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Sunday, December 17, 2017

American Blues: Celebrating a New Nation

American Blues: Celebrating a New Nation by by Pat Halfpenny and Laura Johnson
American Blues: Celebrating a New Nation by by Pat Halfpenny and Laura Johnson
by Pat Halfpenny & Laura Johnson

In 1815, when trade between America and England resumed after the War of 1812, Staffordshire potters regained access to one of their most lucrative markets, and America, with its limited industrial base, was ready to import both the necessities and the luxuries of life (Fig. 1).

Blue printed pottery had been a staple import since its introduction in the late eighteenth century. From 1815 the most popular prints were in a bright “royal” blue, available in a wide variety of patterns. By about 1818 a small number of manufacturers produced darker blue wares that enjoyed a brief and intense popularity for about thirteen years. In the twentieth century a small group of the dark blue designs became the most desirable of all collectable printed pottery—patterns illustrating the new nation of the United States.

Fig. 1: Teapot, Enoch Wood & Sons, Staffordshire, ca. 1820. Earthenware. H. 7-1/4, L.10-1/2 in. Blue printed design titled MAC DONNAUGH’S VICTORY [sic] taken from Macdonough’s Victory on Lake Champlain and defeat of the British Army at Plattsburg by General Macomb on 11th September 1814, by H. Renagle (1788-1834), engraved by B. Tanner (1775-1848), published 1816.  Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.
Fig. 1: Teapot, Enoch Wood & Sons, Staffordshire, ca. 1820. Earthenware. H. 7-1/4, L.10-1/2 in. Blue printed design titled MAC DONNAUGH’S VICTORY [sic] taken from Macdonough’s Victory on Lake Champlain and defeat of the British Army at Plattsburg by General Macomb on 11th September 1814, by H. Renagle (1788-1834), engraved by B. Tanner (1775-1848), published 1816. Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.

Fig. 2a: THE JUNCTION OF THE SACANDAGA AND HUDSON RIVERS, W. G. Wall (1792–after 1864), colorist, J. Hill (1770–1850), engraver. Colored aquatint in the Hudson River Port Folio (New York: H. I. Megarey & W. B. Gilley, Charleston, S.C.: John Mill, 1827). Courtesy, Winterthur Library (RBR NE940 H88 PPF).
Fig. 2a: THE JUNCTION OF THE SACANDAGA AND HUDSON RIVERS, W. G. Wall (1792–after 1864), colorist, J. Hill (1770–1850), engraver. Colored aquatint in the Hudson River Port Folio (New York: H. I. Megarey & W. B. Gilley, Charleston, S.C.: John Mill, 1827). Courtesy, Winterthur Library (RBR NE940 H88 PPF).

Fig 2b: Large platter, Andrew Stevenson, Staffordshire, ca. 1825-1830. Earthenware. L. 14-1/4, W. 11 in. Blue printed design derived from the aquatint seen in fig. 2a. On reverse: blue printed mark of an eagle with a banner and the aquatint title with a circular impressed maker’s mark and name. Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.
Fig 2b: Large platter, Andrew Stevenson, Staffordshire, ca. 1825-1830. Earthenware. L. 14-1/4, W. 11 in. Blue printed design derived from the aquatint seen in fig. 2a. On reverse: blue printed mark of an eagle with a banner and the aquatint title with a circular impressed maker’s mark and name. Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.

National pride surged as Americans claimed victory in the War of 1812. It was the “Era of Good Feelings,” and America was busy building its great cities and infrastructure. Pottery depicting scenes of Boston, Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, and Charleston offered citizens an opportunity to display their patriotic sentiments in a conspicuous way. It was also no coincidence that these wares started to appear as Americans began commemorating the fifty-year anniversary of declaring their Independence from England.

