Pottery & Porcelain

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A two-sided Moravian fish flask, green-glazed cream-colored earthenware, molded with scales, fins and eyes, attributed to Rudolph Christ, Salem, North Carolina, early 19th century.In the late 14th century, Jan Hus, a Roman Catholic priest in Prague who had been heavily influenced by reformer John Wycliffe, began to attract followers as he spoke out about indulgences (a key practice Martin Luther would attack again in 1517) and his belief that church members should be able, permitted, and encouraged to study the Bible themselves. Hus’s continual agitation would put him at odds with the Catholic Church and in 1415 he would be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Despite this gruesome attempt at silencing them, Hus’s followers were undeterred and remained firm in their conviction that reformation was needed. It would take more than 40 years, but in 1457, they would formally organize themselves as the Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren), simultaneously establishing themselves as one of the first Protestant religions. The political and religious situation in the region was regularly changing, permitting the German-speaking members to worship freely at times and subjecting them to persecution at others, but by the Reformation in 1517, the United Brethren would number 200,000 members with more than 400 houses of worship.

Within a century, turmoil would again make life in the region difficult for the United Brethren, who found themselves suffering from heightened intolerance, driven in part by the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which would conclude with Catholicism becoming the official religion of the region, forcing the remaining members to flee or worship secretly.

The following years were lean ones for the Brethren, who were in fact nearing extinction by the 18th century, until Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf offered them sanctuary on his Saxony estate, an offer he had extended to many persecuted Protestant groups who found themselves under siege. The various groups would collaborate on the construction of Herrnhut, a settlement where all were allowed religious freedom.

The Moravians, as the group had become known by the name of their native region, found favor with Zinzendorf, who felt they would make excellent missionaries with his support. In the mid-18th century, they would travel through Northern Europe, the British Isles, and even into Greenland, spreading their religious beliefs. After a time however, outside political pressure on Zinzendorf lead to renewed persecution and some of the Moravians felt that true religious liberty could only be found in the New World.

After a failed start in Georgia, the Moravians moved to Pennsylvania in 1741, purchasing land north of Philadelphia where, again with help from Zinzendorf, they built the Bethlehem commune. Over the next decade the society’s numbers would grow from approximately 20 members to several hundred. From this point of settlement, a community that would become the locus for the Moravians’ missionary efforts in North America, they would go on to develop 32 missions. Perhaps the next best-known settlement is that of Bethabara, which would become the Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the first of a number of settlements on a huge tract purchased in the Carolinas. The Moravian Church is still in existence today, although the communal nature of their lives, never as tightly restricted as some of the separatist communities by nature of their zeal for evangelism, faded away within just a generation or two.

The communities would operate like many other communes, producing and manufacturing to meet the needs of the immediate community and then cultivating clients in the outside world and using the income to support their missionary work. The Moravians lent their name to a rustic chair that is a fairly standard European “peasant” chair and other furniture linked to them and bearing heavy Germanic influences occasionally appears, but they are by far best known for their pottery, particularly their exuberantly decorated redware and their figural flasks, which can fetch thousands of dollars at auction.

A very rare and important pair of Shenandoah Valley redware [dog figures depicting] whippets, both signed Samuel Bell / Winchester Sept 21 1841, Winchester, Virginia origin, matched pair of molded redware whippet figures with incised details to face and paws, both dogs painted black with white-and-red eyes and red mouths, reclining atop green-painted bases with incised borders.Peter Bell, Jr., the patriarch of the Bell family of potters, first began producing pottery in Hagerstown, Maryland before moving his family, including his three sons John, Samuel, and Solomon to Winchester, Virginia in 1824. Peter Bell had ten children in all, and by 1824, John, born in 1800, was working as a potter himself. Samuel (born in 1811) and Solomon (born in 1817) would both follow their father and elder brother into the business as well.

Hagerstown was a prolific pottery center in the early 19th century with a busy population of immigrant potters, by which John was certainly influenced. Four years later in 1828, John Bell moved north again, settling in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, about ten miles northeast of Hagerstown, where he would build a successful pottery and would later be joined by his own sons. John Bell was perhaps best known for his mastery and creativity with glazes, developing unusual colors and experimenting with techniques like using cobalt in earthenware glazes.

