The third, a goodly huge cabinet, wherein whatsoever the hand of man by exquisite art or engine hath made rare in stuff, form, or motion; whatsoever singularity, chance, and the shuffle of things hath produced; whatsoever nature hath wrought in things that want life and may be kept; shall be sorted and included.
—Francis Bacon, “The Second Counseller,
Advising the Study of Philosophy,” 1594
In her contribution to New Discoveries this year, Beverly Straube considers whether an ancient Roman pottery Firmalampe from the James Fort archaeological site was brought to Virginia by an early settler who might have been an antiquarian. She offers evidence for several possible candidates in those early years of occupation, mere decades after antiquarianism emerged as a discipline in sixteenth-century England. Concurrently, European exploration and discovery in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries also led to the popularity of collecting rarities and curiosities to display an owner’s status, wealth, and knowledge. As Francis Bacon advised in the above epigraph, a cabinet in which to exhibit and classify collections (popularly known as a Cabinet of Curiosities) was considered the third-most essential necessity—after a library and a garden—for the learned gentleman at the end of the sixteenth century.
By opening the doors to our own eccentric Cabinet of Curiosities, the contributing authors enlighten us about the unique and the odd, and this year’s assemblage includes unusual ceramic objects that are wide-ranging in date, form, function, and value. From Straube writing about the ancient Firmalampe to Glenn Farris’s report on a late-nineteenth-century porcelain water filter, our knowledge and understanding of the past are unquestionably enhanced. And those questions that remain unanswered merely serve to attract others to the search for discovery.
For example, Jacqueline Pearce brings to light a circa 1685–1720 earthenware capuchine found in London, England, that is similar to mugs heretofore found only in James City County, Virginia. Made during a period of intensive ceramic experimentation and innovation in England, the cup was lathe-turned like stoneware into a newfangled form, then decorated with an older delftware technique. Who made it and where are unknown, but the location of the find, its time of manufacture, and its link to objects found in the New World open up an exciting new dimension of understanding about the cultural world to which it belonged.
Likewise, Troy D. Chappell shares an early-eighteenth-century English delftware vase that is significant because of its rarity, form, and color. Emulating Chinese porcelain and Dutch earthenware vessels that were popular with the English gentry and royalty of the period, this object was made for clients slightly lower on the economic ladder. Chappell speculates about its manufacture and illustrates parallels to this vase, thereby giving us a look at social status and worldly tastes of a bygone era.
Several of this year’s New Discoveries articles reflect the considerable and continuing research into many different aspects of American-made pottery. Mara Kaktins and David Orr report on two unusual Philadelphia-made redware chamber pots discarded in a 1750s privy, atypical because they were scratched with marks that suggest behavior and bodily concerns of those who owned them. Laura Keim and David Orr write about the powerful symbolic meaning of the exceptional slip decoration on a Pennsylvania-made earthenware bowl, making it one of the most important documented eighteenth-century American-made ceramics.
As reported by Christopher Pickerell, an unusual earthenware jar in his collection possibly sheds new light on red earthenware production in early-nineteenth-century Long Island, New York. Similarly, Anthony W. Butera Jr., Robert Kissam, and Regina Metcalf suggest a possible Long Island attribution for red earthenware teapot sherds, circa 1820–1840, found at the Suydam Homestead site in New York.
Three amusing nineteenth-century American-made objects communicate social commentaries that are relevant even today. Peter Warwick and Leslie Warwick offer an interpretation of a bizarre figure on a bulbous stoneware jug who shouts “Money”; they also present sound evidence that it was made at the Morgan, Van Wickle, and Green pottery of Old Bridge, New Jersey, circa 1805–1822. Suzanne Hood shares the inscriptions on a stoneware pig flask from the Anna Pottery (Illinois) that continues to entertain the descendants of its original owner more than one hundred years after its manufacture. Now in Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, its humor is shared with the general public. And William Liebeknecht presents a documentary history of the clay pigeon patented in 1880 by George Ligowsky of Cincinnati, Ohio, which, as their spin-offs do now, added levity to shooting competitions.
William Liebeknecht, Nadine Sergejeff, and Rebecca White write about the 1888–1898 stoneware pottery sites of O. H. Smith and Brothers Lehigh Valley Pottery and the Fulper Brothers and Company Pottery, recently archaeologically discovered in Flemington, New Jersey. Best known for a patented water cooler system used in railroad stations, public buildings, and oYces, one version was stamped “Fulper Germ-Proof Filter,” which may suggest a correlation to Louis Pasteur’s advances in microbiology a few years earlier. Not American made though directly resulting from Pasteur’s discovery is a microporous porcelain filter for removing microbes from water that Glenn Farris documents in an article about sherds excavated in Sacramento, California. Invented and used during the typhoid epidemic that raged in the 1880s and 1890s, the Chamberland filter was the purification system prototype that profoundly influenced the designs that are used worldwide today.
For the last item in our Cabinet of Curiosities, I bring to your attention the interactive ceramic workshops of scholar and artisan Don Carpentier, at Eastfield Village in East Nassau, New York. At “Dish Camp,” Carpentier and other scholars bring to light the hidden histories of ceramics, vastly different in ware, form, place of manufacture, and meaning. These seminars reinforce the excitement and pleasure derived from ceramics that serve as extraordinarily powerful tools for opening the doors to our past.
Merry Abbitt Outlaw, New Discoveries Editor, Ceramics in America;