In order to serve this potential market many Staffordshire pottery owners either visited or sent representatives to America to better understand the audience and hopefully secure a greater share of the trade. William Adams & Sons of Stoke-upon-Trent had their own office in New York City by 1822; John and William Ridgway of Shelton visited America at various times; Joseph Stubbs’ partner, Thomas Kent, travelled to America to promote Stubbs’ & Kent’s pottery business interests, dying at sea on the return journey in 1828. By 1823 Andrew Stevenson of Cobridge was operating a store at 58 Broadway in Manhattan; remaining and eventually immigrating to live in Westchester, New York, where he died in 1855. After the Staffordshire potters James and Ralph Clews went bankrupt in 1834, James moved to America and unsuccessfully tried his hand at pottery making in Troy, Indiana. These men represent the majority of potters providing American themed prints in the 1818-1831 period.1

The patterns used on blue printed earthenware were taken from a variety of sources. Topographical prints, a wildly popular phenomenon of the nineteenth century, were particularly useful to the pottery engravers since they could be transposed most directly into designs for earthenware.2 One of the challenges facing researchers looking for the source of a printed design is the number of copies and adaptations made of popular prints on paper. The original may have been an aquatint, itself an adaptation of a watercolor, produced as a limited edition artwork, and subsequently rendered for books and magazines over a number of years by different hands and with added details.

Fig 3a: The Woodlands Near Philadelphia the seat of Wm. Hamilton Esqr, inscribed Wm. Strickland delt. Geo. Murray Sculpt., William Strickland (1788–1854) and George Murray (fl. 1800–1820). Engraving from The Port Folio New Series by Oliver Oldschool, vol. II, (Philadelphia: Bradford & Inskeep, New York: Inskeep & Bradford, 1809).
Fig 3a: The Woodlands Near Philadelphia the seat of Wm. Hamilton Esqr, inscribed Wm. Strickland delt. Geo. Murray Sculpt., William Strickland (1788–1854) and George Murray (fl. 1800–1820). Engraving from The Port Folio New Series by Oliver Oldschool, vol. II, (Philadelphia: Bradford & Inskeep, New York: Inskeep & Bradford, 1809).

Fig, 3b: Plate, Joseph Stubbs, Staffordshire, ca. 1825. Earthenware. Diam. 9 in. Blue printed pattern based on engraving in 3a. On reverse: engraving title and impressed mark STUBBS.  This view is one of twelve scenes in the “spread-eagle border” series of designs. Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.
Fig, 3b: Plate, Joseph Stubbs, Staffordshire, ca. 1825. Earthenware. Diam. 9 in. Blue printed pattern based on engraving in 3a. On reverse: engraving title and impressed mark STUBBS. This view is one of twelve scenes in the “spread-eagle border” series of designs. Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.

Some of the finest of the topographical views that appeared on earthenware were from the Hudson River Portfolio. This work was the result of a collaboration between the Dublin-born artist William Guy Wall (1792–after 1864) and London-born engraver John Hill (1770–1850); first published by Henry J. Megarey in 1823 and reissued by G. and C. H. Carville in 1827. The twenty scenes were among the first images to celebrate America’s natural beauty, and at least two potters, Andrew Stevenson of Cobridge, Staffordshire (fl. 1811–1827), and an as yet unidentified manufacturer, used the images on their blue printed wares (Figs. 2a, b).

It was common practice for English potters to produce printed table services that had different central images within a common border pattern. Most of the American themes produced by Joseph Stubbs, for example, occur within a border design featuring an eagle with outstretched wings. The “spread-eagle border” series has at least twelve different centers including scenes from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. One of Stubbs’ popular center patterns was The Woodlands near Philadelphia made at his Staffordshire pottery in the 1820s. Although historians have widely believed that Stubbs based his design on an engraving by William Birch (1755–1834), recent research has revealed that it is after an illustration by George Murray (fl.1800–1820) published in Port Folio Magazine in December 1809 (Fig. 3a and 3b).

Currently one of the most collectible and valuable series of patterns is that made by Thomas Mayer within a “trumpet flower and vine border” with large and imposing central devices depicting the arms of twelve of the original thirteen states.3 The reverse of each piece usually carries a blue printed eagle and the impressed mark of the maker. Though the plates date to about 1826–1830, the design source is somewhat earlier, being published by Philadelphian John Binns (1772–1860), registered in 1818, and printed in 1819 (Fig. 4a). Binns hoped to distribute 200 copies of the design and it seems that at least one made it to England where it was used to create this remarkable series of tableware (Figs. 4b–4c).

