Earlier this summer, JPPM intern Sharon Osofsky studied artifacts from a mid-19th century privy in Baltimore. One interesting artifact tossed into the privy pit was a white earthenware plate printed with a scene of Lake George, New York (Figure 1). The back of the plate had a mark (Figure 2) that indicated that it had been manufactured by the British pottery firm of William Ridgway and Company.
Manufacturer’s marks on pottery are great tools for the archaeologist – they help us date not only when the piece of pottery was made, but also when the entire group of artifacts with which it was found ended up in the ground. So Sharon used the standard “go-to” source for British pottery marks – Geoffrey Godden’s Encyclopedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks (1964), and got a date range of 1830 to 1834 for this particular Ridgway mark. We realized we had a challenge, however, when further investigation revealed that the print from which the lake scene was taken was not published until 1840!
In that year, Nathaniel P. Willis published American Scenery: Or Land, Lake, and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature (Willis 1840). One of the illustrations in this book (Figure 3) was British landscape artist William H. Bartlett’s (1809-1854) 1837-1838 drawing of “Caldwell, Lake George” (William H. Bartlett Prints 2010). If William H. Bartlett was the first person to create a drawing of Caldwell, Lake George, then the dates assigned to the William Ridgway mark are incorrect and too early by one or more decades.
Sharon wrote a Curator’s Choice essay (Osofsky 2012- see link in references), ending with the hope that new sources would come to light that would help resolve this mystery. And assistance arrived several months later, from two archaeologists—Thurston and Sara Hahn. The Hahns, who work at Coastal Environments, Inc., in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are researching antebellum New Orleans ceramics importers. According to their research, one mid-nineteenth century importer was Samuel Elliott Moore, who placed this advertisement in The Daily Picayune on March 13, 1841:
“NEW, SPLENDID AND CHEAP! JUST OPENED, a new and beautiful pattern of DININGWARE, French octagon shapes, American Scenery, among which are the Capitol at Washington, Vale of Wyoming, Views on the Hudson, Lake George, &c. &c., which will be sold at prices which cannot fail to suit. The public are respectfully invited to call at the Great Pitcher, 37 Camp st.”
Moore arrived in New Orleans in circa 1839 and began importing ceramics in late 1840 and his advertisement refers to Ridgway’s American Scenery Series, which included a number of famous American landmarks. It would appear that Godden’s narrow date range of 1830 to 1834 for this Ridgway mark was incorrect, with the mark continuing to be used into the 1840s.
In an email correspondence with MAC Lab staff, Thurston Hahn wrote:
“Regardless, based on the 1841 agreement, marked pieces such as yours, and the March 1841 advertisement touting the “NEW” American Scenery decorations, I think it would be safe to argue that Ridgway used “W.R.” at least through 1841 and that the American Scenery series was likely introduced in late 1840. I use 1840, as that is when Willis published American Scenery: Or Land, Lake, and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature, … and Moore’s use of “NEW” in describing the pattern. …it would be hard to imagine that Ridgway didn’t base the series off of Willis’ book.”
This reasoning makes perfect sense to me! Thank you so much to the Hahns for sharing their research. Godden is a great source and will continue to be my first choice when researching pottery marks, but I will be more careful to confirm his dates using multiple sources!
Godden, Geoffrey A.
1964 Encylopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. London: Barrie and Jenkins.
2012 The Mystery of Lake George. http://www.jefpat.org/CuratorsChoiceArchive/2012CuratorsChoice/Aug2012-TheMysteryOfLakeGeorge.html
“William H. Bartlett Prints 1837-1842.” New York State Library. Last modified April 06, 2010. http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/msscfa/pri5584.htm.
Willis, Nathaniel Parker
1840 American Scenery; Or, Land, Lake, and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature. London: George Virtue.