Imagine you are a young person in 1830s California, which at that time was a province of the Mexican Republic. One day your father brings home a wonderful ceramic drinking cup that had been delivered from the other side of the world by a merchant ship. On the side is depicted a remarkable machine, a steam engine pulling a line of cars full of passengers (figs. 1, 2). Such a cup—the equivalent of a Buck Rogers spaceship mug of my youth—was discovered during archaeological excavations conducted in 1974 in Monterey, which had been the capital of the California province.
The cup came from the backyard of American merchant and sea captain John Rogers Cooper, who built his home in Monterey circa 1832 for his wife, Encarnación Vallejo, and their six children. Their first three children, Anita (1828–1912), John Rogers Henry (1830–1899), and Rogerio (1838–1873), would have been young in the 1830s and early 1840s. Whether this cup was presented to any of these children is not known, but the image certainly would have appealed to them. The family ultimately moved from Monterey to San Francisco in 1864, and for whatever reason the cup was left behind.
The English-made cup features a black transfer-printed image of a very early English steam-engine train that dates to 1820–1830, according to Dieter Hopkins, Curator of Collections at the National Railway Museum of York, England. The cup itself was probably made between 1835 and 1840, although there is no mark on it to know for sure. It is decorated in pink with a horizontal stripe below the interior rim and a vertical stripe on the handle exterior; a swath of overglaze green highlights the grass and trees. Given its size and decoration, this cup would surely have been, in Noël Riley’s words, a “gift for good children,” although I have yet to find a parallel.
Glenn Farris, 508 Second Street, Suite 108, Davis, California 95616
Cup, England, ca. 1835–1840. Whiteware. H. 2 5/8". (Courtesy of California State Parks, 2016; photos, Lydia Reed-Carpenter.)
Side view of the cup illustrated in fig. 1.
Hopkins noted that the locomotive was distinctive in its “large, cylindrical boiler with direct drive from the cylinders on top of the boiler via a grass-hopper motion direct to the four driving wheels. This was the common arrangement on locomotives up to the 1820s and on conservative designs up to circa 1830.” Personal correspondence with Dieter Hopkins, December 9, 2002.
Noël Riley, Gifts for Good Children: The History of Children’s China, 2 vols. (Somerset, Eng.: Richard Dennis, 1991–1996), vol. 1, 1790–1890.