Fig. 4a: Arms of the United States and the thirteen states, George Murray (fl. 1800–1820), engraver, John Binns (1772–1860) designer, in facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, 1819. Print on wove paper, 36 x 26-1/2 inches. Includes ornamental oval frame with medallions of seals of the thirteen original colonies and medallion portraits of John Hancock, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Courtesy, Library of Congress.
Fig. 4a: Arms of the United States and the thirteen states, George Murray (fl. 1800–1820), engraver, John Binns (1772–1860) designer, in facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, 1819. Print on wove paper, 36 x 26-1/2 inches. Includes ornamental oval frame with medallions of seals of the thirteen original colonies and medallion portraits of John Hancock, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Courtesy, Library of Congress.

Fig 4b: Detail from the facsimile of the Declaration of Independence in fig. 4a, showing the Arms of the State Delaware.
Fig 4b: Detail from the facsimile of the Declaration of Independence in fig. 4a, showing the Arms of the State Delaware.

Fig. 4c: Platter, Thomas Mayer, Staffordshire, ca. 1826–1830. Earthenware. H.16-1/2, W. 13 in. Blue printed design depicting the arms of the state of Delaware based on facsimile shown in figs. 4a–b. On reverse: blue printed eagle mark based on the Great Seal of the United States, seen at the top of the facsimile, with circular impressed mark T. MAYER STOKE STAFFORDSHIRE encircling the word WARRANTED above the eagle. Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont (1958.1847).
Fig. 4c: Platter, Thomas Mayer, Staffordshire, ca. 1826–1830. Earthenware. H.16-1/2, W. 13 in. Blue printed design depicting the arms of the state of Delaware based on facsimile shown in figs. 4a–b. On reverse: blue printed eagle mark based on the Great Seal of the United States, seen at the top of the facsimile, with circular impressed mark T. MAYER STOKE STAFFORDSHIRE encircling the word WARRANTED above the eagle. Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont (1958.1847).

Scenes of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states dominate the work of Ridgway, Rogers, Stubbs, Clews, and others, but it is unclear whether the potters chose those regions to take advantage of the largest potential American markets or the best printed scenes available. When they looked for New England scenes, Staffordshire potters had some of America’s earliest regional histories and guide books available, most of which focused on Boston, Hartford, and surrounding towns. Many potters relied on Snow’s History of Boston, published by Abel Bowen in 1825 (Fig. 5a), which drew on plates engraved by Abel’s brother George for Charles Shaw’s Topographical and Historical Description of Boston (1817). Bowen’s engravings appear, with modifications, on the pottery of Stubbs, Ridgway, and Stevenson. Aside from Bowen, potters drew on a range of other printed materials, most of which were by local engravers such as Asaph Willard, who worked in Hartford from 1816 to 1828. Willard’s work supplied an early view of the Hartford Deaf and Dumb Asylum to Stevenson (Fig. 5b). For decades publishers continued to borrow and alter these early views for use in their magazines, books, and maps.

The Mid-Atlantic States are most strongly represented with New York and Philadelphia themes. Engravings that served as source prints include works by William Guy Wall and John Hill, who produced some of the finest views of New York,4 while William Birch’s views of Philadelphia and its environs offered many images for the English potters to copy.

Cities and landscapes outside the northeastern region are few and far between. Surprisingly, there are only a small number of patterns depicting Baltimore, a well-established center of population. In the 1820s, Washington was still in the midst of being developed as the new capital and rebuilding after the devastation of the War of 1812. The Capitol building, all but destroyed by the British in 1814, rose phoenix-like from the ashes; reconstruction was completed in 1819 with help from American architect George Bulfinch. A symbol of permanence and optimism for the Republic, the Capitol’s significance was not wasted on the potters, who sought to appeal to the new American citizen (Fig. 6).

