Brett Pitcher Illustrating Bret Harte's Poem Plain Language from Truthful James

Brett Pitcher Illustrating Bret Harte's Poem Plain Language from Truthful James

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Karl L.H. Müller (1820-1887), a German sculptor hired by ceramic manufacturer, Union Porcelain Works, to improve the artistry of their productions, designed this porcelain pitcher. The pitcher is best known for the scene inspired by Bret Harte's (1836-1902) poem "The Heathen Chinee" (1870). Additionally, the pitcher has a scene of King Gambrinus bringing beer to the United States, personified by Uncle Sam. In addition, the pitcher features a polar bear handle and a walrus spout. Pitchers such as this were produced in great numbers and were all hand painted with various colors and decorative borders. Harte wrote "The Heathen Chinee" to satirize anti-Chinese sentiment, however, it was interpreted on this pitcher as anti-Chinese. Harte tells the story of an Irishman attempting to cheat a Chinese man at a game of euchre. When the Irishman discovers that the Chinese man is also cheating, he flies into a rage. Harte later regretted writing the poem. The Netherlandish myth of King Gambrinus was published in 1868 as a short story by the Frenchman Charles Deulin (1827-1877). The scene on the pitcher shows Uncle Sam as a symbol of the United States grasping the horns of a goat and selling his soul for a foaming mug of beer offered by Gambrinus. Gambrinus becomes the king of beer when he sells his soul. Interestingly, both stories feature gambling. The polar bear and walrus are perhaps a symbol of the ice industry which was growing rapidly due to improved technology and the abundance of clean ice harvested from unpolluted waters in the United States. America began to export clean ice, making it safe to mix it into a beverage for the first time. The pitcher has a spout designed to strain the ice.
Object Name
Date made
1876 - 1880
associated dates
1870 01 01+ / 1870 01 01+, 1870 12 31- / 1870 12 31-
Physical Description
ceramic (overall material)
porcelain (overall material)
yellow (overall color)
white (overall color)
red (overall color)
green (overall color)
blue (overall color)
gray (overall color)
molded (overall production method/technique)
average spatial: 25.07 cm x 17.145 cm x 26.67 cm; 9 7/8 in x 6 3/4 in x 10 1/2 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Jay and Emma Lewis
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Ceramics and Glass
Transcontinental Railroad
Many Voices, One Nation
Many Voices, One Nation
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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