Robert Hunter

After the hugely successful publication of last year’s thematic issue devoted to the circa 1770–1772 American China Manufactory of Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris in Philadelphia, the 2008 volume of Ceramics in America returns to its eclectic format of presenting topics reflecting four centuries of ceramic history. Although we are well into the twenty-first century, much of our ceramic heritage remains in the ground or locked away in storage cabinets, waiting for the right questions to bring fresh eyes to long-forgotten finds. This should be exciting news for young students of the subject: a seemingly unlimited supply of ceramic topics to investigate. At the same time, even seasoned scholars and collectors remain daunted by the time and effort necessary for reexamining these forgotten or neglected resources.

The first article in this year’s journal shows how even an old subject can be revisited with vim and vigor. Three veterans of the collecting world, Arthur Goldberg, Peter Warwick, and Leslie Warwick, resurrect the archaeological collections of Robert J. Sim’s seminal investigations of the eighteenth-century New Jersey stoneware industry. The authors reevaluate the stoneware associated with Captain James Morgan of Cheesequake and the Kemple family of potters who worked in Ringoes, Amwell Township, Hunterdon County. The previously collected sherds are illustrated in color for the first time, and fresh analysis of the previously published descriptions provides firm attributions for newly identified antique stoneware jars. The authors also examine the relationship of these early New Jersey potters with New York City potters Remmey and Crolius.

Most archaeologists and museum professionals devote a great deal of energy to artifact curation to ensure that reevaluation studies such as that of Goldberg and the Warwicks will continue to be possible. Yet Meta Janowitz reminds us that everything material is fleeting, even the most durable stoneware sherds. In her article she opens an important new chapter in the literature of the well-known early-eighteenth-century Crolius and Remmey families, based on stoneware sherds recovered tangentially during the excavation of the well-publicized African Burial Ground project in lower Manhattan. Sadly, much of that collection, which was housed in a building adjacent to the World Trade Center, was lost during the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001. Thanks to Janowitz’s careful recording and photographic procedures, however, this important new information, previously unavailable to scholars of American stoneware history, has survived.

Gathering and processing information are often laborious tasks and can occupy a lifetime. George Miller and Amy Earls present an analysis of ceramic consumption patterns that is the culmination of nearly four decades of economic data recording and analysis using surviving merchant invoices from the nineteenth-century Anglo-American ceramic trade. From this material the authors develop an economic model that spans a century and challenges the long-held notion that innovations in ceramic wares and styles are driven by fashion, social emulation, and, ultimately, consumer demand. To the contrary, Miller and Earls contend that economics—oversupply and falling prices—is the catalyst underlying evolving consumer behavior.

How nineteenth-century consumption patterns in the English and American ceramic trades differ is suggested in the article by British ceramic historian Neil Ewins. Most British research has focused on the production side of nineteenth-century ceramics, but using detailed records from the Cork and Edge (later known as Cork, Edge and Malkin) factory of Burslem, Staffordshire, Ewins has pinpointed the customer names, locations, and value of sales from 1848 to 1860 to produce his study. Ewins points out that more research is necessary to fully understand all of the factors, both economic and social, that influenced ceramic purchasing behavior.

A first step toward obtaining additional cases studies has been taken by Barbara Magid, who provides a snapshot account of a single American merchant, prominent ceramics importer Robert H. Miller, who operated successful businesses in both Alexandria, Virginia, and St. Louis, Missouri. This study details Miller’s known business practices, and Magid is able to link archaeological ceramics that have his importer’s marks with the wares listed in his newspaper advertisements and other records. We hope that other researchers will follow Magid’s example in studying ceramic importers in other American cities.

While our libraries are filled with records and accounts of nineteenth-century ceramic shipments, in general only a few surviving objects provide a visual reference for what these orders actually comprised. There are occasional exceptions, such as when relatively intact cargoes are found in a newly discovered shipwreck. Recently a mid-nineteenth-century sailing vessel was located that had gone down in more than one thousand feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Jacksonville, Florida. Authors Hawk Tolson, Ellen Gerth, and Neil Dobson, who dubbed the discovery the “Blue China” wreck, bring to the surface three-dimensional evidence for the type of two-dimensional account records discussed in the articles by Miller, Earls, and Ewins. Similar glimpses from other nineteenth-century ceramic cargoes have come from the American steamboat wrecks of the Bertrand and the Arabia, both of which sank in the Missouri River. Such recoveries of underwater ceramic cargoes provide ceramic historians with evidence that transcends written documents alone.