Fig. 5a: New State House, engraved by H. Bowen (1825), in Caleb H. Snow, History of Boston (Boston: A. Bowen,1825). Courtesy, Historic New England. It is possible that this image was based on Nathaniel Dearborn’s 1814 concept for a history titled “Picture of Boston.” Dearborn is listed as delineator on Shaw’s 1817 Topographical and Historical Description of Boston, on which Bowen based his engraving.
Fig. 5a: New State House, engraved by H. Bowen (1825), in Caleb H. Snow, History of Boston (Boston: A. Bowen,1825). Courtesy, Historic New England. It is possible that this image was based on Nathaniel Dearborn’s 1814 concept for a history titled “Picture of Boston.” Dearborn is listed as delineator on Shaw’s 1817 Topographical and Historical Description of Boston, on which Bowen based his engraving.

Fig. 5b: View of the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, by J. Barber (1825), engraved by A. Willard (ca. 1820), in John W. Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1836). Courtesy, Historic New England.
Fig. 5b: View of the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, by J. Barber (1825), engraved by A. Willard (ca. 1820), in John W. Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1836). Courtesy, Historic New England.

Though the vogue lasted just over a decade and a number of Staffordshire’s potters certainly seemed engaged in producing dark blue printed wares with American views for the new nation, the exact length and popularity of this fashion remains unclear to this day. Retailer and import records rarely mention any pottery pattern names and there are only a handful of references to blue printed American views. Archaeologists working on regional sites recover almost no pieces of dark blue printed pottery with American themes where generic patterns and other color prints predominate.5 The interest in dark blue patterns that began with Boston State House scenes in 1818 peaked in the late 1820s and then gradually declined as retailers offered mixed groups of blue-printed wares for the “country trade.” Documentary references to dark blue end in 1831.6 Production of American subjects continued alongside other patterns but in a range of new colors in addition to a lighter, sweeter blue and other newly introduced colors.

Boston importer Horace Collamore placed the first documented order for State House patterns in 1818, the same year that Boston merchants Henshaw & Jarves noted State House patterns in their auction sale. Orders for the pattern continued, as Otis Norcross (prominent Boston importer and later mayor) advertised in the early 1820s that he had the latest wares available, including “Zebra, Oriental, and State House” patterns.7 Rogers, Ridgway, Stevenson & Williams, Stubbs, and Enoch Wood all produced dark blue versions of the Boston State House. Only a few pieces of the many Boston State House views, such as the basin and pitcher set in figure 7, survive with stories that link them back to their original owners in the early nineteenth century. But of all the New England views it is this pattern that appears in the largest quantities in area collections. Most of those collections were assembled in the early twentieth century. Perhaps these wares sold but were never used, which would account for their appearance in the antiques marketplace and comparative absence archaeologically.

Fig. 6: Cheese stand by John and William Ridgway, Staffordshire, ca. 1827–1830. Earthenware. Diam. 12 in. Blue printed design depicting the Capitol Building, Washington. On reverse: blue printed lozenge-shaped mark inscribed with the title of the series, Beauties of America; the title of plate, Capitol, Washington; and the name of the maker. Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.
Fig. 6: Cheese stand by John and William Ridgway, Staffordshire, ca. 1827–1830. Earthenware. Diam. 12 in. Blue printed design depicting the Capitol Building, Washington. On reverse: blue printed lozenge-shaped mark inscribed with the title of the series, Beauties of America; the title of plate, Capitol, Washington; and the name of the maker. Private collection. Courtesy, Transferware Collectors Club.

It took a sesquicentennial celebration and the enormous cultural momentum of the Colonial Revival to re-introduce dark blue printed views to the Americans. In 1892 Alice Morse Earle chose a dark blue printed Staffordshire teapot to illustrate the title page of her book on China Collecting in America, and devoted sixty pages to “dark-blue Staffordshire crockery.” More books followed and more collectors found delight in the combination of British pottery and American history.

