Before the Revolutionary War the American colonies imported a large proportion of their fine ceramic wares from Britain. The trade between the colonies and England more or less collapsed between 1776 and 1783, but resumed with renewed vigor until relations between the two countries again deteriorated badly in 1808. This large baluster-shaped pitcher was made in England in or after 1804, and probably before the British imposed a trade embargo on the United States in 1808.
There is no mark on the pitcher to tell us who made it, but it is characteristic of wares made in large volume for the American market in both Staffordshire and Liverpool between 1790 and 1808. Pitchers of this shape, with a cream-colored glaze over a pale earthenware clay, known as Liverpool-type, were the most common vessels to feature transfer prints with subjects commemorating events and significant figures in the early decades of United States’ history. Notwithstanding the tense relationship between Britain and America, Liverpool and Staffordshire printers and potters seized the commercial opportunity offered them in the production of transfer-printed earthenwares celebrating the heroes, the military victories, and the virtues of the young republic, and frequently all of these things at once.
On this pitcher we see an officer of the militia of the late 1790s, a member of the forces usually recruited from home towns or villages, either by draft or by volunteering. The militias were often the first line of defense in the colonies and also reinforced their regional Continental Army unit. In this print a cannon stands behind the officer, and ammunition is piled at his feet, suggesting his readiness for action, probably at one of the seacoast defenses manned by militias, in this case against French ships in the Quasi-War with France of 1798-1800. Two ships lie at anchor, and onshore we see cargo, perhaps the produce of the farmer who ploughs the land in the background. The officer’s forces may have had the task of protecting American merchant ships from seizure by the French. The inscription at the top of the print reads: “Success to AMERICA whose MILITIA is better than Standing ARMIES,” a jibe at the British standing army who lost to the small semi-professional Continental army in the Revolutionary War, albeit with substantial help from the French. Underneath the officer’s feet is another inscription: “May its Citizens Emulate Soldiers And its Soldiers HEROES.” Below that there is a text that affirms America’s readiness to defend its Constitution and Bill of Rights:
“While justice is the throne to which we’are bound to bend /Our Country’s Rights and Laws we ever will defend.”
Under the spout on this pitcher there is a transfer print of the American Spread Eagle, with the quote “Peace, Commerce and honest Friendship with all Nations, Entangling Alliances with none,” from Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural speech of 1801, and appropriate to the unfortunate “entanglement” with France. On the other side of the pitcher there is a print of a three-masted ship flying the American flag, a generalized image common to many other pottery vessels made in England at this time.
When this pitcher arrived in the United States, Liverpool was the main port for the export of English manufactured goods to North America. Until 1807, it was also heavily involved in the slave trade, and Liverpool merchants controlled most of the British African-bound trade that formed part of the triangular transport of slaves to the West Indian and North American plantations. The ships returned to Liverpool with cargoes of sugar, cotton, and tobacco, or they shipped the slaves to French or Dutch vessels off the coast of West Africa, returning directly to Liverpool with cargoes of African palm oil, dyewoods, hardwoods, and spices. Liverpool maintained this trade, valuable to English manufacturing towns, after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
The Smithsonian purchased this pitcher in August 1938 from Joseph Kindig Jr. of York, PA. In May of the same year it was sold from the William Randolph Hearst collection. Hearst collected Liverpool and Staffordshire transfer-printed pottery featuring images commemorating the early history of the United States.
Arman, D. and Arman, L., Anglo-American Ceramics Part I: Transfer-printed Creamware and Pearlware for the American market 1760-1860. Portsmouth RI: Oakland Press, 1998.
McCauley, R. H., Liverpool Transfer Designs on Anglo-American Pottery. Portland, ME: The Southworth- Anthoensen Press, 1942.
Nelson, C. H., Transfer-printed Creamware and Pearlware for the American Market, in Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 15. No.2, 1980, pp. 93-115.
Richardson, D., Liverpool and the English Slave Trade, in Transatlantic Slavery: Against human dignity, ed. A. Tibbles. (London: HMSO, 1994), pp. 70-76.
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