Without proper recording, documentation, and curation, the excavation of archaeological sites is tantamount to indiscriminate destruction. Fortunately, most serious archaeologists aspire to the highest professional standards, but the continual loss of historical properties through commercial development is an almost insurmountable challenge for the twenty-first-century preservationist. Richard Prowse’s essay is an example of how important resources can disappear overnight, even in the midst of a historically minded community. Prowse describes his unsuccessful attempts to mitigate the destruction of the circa 1825 Asa Smith Pottery site and its attendant buildings in Norwalk, Connecticut. Although Prowse diligently explored all the appropriate channels, the Smith Pottery building was torn down before architectural and archaeological  studies could be undertaken. This should serve as a poignant reminder for other communities: Do not wait until the bulldozers arrive to enact measures to preserve or record a significant historical site. The ceramic artifacts collected at the demolition of the Smith Pottery are expected to be published in a future issue of Ceramics in America.

A happier ending is tendered by authors Sumpter Priddy and  Joan Quinn, who undertake what at first glance might be called an “artifact study.” Their subject is an attractive porcelain punch bowl associated with President James Monroe and his family, but as the study unfolds it quickly becomes a most complicated tale. From the printed decoration on the bowl, particularly the outstretched American eagle, the authors divine the role of two all but forgotten Americans—William Armand Barnet and Isaac Doolittle—in the development of the lithographic printing process first used on American consular documents and subsequently, and perhaps most notably, on this surviving bowl.

Another ceramic object is at the center of a sleuthing tale in Ivor Noël Hume’s analysis of a mammoth British stoneware jug found in an American regional auction house. The story is a self-examination of the foibles associated with collecting and the sometimes questionable attributions that can be found in the published literature. Noël Hume deconstructs what appears to be a lavishly produced object associated specifically with the coronation in 1830 of King William IV and sifts through the published ceramic evidence to suggest a specific place of manufacture in Yorkshire.

The four-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, was celebrated in 2007. In tribute to this banner year, Sam Margolin offers a fascinating discourse on a collection of commemorative ceramics produced for earlier Jamestown anniversaries, in 1907 and 1957. Using these mundane objects as a point of departure, Margolin transports us to the social and political milieu of those periods, a feat usually accomplished through more traditional histories. These ceramics speak volumes about our history—from the noble to the truly despicable—and Margolin demonstrates that, long after the fanfare, political speeches, and capital improvement projects associated with these large public commemorations, it is often the cheap tourist souvenir that best carries the memories of the event into the future.

In the concluding article of this issue, Ivor Noël Hume picks up the baton from Margolin to report firsthand on the special commission of a ceramic commemorative for the 2007 Jamestown celebration. Depicted on the cover, this object is anything but an ordinary tourist trinket. Ceramic artist Michelle Erickson was asked by the organizers of Jamestown 2007 to create a unique gift for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the Jamestown site on May 4, 2007. During Erickson’s process of design and creation, Noël Hume contributed his considerable insights into the period sensibilities of such a gift, which he recounts in his essay. This meeting of art and history resulted in a ceramic composition truly fit for a queen.

Merry Outlaw has again assembled a diverse and fascinating offering of short articles on ceramic discoveries, and we encourage readers to contact her if they have any exciting new information to offer the field. Amy Earls gathered a number of excellent book reviews that critically examine new publications, and she has compiled a checklist of new publications relating to the field that will serve as a useful resource for both scholars and casual collectors.

Looking to next year, the 2009 volume of Ceramics in America will feature a series of directed essays reexamining Moravian ceramic traditions and other related slip-decorated pottery from the North Carolina Piedmont. This long-awaited research effort, initiated by Luke Beckerdite, is intended to update John Bivens’s 1972 The Moravian Potters in North Carolina, published by Old Salem, Inc. Noteworthy and exciting scholarship will be presented, including stylistic reevaluations, newly discovered historical information, archaeological studies, and exploration of the technological constraints within these slipware traditions. Many of these objects and the archaeological evidence will be illustrated for the first time in full color. The publication will accompany an important national exhibition, co-curated by Beckerdite, Johanna Brown, and Robert Hunter, scheduled to open at the Milwaukee Art Museum in late 2009 and to conclude at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem. In the interim it will travel to several other notable venues on the East and West Coasts, among them Mingei International Museum, San Diego, in April 2010.

Ceramics in America 2008