Both Samuel and Solomon Bell worked in Winchester until around 1843, when Samuel would relocate to Strasburg, Virginia, roughly twenty-five miles further down the Shenandoah Valley, and two years later Solomon joined him. While they made the move independent of each other, the brothers would soon find themselves in partnership, cranking out volumes of copper oxide, manganese dioxide and cobalt oxide decorated wares. As concerns about lead glaze drove a steady decline throughout the mid-19th century in the demand for earthenware, they shifted production to stoneware.

With their own sons participating in the pottery business as well, the Bell family would shape the pottery production of the Shenandoah Valley for most of a century, contributing everything from utilitarian wares like flue liners to figural dogs from spaniels to whippets to jars and flowerpots with quirky multicolored glazes. The work of all the Bell potters is still highly collectible today with values relying heavily on both the rarity of the form and of the decoration.

A French Rococo silver tea and coffee service with spiral ribbed pyriform, tab feet; consisting of teapot, coffeepot (6556), creamer (6559), covered sugar bowl, chocolate pot with wood handle side.Crack open a container of cocoa mix today and what you have would be unrecognizable to centuries’ of hot chocolate lovers. And yes, centuries. Cocoa beans made the trip to Seville, Spain from Mexico in 1585, but that would have been unrecognizable to us, as it was not the cocoa powder we use (stripped of the rich cocoa butter) but something more akin to melting a chocolate bar and thinning it with cream. And then adding things like anise and chiles!

Naturally, it didn’t take long for something like an exotic, expensive drink to spread and the first chocolate factory was opened in London in 1657. On the Continent, chocolate drinking was pretty much exclusively reserved for aristocrats, but in England, where coffeehouses had opened only five years before, “chocolate houses” opened as well making the drink available to the middle class. (The English would also invent the process of solidifying chocolate.)

By the end of the 17th century, chiles were moving out of chocolate recipes and sugar was moving in in greater quantities, for, it’s posited, the very same reason chocolate became popular in the first place – scarcity equals exclusivity equals wealth equals status. Sugar, simply put, was a mark of prosperity and thus social standing.

It took roughly another hundred years, but by the end of the 1700s, chocolate had become something that would be at least a little more familiar to modern consumers. The processes of grinding the beans and integrating milk and sugar had been refined, but making chocolate was still an ordeal: the beans, which first had to be roasted and shelled, were crushed and then ground on a hot stone. Because of tastes and expenses, chocolate of the period was not nearly so sweet as modern chocolate and because of technological limitations it was not nearly so smooth either. People began molding chocolate in the 19th century.

Meanwhile however, drinking chocolate was the most common way to consume it and, as one would assume, with its associations with wealth and social standing, the drinking of chocolate (and coffee) required specialized pots, sets and cups. While the terms are now muddled, chocolate pots, coffeepots and teapots were distinctly different forms that were easily identified in the period. (All three are visible in the picture above with coffeepot, teapot, and chocolate pot from left to right with the cream pitcher and sugar bowl in front.) Teapots are easier – they are short and round-bellied to give tea the necessary room to brew and to keep water hot longer, because unlike their counterparts, tea was prepared in the teapot, not simply served in it. Coffeepots are more slender and taller with elongated, often arching, spouts. Chocolate pots are also taller than teapots, but their spout is typically shorter with the opening often just below the rim. Another difference between chocolate pots and coffeepots can be observed inside the pot: filters. A coffeepot has a screen-like filter over the base of the spout to catch grounds while a chocolate pot does not. Chocolate pots are also often distinguished by their odd handles. Unlike the loop handle on a coffeepot, chocolate pots frequently have turned handles sticking straight out of the side of the pots. Less commonly observed, early chocolate pots often had a hinged or removable finial, sometimes attached by chain, to allow for the insertion of a stirrer.

While eating chocolate has only grown in popularity, drinking chocolate never achieved the staying power of drinking coffee, due in large part to how much more complicated the production of processing cocoa beans is versus that of processing coffee beans. Drinking chocolate dropped out of fashion by the mid-18th century, to be replaced nearly one hundred years later by the use of cocoa powder to make something closer to the hot cocoa we know today.

In terms of market value, chocolate pots can fetch anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars, with the value resting heavily on their age and material (silver, of course, has a steadier price). The terminology is often muddled as well, with chocolate pots not necessarily being clearly identified as such or with coffeepots being called chocolate pots. Ultimately well-wrought ones in silver with marks for known silversmiths are the most desirable.