American decorative arts scholar and collector Nina Fletcher Little (1937–1984), first fell in love with the blue printed earthenware that appeared in N. Hudson Moore’s 1903 Old China Book. Inspired by her triumphant first purchase of an Enoch Wood “Table Rock, Niagara” bowl, she soon filled her Brookline, Massachusetts, home with tureens, plates, and pitchers decorated with American scenes. Even after decades of collecting, she still regretted a Hartford State House cup and saucer that escaped her early on, claiming “It is the antiques one did not buy (and should have) that remain the longest in memory.”8

Fig. 7: Pitcher and bowl, attributed to John Rogers & Son, Staffordshire, ca. 1820. Earthenware. Pitcher: H. 8-3/4, W. 8-1/2 in.; bowl: H. 4-3/4, D. 12-1/4 in. Blue printed design depicting the Boston State House. This bowl and pitcher set came to Historic New England from the daughter of the original owner in 1929. Photograph by Adam Osgood. Courtesy, Historic New England, Gift of Mrs. Louisa J. Byington (1929.72.1, .2).
Fig. 7: Pitcher and bowl, attributed to John Rogers & Son, Staffordshire, ca. 1820. Earthenware. Pitcher: H. 8-3/4, W. 8-1/2 in.; bowl: H. 4-3/4, D. 12-1/4 in. Blue printed design depicting the Boston State House. This bowl and pitcher set came to Historic New England from the daughter of the original owner in 1929. Photograph by Adam Osgood. Courtesy, Historic New England, Gift of Mrs. Louisa J. Byington (1929.72.1, .2).


Collectors continue to revere the dark blue printed earthenware that illustrates the early republic; today such pieces are eagerly sought after and stimulate research into that period of American history. To that end, the Transferware Collectors Club (www.transcollectorsclub.org), along with Winterthur Museum (www.winterthur.org) and Historic New England (www.historicnewengland.org) are presenting the free online exhibition Patriotic America: Blue Printed Pottery Celebrating the New Nation (www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com).


Pat Halfpenny is a former director of collections, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and Laura Johnson is associate curator, Historic New England.


1. Only twelve potters have so far been identified as makers of American-themed dark blue printed earthenware pattern in the 1815–1830 period: William Adams & Sons; James & Ralph Clews; John Geddes; Henshall & Co.; Thomas Mayer; John & William Ridgway; John Rogers & Son; Andrew Stevenson; Ralph Stevenson (& Son) Ralph Stevenson & Williams; Joseph Stubbs; and Enoch Wood & Sons.

2. Stephen Daniels “Landscape & Art,” in James S. Duncan, Nuala Christina Johnson, and Richard H. Schein. A Companion to Cultural Geography (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 438.

3. No ceramics have been seen with New Hampshire’s coat of arms.

4. “New York from Weehawk” and “New York from Heights Near Brooklyn” painted by William Guy Wall and engraved by John Hill published by Wall 1823 and by G. & C. & H. Carvill, New York, 1828, are considered among the finest views of New York of their period, they were used as sources for designs by Andrew Stevenson.

5. George L. Miller, Ann Smart Martin and Nancy S. Dickinson “Changing Consumption Patterns: English Ceramics and the American Market from 1770 to 1840,” in Everyday Life in the Early Republic, ed. Catherine E. Hutchins (Winterthur, DE: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1994) argue that the market for these wares was largely absent.

6. June 18, 1831 account books of George Coates a Philadelphia pottery dealer, Winterthur Library, Manuscripts Collection Fol.175.

7. Horace Collamore Order Letter Book entry for August 18, 1818 as noted in Neil Ewins, Supplying the Wants of our Yankee Cousins…Staffordshire Ceramics and the American Market 1775–1880. Journal of Ceramic History Vol. 15, (City Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent 1997), 42–43 and Appendix 2; Notice of sales at auction by Henshaw & Jarves, The Repertory, May 12, 1818, Vol. 15, Issue 57, 3; Otis Norcross advertisement, Boston Daily Advertiser, Vol. 34 Issue 21, 3 (January 24, 1822) in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society, accessed through American Historical Newspapers database May 2, 2011.

8. Nina Fletcher Little, Little by Little: Six Decades of Collecting American Decorative Arts (New York: E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1984).

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