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Marketing Ceramics in North America Essay

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    On April 1980, the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum and the Hagley Museum and Library cospon- sored a conference on the marketing of ceramics in North America. Four of the papers from that con ference have been brought together in this issue of WinUrthur Portfolio. 1 he objective of the conference was to view ceramics in terms of consumption rather than pro duction, technology, or t limnology of forms. Ceramic studies were traditionally dominated by questions of identification and attribution, con cerns that grew out of 1 fie needs of collectors, who want to know how old a vessel is. who made it. and fiow it was made. Such questions created the de mand for research into chronologies, typologies, and the technology of pottery production. Because this research related to collet lions of surviving ves sels. investigation tended to concentrate 011 wares that our ancestors thought worthy of preserving and that providence favored. Pottery selected for preservation naturally represents the more costly wares, which were thought worthy of passing from generation to generation. A good example of this selectivity is a collection of ceramics made in the 1860s and 1870s from the households of United F.mpirc loyalists in Nova Scotia. This collection is dominated bv blue transfer-printed Staffordshire ware, C.hinese export porcelain, and other highly decorated ware fash ion able in the late eighteenth century. Almost completely lacking arc plain un decorated creamware, shell-edged ware, banded liowls. mugs, jugs, and other cheap ware common when the United F.mpirc loyalists were moving to Canada. Obviously, the cheap wares were not con sidered important enough for preservation. Early American books on pottery, like The China Hunters’ Club (1878) and Collecting China in America (1892). clearly show what kinds of wares were considered collectible: Chinese export porcelain, products of Josiali Wedgwood, and transfer-printed ware hearing American historical views or heroes.

    In England traditional ceramic research was governed not only by what ceramics survived but also by the survival of potters’ records, like those of Wedgwood. British research often dealt with the products of a single factory or geographical area, such as Wedgwood’s works. Chelsea porcelain, or l-erds creamware. In a word, these* studies were object oriented, and tire objects studied were a highly selected group of survivors. With the development of the historic preserva tion movement in plates like Mount Vernon. Montkello. anti Williamsburg, new ways of looking at artifacts began to appear. Those working in historic preservation and with period rooms in museums looked at ceramics as pan of an as semblage of artifacts. Preservationists and curators were interested in establishing what belonged in a period sc’tting rather than limiting themselves to the study of those ceramics that happened to sur vive. New sources were employed in ceramic re search, such as engravings and drawings of room interiors, probate inventories, diaries, business records, and newspaper advertisements. But his toric preservation projects and museum period rooms usually concentrated 011 the elite members of society, which limited the understanding of the types of ceramics used. Along with the historic preservation movement came the development ot historical archaeologv as a tool for restoration. Archaeological excavation gave x liolars tin* opportunity to study what did not survive or what was not saved.

    To some extent ar chaeological ceramic assemblages and probate in ventories are complementary. The first represents an accumulation of ceramics lost or discarded over a period ol time, while the second represents an accumulation of ceramics that survived usage, were saved, and were present in the household when their owner died. Our ability to observe changing ccramic-consumption patterns from archaeological and probate inventory data is no doubt com promised because these sources lump together wares from varying ranges of time, making it diffi cult to separate the assemblages into meaningful time components. We study the sum of acquisition, retention, and loss rather than the process. One major resource for overcoming the diffi culties presented by archaeological assemblages and probate inventories is business records from potters, importers, jobbers, and country stores. The great potential of business records has been overlooked because they usually include very statu descriptive detail, which has limited the ability of researchers to tie record entries from account hooks, hills, and other commercial documents to specific ceramic types and patterns. Business rec ords have been used as a source for an occasional pithy description useful in establishing chronology, I Hit, with few exceptions, the transactions of per sons and firms who market ceramics have not been used to study the consumption of the goods, the process of distribution, price relationships among ware types, or other aspects of buying and selling ceramics.

    The objective of the conference on the marketing of ceramics in North America was to hring together scholars involved in studying busi ness records of the pottery trade to address someol these issues. In order to understand the ceramic trade it is necessary to have some knowledge ol the sources and types of eighteenth- and early nineteenth ccniury ceramics. Before the third quarter of the eighteenth century a great diversity of ceramics was imported to North America. Examples that readily come to mind are Dutch delft, French faience. English delft. Westerwald stoneware. En glish stoneware, white salt-glazed stoneware, combed slipware. red earthenware, and Chinese and English |xmelain. This diversity, which is a hallmark of cightecnth-century ceramic as semblages. began to narrow in the last quarter of (he eighteenth century as England and. more par ticularly, Staffordshire gained dominance over the world ceramics market. The Staffordshire potteries developed from a craft into an industry during the eighteenth cen tury- Among the important steps in this process were the introduction of calcinated Hint, Cornish clays, liquid gla/e. plasier-of-paris molds, steam powered flint mills and clay-mixing equipment, transfer printing, and the construction of canals connecting Staffordshire to Liverpool. As large factories emerged, generalists became specialized workmen. Potters became throwers, handlers, pressers, painters, printers, slipmakers. dippers, kilnmen, and so on.