A Frechen stoneware Bartmann krug, Germany, 16th/17th century, bearded mask to neck above foliate trim and portrait medallions, and with central banded verse, hinged pewter lid. Bartmann jugs, sometimes called Bellarmine jugs, are European stoneware pieces that were produced during the 16th and 17th centuries. They are so called because of their typical decorative detail – an applied molded bearded face lower on the neck of the jug, right above the shoulders. Bartmann decoration was used on jugs, pitchers, and bottles or flasks of all sizes.

“Bartmann” means, quite literally, “bearded man” in German and it was in Germany, particularly in the western area, in the Rhineland region around Cologne, that Bartmann pieces were manufactured. Molded decoration was the norm, but the bearded figure (also sometimes referred to as the bearded mask or Bartmaske) was most commonly associated with Cologne. A bearded figure appears throughout Germanic folklore as a sort of wild man of the forest and is thought to be the inspiration for the stoneware Bartmann. Throughout the years of manufacture, the decoration styles would change – early ones often just have the molded face decoration, later they were sometimes decorated with medallions, sometimes with a coat of arms, sometimes the body of the vessel itself was decorated, sometimes it bore religious sentiments, but the face is a constant.

These pieces are also sometimes referred to as Bellarmine (bell AR meen), which is believed to be a reference to Robert Bellarmine (1542 to 1621), a cardinal who vigorously opposed Protestantism, although the reason for this reference (ridicule from Protestants who were purchasing the exports and his equally firm opposition to alcohol are both suggested explanations) seems to remain a mystery.

However, exported they were. Archaeological sites around the globe have unearthed evidence of Bartmann jugs, which speaks both to the massive amount of pieces produced and to their longevity. There is also some speculation that they were used to hold charms, with the faces (which grew increasingly fantastical and grotesque during the decades of production) warding off evil spirits and that they helped spread the association and tradition that would lead to the more dramatic face jugs like those produced in America centuries later. Bartmann jugs were also popular enough to inspire English potters to copy the effort and to prompt a revival of their production in the 19th century.

Today at auction, Bartmann pieces can fetch anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Because of their age, condition can play a role in the price, as can the extent of the decoration and the size, but perhaps the most significant factor is their actual age – they were manufactured over so many years that the earliest ones, those from the early 1500s, for instance, can command very different prices from those produced more than two hundred years later in the early 18th century.

Winfield Scott rare lithopane (or lithophane) portrait with original cast metal display standLithophane comes from two Greek words: lithos, meaning stone and phainein, which has a more shaded meaning that is close to making something appear quickly. The term refers to an image or scene that is etched or molded into very thin porcelain, so that the intaglio image “pops” when light is placed behind the porcelain. This makes lithophanes three-dimensional, unlike the two-dimensional works of art (prints, photographs, etc.) from which they are often derived.

The technique appeared in Europe in the 1820s and spread quickly until they were being made almost everywhere, with the largest porcelain firms like Wedgwood and Belleek cranking them out in enormous numbers. A carver would take warm wax on a sheet of glass and, with the aid of a backlight, carve a scene before handing it off to have a mold cast, which would then be used to create hundreds of castings that were fired. Because of their thinness (as little as one sixteenth of an inch), there was traditionally a fairly high failure rate (some say as high as 60%) for the porcelain castings in the kiln.

Lithophanes were used, naturally, with objects related to household lighting: night lights, fireplace screens, lamps, but they also were used very cleverly, sometimes for erotic scenes, sometimes in the bottoms of mugs and beer steins, so that as the stein was drained, a scene would appear in the bottom. Lithophanes often depict many of the same scenes that appear in print images: religious events, literary scenes, portraits, etc., with some memorializing historical or political events. They were even used architecturally. For example, Samuel Colt, the firearms magnate, installed dozens of lithophanes throughout his Hartford, Connecticut home.

The value of lithophanes has to do with a number of factors, including the traditional ones regarding condition (or the condition of the object in which they are contained) and the nature/rarity of the object in which they are housed. Steins, particularly the ones with or without lithophanes that are known as regimental steins because they were often given out by military regiments, show this pricing variation clearly. Steins that are just typical steins may only fetch around $100, but ones that have a military history (like the German one pictured here), are associated with rarer military units, have more extravagant decoration, etc., can fetch considerably more. They are also valued based on the scene depicted, with rarer and more unusual views commanding higher prices, and value can also be influenced by the fame of the manufacturer.

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