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Fig. 1: Clockwise from left: Bowl, Bristol or Liverpool, England, ca. 1750–1775. Tin-glazed earthenware (delftware). H. 3 1/2, D. 8 1/2 in. Punch bowl, London or Bristol, England, 1750-–1780. Tin-glazed earthenware. H. 4, D. 10 3/8 in. Bowl with attached plate, London, England, 1760–1780. Tin-glazed earthenware. H. 3, D. 7 1/2 in. (plate). Shards, England, ca. 1750–1780. Tin-glazed earthenware. Courtesy of Strawbery Banke Museum; estate of Vivian S. Hawes; Alexander Photography.

For its 2001 season (May through October), Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is featuring recent acquisitions from the ceramics collection of the late Dr. Lloyd E. and Vivian S. Hawes in the exhibition Prized Possessions: The Story of Ceramics in Everyday Life.1 Displayed in period room vignettes and gallery settings, the collection is exhibited in six of the forty-two historic buildings comprising the museum.

The exhibition is organized around the role of ceramics in daily life within the community of Strawbery Banke and its environs. Ceramics are presented within the domestic spaces for which they were originally intended, with enhanced interpretation through displays that examine themes ranging from acquisition and use to the variety of ceramic body types and decorative options available to Portsmouth consumers.

Fig. 2: Bowl with attached plate, London, England, ca. 1760–1780. Tin-glazed earthenware. H. 3, D. 7 1/2 in. (plate). Courtesy of Strawbery Banke Museum; estate of Vivian S. Hawes; photography by Robert Barth.

The importation and distribution of ceramics in Portsmouth are the first themes addressed in the exhibition. In the Shapley-Drisco House, an eighteenth-century retail shop offers the latest in ceramic forms from abroad, while in the back parlor, a recently acquired porcelain British tea service is proudly displayed. Other current purchases are shown in a china closet mingled with out-of-date and broken ceramics, which according to estate inventories was a combination typically found in Portsmouth households.2 Newspaper advertisements and other documentation indicate that new fashions in ceramics as well as other furnishings and clothing were quickly transmitted to Portsmouth from across the Atlantic. Surviving correspondence illustrates that people in town were aware of new styles and requested the very latest goods available.

Fig. 3: Bowl shards, England, ca. 1750–1780. Tin glazed earthenware. L. 1 3/4 in. (largest). Rider-Wood site, Strawbery Banke Museum (A606). Courtesy of Strawbery Banke Museum; photography by author.

One of the broadest areas of interpretation within the exhibition is the comparison of contemporary objects. The themes range from product designs and the decorative inspiration that resulted from competition to the consumer choice of ceramic materials dependent on needs and use. The Wheelwright House is the site for this phase of the installation.

British tin-glazed earthenware, or delftware, forms the majority of the Wheelwright House displays. For most of the eighteenth century, British delftware was found in Portsmouth households of virtually every economic level. Covered with a surface made from the addition of tin ashes to a lead glaze, the resulting opaque white glaze provided ample opportunity for ornamentation. When decorated with Oriental-inspired designs, or chinoiserie, it was an affordable alternative to the fashionable and expensive porcelain imported from China.

Fig. 4: Butter tub with cover, England, ca. 1760–1770. Cream-colored earthenware with metallic oxide decoration. H. 5, W. 5 7/8, D. 4 3/8 in. Courtesy of Strawbery Banke Museum; estate of Vivian S. Hawes; photography by Robert Barth.

Illustrative of the propensity for delftware producers to integrate Chinese designs into their wares are three vessels embellished with variations of a dragon motif coiling around the interior and exterior of each object.3 The punch bowl in Figure 1, a common form for beverage service or communal drinking, is flanked by more unusual forms. An elegant square bowl with shaped corners was used for food service. The bowl with the attached plate is more of a puzzle (Fig. 2). There are at least seven such forms known, most dating to the third quarter of the eighteenth century; their original intent is still undetermined. Once thought to be butter dishes or containers for syllabub, they seem to have also been used for serving jam.4 A group of tin-glazed earthenware shards with dragon decoration, excavated either from within or just outside the present-day museum boundaries (Fig. 3), links ownership of similar examples to inhabitants of eighteenth-century Portsmouth.

Fig. 5: Bear jug, England, 1740–1760. Salt-glazed stoneware with brown slip decoration. H. 9 3/4, W. 4 3/4, D. 7 1/2 in. Courtesy of Strawbery Banke Museum; estate of Vivian S. Hawes; Alexander Photography.

