Research on Antiques & Collectibles


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The loss of the American Colonies was a great blow to England, but the Revolutionary War did not destroy the bonds of common origin, language, and mutual interests between the two countries. For a time no manifest or other shipping document was required for any American vessel entering or clearing British ports, and trade was carried on without restrictions.

The ingenious potters of Liverpool, with tradesman-like foresight, began to turn out jugs, bowls, mugs, and other objects ornamented with American historical subjects in the transfer style of decoration. This medium, patented in the middle of the eighteenth century, had materially increased production and lowered the cost of ornamentation. So popular did this ware prove in America that nearly every merchant of note in Liverpool was connected with the new trade.

Staffordshire potters too catered to the new market by making ceramic objects decorated with scenes and events in American life. Before the secret method of transfer-printing on china was generally known, they sent their wares to Liverpool to be decorated, and for many years the earlier style of Staffordshire was classed as Liverpool-type ware.

In their effort to stimulate trade the Liverpool potters were at times almost traitors to their country. For example, some pieces show Washington, or a Continental soldier, standing on the head of the British lion. Also some were portraits of Washington flanked by Justice and Liberty, the former proclaiming "Deafness to the ear that will patiently hear and dumbness to the tongue that will utter a calumny against the immortal Washington," while the latter says simply, "My Favorite Son." After the War of 1812 the potters showed the same broad-minded attitude in depicting American naval victories and heroes.

The ship and maritime designs produced between 1777 and 1825 provide an important record of American seaborne commerce. Various stages of shipbuilding from the felling of the trees to the launching, are shown on several ceramic pieces; the same design was used on two punchbowls presented to the East India Society of Salem in 1800. At this time Salem was one of the principal shipbuilding centers in America, and her vessels were to be found all over the world. A map of yet another shipping center, Newburyport, appears on other pieces.

America was forging rapidly ahead. Perhaps no nation ever made such prodigious strides in wealth, population, commerce, and navigation in so short a time. The changes that were taking place and the historic events were faithfully recorded on chinaware. Sometimes potters took short-cuts in an effort to keep up to date. When Madison succeeded Jefferson in 1809, the potters used the same portrait and design but changed the name Thomas Jefferson to James Madison. Similarly, the same ship design was sometimes repeated, simply changing the name.

As might be expected, the potters made much of such important events as the visit of Lafayette and the opening of the Erie Canal. Every place of consequence along the canal route and the Hudson was used as a ceramic subject, and views of other cities, buildings, and engineering projects were numerous.

The method of transfer-printing made possible quantity production, and the Staffordshire factories issued these designs in complete dinner and tea services. The early days in America of growth and development are thus recorded with remarkable completeness.