    Specialization broke down what had been a single skilled occupation into many semiskilled jobs. Fatuity organization, spe cialization of skills, and standardization of vessel and ware tvpcs all led to an economy of scale, which increased production and lowered costs. Marketing plaved a key role in the expansion of the Staffordshire pottery industry. After Josiah Wedgwood pcrlccted his cream ware, lie was able to secure orders for large services of it Irom royalty in England and abroad. After Queen Charlotte of England gave her older and appointed him Potter to the Queen in 1767. Wedgwood christened the product “Queen’s ware.” Even more extensive and expensive was the large Imperial Russian Service that Wedgwood made for Catherine live Great of Russia in 1773.* These and other orders from elite society gave cream ware a respectable social status that enabled it, an earthenware, to compete with porcelain as a desirable leaware and tableware. Prior to the development of creamwarc. earthen wares were k>w-status ceramics, while porcelains were always high-status wares with a limited mar ket. Through creative marketing, Wedgwood was able to produce creamwarc for all levels of the marketplace. The low cost of creamwarc and the status ac corded it by creative marketing made it a devas- tating force in the marketplace. By the end of the eighteenth century creamwarc had destroyed the market for many common types ol ware, such as delft, faience, and white saltg lazed stoneware. It also retarded the development of the English porcelain industry. The impact of English cream ware on the world market was described Fanjas dc Saint-Fond in his account of a tour through England in 1784:

    lu excellent workmanship, its solidity, (he advantage which it ixisx-sse* «if sustaining the action of fire, its fine glaze, impenetrable to acids, the beauty and convenience of us form, ami the cheapness of its price, have given rise to a commerce so active and so universal that in travel ling from Paris to Petersburg, from Amsterdam to the furthest part of Sweden, and from Dunkirk to the ex tremity of the south o( France, one is served at every inn with Fnglish ware. Spain, Portugal, and Italy are supplied, and vessels are loaded with it for rhe East and West Indies and tlx- Continent of America”

    The emergence of crcamware as the dominant type in a world market led to a great deal of uni formitv of description in business records dealing with ceramics. For example, prior to the 1780s ceramics were described by their ware type. After с rcamwarc virtually eliminated most older kinds of ware, description ol type no longer served any purpose; business records began 10 describe the decoration instead. Typical terms of description after 1780 include: CC for cream colored, edged lor shcll-cdgc. printed for transfer-printed, dipped or dipt lor mocha and banded, and, simply, painted. Rarely is tl»e ware type mentioned, and it apears to have been ol little significance to potters or mer chants. Before industrialization in Staffordshire, En glish potters produced earthenware of minimal refinement for a limited market. Distribution was usually through traveling cralcmcn, who carried the wares on their backs or sold them from small carts. In fact, as late as 1785 the Staffordshire As sociation of the Manufacturers of Earthenware petitioned the House of Lords against the pro posed abolition of hawkers and peddlers on the grounds that it was likely to harm the sale and con sumption of pottery.

    But by 1785 the productive capacity of the potters was growing faster than the market for their wares, so that more and more potters were drawn into die role of merchants who marketed their own earthenware. Wedgwood. Josiah Spodc, and others set up showrooms in London and other fashionable locations. Iliev took on business partners with mercantile backgrounds—Thomas Bently with Wedgwood and William Copeland with Spode. Some potters established agents abroad, and a few sent members of their firms to act as agents. In 1777 the Trent  and Mersey Canal connected the potteries with the great port of livcrpool. which further promoted foreign trade.4 The Association of the Manufac turers of Earthenware was established in Stafford shire in 1784 and for a brief period took an active role in lobbying Parliament against the Irish trade bill and for a favorable trade tariff with France. During the 1780s increased access to the European market absorbed the expanding productive capac ity of the Staf fordshire potters. Rut even this mar ket became limited during the Napoleonic Wars and later because of tariff harriers set up by Euro pean countries to protect tlieir own ceramic manu facturers from the industrialized Staffordshire in dustry.

    As the European market for the Staffordshire potters declined, it was replaced by a growing North American market, especially the United States, which, with almost no manufacturers of refined tablewares to protect, had minimal tariff barriers. The United States was the largest cus tomer every year between the end of the War of 18iv and the eve of the Civil War. generally pur chasing between 40 and 50 percent of the ware exported from Staffordshire.* With the emergence of the American market as the largest importer of English ceramics came accommodation to Ameri can tastes. Various potters brought out transfer printed patterns depicting American places, heroes, and even military victories over England Three major Staffordshire potters. Enoch Wood. William Adams, and Thomas Mayer, used im pressed marks on their pottcrv that incorporated the American eagle. England continued as the major source of ceramics for the United States until the American whitewane industry became firmly established during the Cavil War. The only other important source, which developed after the Revolution, was porcelain from China. The growth and development of the Stafford shire pottery trade from the late eighteenth into the mid nineteenth century was due to expanding maikets and generally good economic conditions.