Despite being among the most popular types of ceramics used in eighteenth-century Portsmouth, British delftware did not hold a monopoly in town. Displays of tin-glazed earthenware from Holland, Germany, and France offer opportunity for comparison. Portsmouth households also contained a variety of ceramics beyond tin-glazed earthenwares. English and German stonewares and English and American slip-decorated earthenwares depict the utilitarian ceramics of everyday use.

During the eighteenth century the British pottery industry strove to refine their earthenware products. The goal was to make ceramics more durable than delftware, less expensive to produce than stoneware, and more attractive to consumers, thus encouraging the replacement of pieces that were no longer in fashion. The Walsh House exhibit presents the newly developed ceramics that resulted from these marketing efforts. The development of creamware, a cream-colored earthenware with a liquid lead glaze, is a case in point. Included in the exhibition are examples of early creamware, with the tortoiseshell decoration often attributed to Thomas Whieldon (1719–1795) but in fact used by many potters, and color-glazed wares such as the butter tub in Figure 4. Both tortoiseshell and color-glazed wares were initially made in a refined earthenware body in the molded patterns originally developed for white, salt-glazed stoneware. The thin salt glaze did not obscure the intricate patterns, but the lead glaze of the creamware pooled in the interstices of the molds, muddying the delicacy of the design. Thus, molded decoration became less complex and shifted to the outer edges of the vessels, and, in conjunction with changes in the glaze, allowed for the introduction of refined cream-colored earthenware in the 1760s.

Shifting away from the technical aspects of ceramics and toward popular culture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the representation of leisure activities and sporting pursuits in ceramic forms and decoration is addressed in the setting of the Rider-Wood House. Presented are stoneware jugs and mugs decorated with molded hunting scenes along with vessels that recount tavern activities such as drinking, smoking, and playing games. A salt-glazed stoneware jug in the shape of a bear, with a small dog attached to its chest (Fig. 5), may at first appear whimsical, but in fact portrays the cruel yet popular sport of bear-baiting, a legal recreation in England until 1835. While gruesome in subject matter, these containers served as ale jugs, tobacco jars, or even pub ornaments; the body of the jug held the contents while the head covered the opening or served as a drinking cup.5

The final destination on the suggested tour is the Jones House Archaeology Laboratory. Presented here is the largest portion of excavated artifacts from the Hawes Collection, set beside complete, unbroken objects. Interpretive exhibits describing the archaeological process illustrate how such research aids in understanding the past. Visitors wishing to experience hands-on demonstrations are encouraged to stop by the pottery studio, next door to the Jones House.

Prized Possessions is a mapped, self-guided tour supplemented by trained interpreters at six of Strawbery Banke’s forty-one historic house locations. A lecture series will accompany the exhibition of the Hawes Collection, on view through October 31, 2001. For more information, please call 603.433.1100 or visit the museum’s Web site, www.strawberybanke.org.

Carolyn Parsons Roy is the Associate Curator at Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth, N.H., a museum that interprets the 300-year history of one of America’s oldest neighborhoods. Ms. Roy served as curator for Prized Possessions: The Story of Ceramics in Everyday Life.

Suggested Reading:
Austin, John. British Delft at Williamsburg. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1994.
Archer, Michael. Delftware: The Tin-glazed Earthenware of the British Isles. London: The Stationary Office, 1997.
Francis, Peter. Irish Delftware: An Illustrated History. London: Jonathan Horne Publications, 2000.
Skerry, Janine E. “Setting a Stylish Table.” The Magazine Antiques CLIX, no. 1 (January 2001): 204–211.

  1. Through her will, Vivian Scheidemantel Hawes (1923–1999) allowed Strawbery Banke to choose artifacts from the couple’s collection for exhibition and study purposes. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Old Sturbridge Village were also beneficiaries.
  2. I am indebted to Carl L. Crossman for sharing his research on Portsmouth ceramics importation and to Louise Richardson for her work on early Portsmouth newspaper advertisements and probate records.
  3. Bowls and dishes decorated with variations of this dragon pattern were made in China for many years, beginning in the Ming period. English copies vary in both design and material; soft-paste porcelain as well as tin-glazed earthenware shards have been excavated in Portsmouth.
  4. See Michael Archer, Delftware: The Tin-Glazed Earthenware of the British Isles (London: The Stationary Office, 1997), cat. no. F.52, pp. 314–315, for a discussion of the form. None of the examples that Archer cites are decorated with a dragon motif.
  5. Pamela J. Wood, “Made at Nottm”: An Introduction to Nottingham Salt-Glazed Stoneware (Nottingham: Nottingham Castle Museum, 1980), p. 5.

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