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Merry Abbitt Outlaw
New Discoveries - Introduction

What is a Merryman
Let him do what he can
To entertain his guests
With wine and merry jest
But if his wife do frown
All merriment goes down

During excavations at St. Mary’s City, Maryland, archaeologist Silas Hurry was a merry man when he uncovered a small delftware sherd bearing the single word “what”—clearly part of a larger inscription. Petite in size but hugely significant, the discovery was the remnant of a set of rhyme plates known as “Merryman.” The six-plate (one line per plate) tin-glazed earthenware series was popular in England and Holland for several decades in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This tiny fragment is, remarkably, the only known archaeological Merryman example in North America. 

Just as evocative, another single ceramic sherd was discovered recently during Jamestown Rediscovery excavations on Virginia’s Jamestown Island, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Dating to the town’s earliest occupation—1607 or shortly thereafter—this piece also represents the first of its kind found in North America. Beverly Straube, Jamestown’s curator, describes the excitement of Jacqui Pearce, her counterpart at the Museum of London, on learning of the thumb-impressed Border ware fragment. We learn the history of its porcine form, where it was made, how it was used, and the status of its owner. With such marvelous new discoveries as examples, readers are reminded how a single ceramic sherd provides not only a wealth of information about colonial consumerism and sensibilities but also, yes—merriment.

Intact items are among the discoveries that excite us this year. Sarah Fayen discusses an important new acquisition of the Chipstone Foundation—a diminutive English tin-glazed earthenware chair. Manufactured in the early eighteenth century, this object sparks much speculation about its manufacture and significance. Without doubt, this little chair delighted its maker and amused its owners and audience, much as it does today. Likewise, two Sèvres biscuit porcelain groups in the Philadelphia Museum of Art spoke to the prominent Bostonian who bought them in Paris in 1795, and, as revealed by Donna Corbin, the powerful inscription on the bottom of one stimulates the mind even now.

As in previous issues of the journal, fresh research continues to figure prominently in ceramic discoveries dating to the nineteenth century. The design sources and possible producer of the so-called Diorama views made in Staffordshire, England, are carefully scrutinized and presented by Roger Pomfret. Recent research about painted Staffordshire refined earthenwares impressed with the mark of a New Orleans importer is revealed by Amy Earls and George Miller. Their investigation provides especially important information for archaeologists, collectors, and curators who are concerned with the dating and distribution of ceramics in America. 

Several of this year’s new discoveries reflect the considerable and continuing research into American-made pottery from the mid-Atlantic region. Barbara Magid updates us about two early-nineteenth-century manufactories that made forms specifically for an older method of refining sugar, an industry that once figured prominently in Alexandria, Virginia, and that continues today in Baltimore, Maryland. As reported by Mark Nonestied and Richard Veit, an immense wall of architectural terracotta wasters and discards has contributed vastly to our knowledge of and appreciation for a successful, early-twentieth-century industrial manufactory in New Jersey.

The themes of connectivity and relatedness of mid-Atlantic nineteenth-century stoneware potters are apparent in four articles. Charles Fithian, Claudia Leister, James Stewart, and Chris Espenshade present research on their study of William Hare, who produced pottery in Wilmington, Delaware, from 1837 to 1885. We learn that German-born Charles Decker was employed by Hare in 1862, and, as discussed in William Hoffman’s article on Decker’s recently excavated kiln site, he went on to establish his own stoneware manufactory in Washington County, Virginia, about 1869. 

Scott Suter identifies another German-born potter of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia—Otto Karle, who as a young teenager began working in Rockingham County about 1869 for his uncle Joseph Silber. Until recently, Karle’s clumsy pots puzzled scholars and collectors. In contrast, as beautifully illustrated in John Kille’s article, the discovery of a historically important presentation jar combines the master skills of the renowned Bell family potters who worked in Strasburg, Virginia, and Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. 

Finally, in what is hoped to be a regular feature in the New Discoveries series, the work of a modern-day potter is brought to our attention. Similar to the mindfulness of the Merryman plates, the stoneware vessels in Lindsay Allington’s Crock Series 2003 speak to social behavior. Although the American stoneware potting tradition inspires her forms, the social commentary stamped and painted on their surfaces communicate new meaning. And as they impart their desired effect, Allington’s goals are successfully—and poignantly—met.

Merry Abbitt Outlaw, New Discoveries Editor, Ceramics in America; xkv8rs@aol.com

Ceramics in America 2005

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