, in the form of huge numbers of people kidnapped into slavery, was immense.  Generations of forced labor living alongside their slaving masters made Europe’s plantation economy possible.  Voltaire knew this.  He also knew how much his contemporaries valued honesty.

Which brings us back to that porcelain.  Especially those wildly popular “Willow Pattern” plates.  The various elements of this pattern told an oriental tale of love and redemption.  To wit:

A mandarin’s daughter, Koong-se, fell in love with his willow_plateaccountant,  Chang.  A fence was built in the apple orchard near the willow to keep Chang out.  A nobleman came by boat to marry the daughter.  During the wedding party in the temple Koong-se escaped with her beloved Chang.  The mandarin, the noble, and others ran across a bridge chasing them. The couple stayed in various safe houses until they were discovered and killed.  The gods, feeling sorry for them, allowed them to live on as two doves flying around in the sky.

Today, nobody cares (or even knows) about the star crossed lovers.  Still the willow, the boat, the temple, the birds, etc., doggedly remain – even on cheap printed pottery from WalMart.  A garbled tribute to the staying power of a quintessential blue and white pattern that once inspired poetry.

…But any blather about “acquaintance” falls apart.  What could be learned of China by looking at imagery invented by a guy named by Thomas Minton in Shropshire, England, in 1780 to sell his new line of porcelain?  The sorry fact is that the Willow Pattern, like so many ingrained memories of commercials in our own youth, was basically a jingle that never went away.

Readings:
China Trade Porcelain. John Goldsmith Phillips.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge, MA. 1956.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain. Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.

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

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

The Discovery of France.  A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War. Graham Robb.  Norton & Co./New York.  2007.

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When Pottery Meant Something

February 28, 2010

First this happened, then that happened, then the other thing happened.  Then all that ended and something else happened…  Not very meaningful, of course – unless you’re an outline junkie.

But in the mid 1700’s something actually did happen.  In England anyway.  Super organized pottery factories burst on the scene.  SpodeMintonWedgwood.  Such names as these made the six towns collectively known as Stoke-on-Trent synonymous with exacting precision, a dizzying stylistic range and ruthless marketing – and large numbers of unskilled and child laborers.  Staffordshire’s pottery firms radically changed the face of pottery.  Within decades, they would practically dominate the world.  The one run by Western Europe, at least.

The days of small, family run country potteries were numbered.  An entire way of life would soon disappear.  You’d think these potters would riot.  They didn’t.  The new stuff rolling off the assembly lines hardly impacted  (just yet) the need for “coarseware.”  Staffordshire’s initial target was more up-scale.  Like pewter.

Pewterers and other high-end craftspeople had enjoyed a monopoly on most upper class tables for generations.  To them, the rise of Staffordshire meant disaster.  An Exeter newspaper article of April 4, 1776 says it all:

“Last week the tinners in Cornwall rose in consequence of the introduction into that country of such large quantities of Staffordshire and other earthenware.  About a hundred in a body went to Redruth, on the market day, and broke all the wares they could meet with, the sale of which was intended in that town.  From thence they went to Falmouth for the same purpose, and because they could not force their way into the Town Hall, where a large parcel of Staffordshire and other wares were lodged, they were about to set fire to it, had not Mr. Allison, the printer and alderman of that town, with another gentleman, pacified them, by promising to discourage the sale and use of these wares by every means in their power, and by going to a pewterer’s and bespeaking a quantity of pewter dishes and plates to evince their readiness to serve them.”

A picture paints a thousand words.  Sometimes newspaper articles do too.

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

The Story of Craft.  The Craftsman’s Role in Society. Edward Lucie-Smith.  Phaidon/Oxford.  1981.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.