Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania Redware’


November 23, 2009


There is a curious little plate in the collection of the Philadelphia  Museum of Art.  The plate was made in 1786 by a potter named Johannes Niess in Montgomery County, PA.  It is about 11″ in diameter.  The plate’s sgraffito style of decoration is typical of pottery from that region.  The decoration depicts a dance scene with two colonial era couples.  Each couple consists of an officer and a well to do woman.  A fiddle player off to the left, is also in officer attire.

The scene is said to depict a particularly elaborate gala known as the “Mischianza.”  The British Army officer corp during the Revolutionary War was particularly fond of this type of revelry.  Especially General William Howe and his staff.  General Howe commanded the forces occupying Philadelphia, previously the capitol of the rebellion, during the 1777 – 78 winter.  General Washington’s Continental Army shivered in the snow at nearby Valley Forge.  Observers believe that had Howe attacked the Valley Forge encampment, he would have destroyed Washington’s army and probably put an end to the uprising.  Instead, Howe squandered the winter in frivolous entertainment.  In the spring, Washington slipped away.  Soon afterward, Howe’s army was forced to evacuate Philadelphia.  On his departure Howe threw an unforgettably (some said unforgivably) extravagant party – the Mischianza.  The Mischianza plate is a commemorative depiction of this sordid tale of Howe’s squandered chances.

What makes the plate curious, at least to me, is the legend inscribed around the plate’s rim.  Many sgraffito plates from south eastern Pennsylvania at the time bore writing, in German, around the rim.  The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of these plates is perhaps the best in the country. The sayings could be moralisms, local wit, biblical phrases, etc.  On some plates, the sayings offer a jarring juxtaposition to the imagery they surround.

That’s where the curiosity comes in.  Or, I should say, shock.  This plate was obviously meant for display, not everyday use.  But who on earth would want to prominently display on hearth or cupboard a plate with “Our Maid, the ugly pig, always wanted to be a housewife. Oh, you ugly slut. 1786” scrawled around the rim?

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

1776. David McCullough.  Simon and Schuster.  2005.