Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin’

Fate

January 13, 2014

Instead of ranting on the travails of redware mugs, and by extension all pottery,we offer the musings of a guest contributor.  Benjamin Franklin’sA Meditation on a Quart Mugg” was originally posted on July 19, 1733.  (Presented here in redacted form because Ben could go on once he got up to speed.  For the brave of heart, see this entry’s Comments for the full Meditation.)

Wretched, miserable, and unhappy Mug! I pity thy luckless Lot, I commiserate thy Misfortunes, thy Griefs fill me with Compassion, and because of thee are Tears made frequently to burst from my Eyes.

How often have I seen him compell’d to hold up his Handle at the Bar, for no other Crime than that of being empty; then snatch’d away by a surly Officer, and plung’d suddenly into a Tub of cold Water: Sad Spectacle, and Emblem of human Penury, oppress’d by arbitrary Power!

How often is he hurry’d down into a dismal Vault, sent up fully laden in a cold Sweat, and by a rude Hand thrust into the Fire!

How often have I seen it obliged to undergo the Indignities of a dirty Wench; to have melting Candles dropt on its naked Sides, and sometimes in its Mouth, to risque being broken into a thousand Pieces, for Actions which itself was not guilty of!

How often is he forced into the Company of boisterous Sots, who say all their Nonsence, Noise, profane Swearing, Cursing, and Quarreling, on the harmless Mug, which speaks not a Word!

…And yet, O Mug! if these Dangers thou escapest, with little Injury, thou must at last untimely fall, be broken to Pieces, and cast away, never more to be recollected and form’d into a Quart Mug. Whether by the Fire, or in a Battle, or choak’d with a Dishclout, or by a Stroke against a Stone, thy Dissolution happens; ’tis all alike to thy avaritious Owner; he grieves not for thee, but for the Shilling with which he purchased thee!

If thy Bottom-Part should chance to survive, it may be preserv’d to hold Bits of Candles, or Blacking for Shoes, or Salve for kibed Heels; but all thy other Members will be for ever buried in some miry Hole; or less carefully disposed of, so that little Children, who have not yet arrived to Acts of Cruelty, may gather them up to furnish out their Baby-Houses: Or, being cast upon the Dunghill, they will therewith be carted into Meadow Grounds; where, being spread abroad and discovered, they must be thrown to the Heap of Stones, Bones, and Rubbish; or being left until the Mower finds them with his Scythe, they will with bitter Curses be tossed over the Hedge; and so serve for unlucky Boys to throw at Birds and Dogs; until by Length of Time and numerous Casualties, they shall be press’d into their Mother Earth, and be converted to their original Principles.

Reading

http://www.historycarper.com/1733/07/19/a-meditation-on-a-quart-mugg/

Make Me Cry

September 11, 2011

Bonin and Morris pickle stand Pickle Dish Stand.  6″ tall.  Soft paste porcelain.  American China Manufactory.  Philadelphia, PA.  1771. 

 

Anyone familiar with this stand wont find anything groundbreaking here.  Anyone who has never seen it before might wonder why they should bother.

These two caveats are critical to understanding what follows.

The most striking thing about the stand is it’s mere existence.  It is a study in extremes; exacting materials never before used here, complex assembly, intended for the finest dining experiences of the wealthiest Philadelphians, a coral theme that only the intelligentsia could fully appreciate.  The sheer audacity of its makers to presume so much!

Gousse Bonnin was a Huguenot dilettante whose only previous potting experience was a brief attempt at crucible making.  George Antony Morris’ forte was asking his dad for financing and connections.  Together, they formed the American China Manufactory in 1770 and immediately aimed for the stars.  The pickle stand was their magnum opus.

It was a perfect plan – a skilled production team (partly lured away from the Bow Porcelain factory in England), local materials Josiah Wedgwood was envious of, boiling secessionist fever, and for good measure a Nonimportation Agreement passed in the 1760’s to placate colonists after the French Indian War.  Local Brahmins Sir Charles Palmer and Benjamin Franklin joined the band wagon.  Customers from as far away as Albany, NY were interested.

Then came the perfect storm.  The Bill lapsed.  Wedgwood, with help from the East India Company, flooded Philadelphia with porcelain five times cheaper than Bonnin and Morris’.  This sort of collusion would soon lead to harbors filled with tea

Bonnin and Morris literally begged for help.  But people who knew their work preferred imports.  People who didn’t just didn’t care.  In 1772 Bonnin and Morris ignobly kicked their master potters out on the street.  Morris moved to South Carolina and promptly died.  Bonnin moped back to England.

Encountering one of their six known remaining pickle stands today in the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a humbling experience.  It’s in a small case next to a passageway, easy to pass without noticing.  Considering the epic struggle behind the stand’s creation it seems inconsequential, nondescript among the room’s finer artifacts.  But all that work.  All those crushed hopes riding on that fragile little thing.

It’s heartbreaking.  Almost enough to make one cry.

Readings:
Ceramic in America.  Robert Hunter, ed.  Chipstone Press/Williamsburg, VA.  2007.

For Those Who Hated Benjamin Franklin

March 13, 2011

Everybody loves Ben Franklin.  Big, sassy, jovial, quick witted.  In England, many loved and admired his inquisitive mind.  In France he was the friendly face of the American Revolution who, along with dour John Adams, convinced the French to join the cause.  Today, well, everybody just loves him.

English pottery firms scrambled to reclaim the American market after the War of 1812.  They favored American independence – as independent customers, not competitors.   And what better way to regain lost ground than by hyping all the wonderful things about the US on cheap transfer print whitewares?  Popular generals, victorious battles, famous places – it was all grist for the mill.  And of course, a sure fire top seller would be old Ben himself.  Because everybody loved Ben Franklin.

Small whiteware drinking cups and plates with Ben’s sayings plastered all over them were everywhere.  These items seem to have been intended primarily for children.  Much like the “collectible” Star Wars junk that appeared in fast food kids meals from the 1990’s onward.

These dishes sported such Franklinesque pearls as “If you would know the value of money try and borrow some,” “What maintains one vice brings up two children,” “Lost time is never found again,” and “It is easier to suppress the first desire than to gratify all that follow.”

A generation of children grew up staring down at these moralistic lectures.  Seeing them day in and day out must have been a visual equivalent to being told to eat your spinach.  Remember children, Ben knows best.  And besides, everybody loves Ben Franklin…

Readings:
American Patriotic and Political China.  Marian Klamkin.  Scribner’s and Sons/New York.  1973.