Posts Tagged ‘Tulips’

Get Your Blue Dash Up

August 5, 2013

The blue dash charger “mystery” has been bandied about for over a  century.  Were these tin-glazed plates made as propaganda for the Stuart kings of England?  Were they camouflaged signals of affiliation?  Were all of them even “blue dashed?”

Backing up a bit, blue dash chargers were made from the early 17th century, initially as English spin-offs of faience from Urbino, Italy, until the 1720’s.  Blue dash sported a bright color palette of blues, greens, yellows, and purples.  A row of blue daubs around the down turned rims set blue dash apart from other English delft.

“Chargers” were made specifically for serving large chunks of meat.  Surviving blue dash chargers defy that function by showing no sign of wear.  Holes poked through the chargers’ feet to facilitate wall hanging also belied the standard charger function.  Blue dash was perhaps the only 17th century English pottery made purely for show.

Edward Downman coined the phrase “blue dash” in a 1917 monograph on early English pottery.  He also set the tone for the ensuing ‘political’ debate by reading allusions to Stuart history into practically every aspect of blue dash imagery and color palette.

But not all blue dash chargers were complimentary to the Stuarts, nor were decorative themes confined to politics.  Tulips might nod to the House of Stuart but a wide range of floral patterns are boldly splayed across many blue dash chargers.  The Fall of Adam and Eve was another popular subject (Downman argued the “apple” was often depicted as an orange representing William of Orange who supplanted James II, the last Stuart king).  Some chargers show jesters or town criers.  The “Green Man” even made an appearance.  Several don’t have blue dashes at all – leaving for the ages the question of why they should be classed as such…

Still, the majority of blue dash chargers were made during the highly politicized and often bloody years of Stuart rule and decline, including the Puritan Commonwealth interlude.  Potters naturally turned their decorative attention to issues of the day.  Some potters undoubtedly were partisan.  Maybe their political blue dash survived in numbers because loyalist families took extra pains to protect them.  Perhaps other potters simply catered to topical concerns with ‘editorial cartoon’ imagery to sell their wares.

Or maybe – from the perspective of later pottery – they sold and survived simply because they had blue on them.

blue dash charger


Blue Dash Chargers and other Early English Tin Enamel Circular Dishes.  Edward Downman.  T. Werner Laurie, LTD/London.  1919.

English Delftware.  F.H. Garner.  Faber and Faber/London.  1948.

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



July 10, 2009

The tulip has been around for a long time.  It’s been called the holiest of flowers, the herald of spring, an aphrodisiac.  The tulip inevitably pops up during any investigation of early American  pottery, an entire branch of which is often called “Tulip Ware.”  Of all the floral motifs available to the potter, the tulip is one of my favorites.  Particularly the more stylized versions.  Some are hardly recognizable, almost cosmic.  But there’s another reason why I appreciate the tulip motif.

In 1570 tulips were introduced into Holland after a long journey from the northern Himalayas via Persia and Ottoman Turkey.  These were not the tulips of today.  They carried a certain virus that caused radical deformation and discoloration, resulting in blooms of singularly fascinating qualities.  The Dutch had never seen anything like it.  They began trading bulbs with genealogies of particularly spectacular blooms.  Higher and higher prices were paid.  Rather than wait for a bloom to evolve, speculators began trading on the bulb’s expected merits.

A futures market evolved.  What was traded was not the bulb, or even the note certifying that a bloom to be was of a particular genus, but on the value attached to the note.  Then on the value attached to the value of the note.  The bulb itself had long since bloomed and died off, if it ever existed at all.  Fortunes were amassed and spent.  All on credit.  The market for bulb futures notes grew into a Tulip Craze of mammoth proportions.

Is this story beginning to sound familiar?  Would any Dutch trader of the time have difficulty jumping into the Derivatives Market of 2008?  There was easy money to be made.  Just wrap a seductive image around a potent lure such as greed, and it is easy to see how far things can go.  It was the world’s first stock market bubble.

The end came on February 1, 1637.  At a market in Haarlem (tulip “markets” were conducted in taverns) a note was put on the block.  Nobody bid.  An awkward silence followed.  In minutes, everyone in the room was frantically trying to sell.  By the end of the week, the Dutch Tulip Market evaporated.  The economy crashed, leaving a wake of devastation…

I love the tulip motif.  I appreciate it’s formal qualities, and it’s iconography.  But most of all, I keep it at the forefront of motifs I employ as a sort of reminder.  Even if only to myself.

Try not to get too carried away.

tulip 12

TulipoMania.  Mike Dash.  Crown Publishers/New York. 1999.

Tulip Ware of the Pennsylvania-German Potters.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  Dover Publications/New York.  1926.