    However, production still often appears to have exceeded demand, and at times markets were cut off by wars, embargoes, or tariffs. Ceramic prices fell faster than commodity prices during the first half of the nineteenth century. In response to ad verse conditions at various times during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Stafford shire potters joined together in price-fixing agreements. Copies of price-fixing lists for 1770, , and 1846 have sur vived, and these documents reveal a great deal about the marketing of pottery .1 Descriptive terms and sizes used in the 1770 price-fixing list reapear in subsequent lists, hut the 1770 list is for un decorated creamwarc, and it is not until 1796 that a single list contains undccoratcd creamwarc, shell edged, painted. dip[x-d, transfer-printed, and Egyptian black. Terms and sizes in the 1796 list persist through 1846. In short, the products sold by the Staffordshire pottery industry become very standardized in decorative types, sizes, and prices. Ware types, except for CC, or uiidetoratcd creamwarc, were ignored. Conspicuously absent from these lists is the term pcarluare, which is the most common classification nomenclature ceramics scholars anti archaeologists use to describe Staf fordshire wares of this period. Importation of ceramics to North America in volved a variety of merchants and agents.

    Before the middle of (lie eighteenth century, urlxm cen ters like Philadelphia. New York, and Boston were not large enough to support merchants who spe cialized in marketing ceramics. Instead, general merchants dealt in ceramics along with other products, such as hardware, textiles, and station ery. Because these men were importers, their or ders responded to the needs of local markets, which ate reflected in correspondence with the potters. However, pottery was a minor part ol their business, and the attention they paid to it was lim ited. Interpreting die nature of the local market is also complicated by the fact that importing mer chants were often involved in wholesale as well as retail trade. I licir wholesale customers were country merchants who ran general stores. One specialized group of importing merchants in the early period were the agents of large English companies who imported a generalized line of manufactured goods to trade for raw materials. The best known example of this type is Hudson’s Bay Company, wlikli established many outposts to trade goods lor furs.” On a smaller scale arc the Scottish firms, whose f actors in rural Mary land and Virginia traded goods for tobacco.

    I’hc first paper in this collection concerns the ceramics available from three Scottish factors operating in southern Maryland during the late eighteenth century. Re gina Rlasx zyk used account Ixxiks and inventories from their stores to determine the types of ceramics the firms were importing. By the late eighteenth century the urban cen ters of the United States were beginning to include more importers who specialized in ceramics and glass. Along with these merchants came increased demands on the Staffordshire potters to modify tfieir products to meet specifically American needs. Letters from the specialized merchants provide a rich insight into this process. Arlene Palmer Schwmd’s paper uses the correspondence of Loyalist merchant Frederick Rhinelander, who was importing into New York City during the revolu tionary war, to provide us with an analysis of mar keting during the British occupation. As w ith most importers’ papers, the descriptive detail is particu larly rich. Prior to the War of 1812. ceramics and other manufactured goods were imported with mer chants’ capital or credit. Merchants, in turn, dealt directly with their customers, often extending credit to them. A major change occurred as a result of the War of 1812. during w hich large quantities of English goods were warehoused for shipment to the United States in anticipation of peace. Eager to move goods out of the warehouses, many manu facturers shipped directly to commission mer chants rather than await specific orders from cus tomers.

    In ports like New York these goods were auctioned off. undermining to an extent the reg ular merchant importer. Often the auction prices were even lower than the merchant’s wholesale price to lire country trade. In 1817 New York re duced taxes on auction sales and imposed regulations that required sale to the highest bidder. Regular auction markets grew up in New York and other large cities to dispose of merchandise sent bv manufacturers. Along wath these markets came jobbers, who purchased their goods at auction and who lesaled them to the country merchants. Job bers had little control over what came to market and had probably no contact with the Staffordshire I.asl in the collection is a study of a North American potter. Before the Civil War economic advantages were insufficient to promote the de velopment of a domestic whitcwarc industry, but there were a fair number of crockery manufactur ers in the United States. Susan Myers examines the marketing of crockery from Baltimore (Hitter Mauldcn Perine. Bv presenting these papers, each of which uses merchants’ records to assess the distribution and consumption of ceramics, we ho|ic to encourage others to look at these rich resources and to go beyond aesthetic and technological chronology and identification of decorative patterns. I would like to thank Winterthur Museum and llagley Museum and Library for cosponsoring tlic April 1980 conference.

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