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Tableware

The “Blue China” wreck represents the remains of an American coastal trader which had likely originated in New York and was transporting a cargo of largely British Staffordshire ceramic imports along the eastern shores, and perhaps into the Gulf of Mexico. The over 300 ceramic vessels recovered from the site comprise nine principal pottery types that date generally to between 1850 and 1860. The majority of the ceramic pieces represent the prevailing tableware styles available to a largely middle class American consumer. Included in the tableware category are shell-edged whitewares, slip-decorated white and yellow wares, ironstone china, transfer-printed ware and glass tumblers.

Beginning in the latter part of the 18th century Continental Europe was generally the largest export market for Staffordshire ceramics. Yet by the mid-1830s this trend had shifted to America, with its expanding population providing a fast developing market for British ceramics. By 1850 the US had imported in just two decades over 30 million pieces of Staffordshire earthenware, totaling twice the volume of ceramics exported to Europe in that same year. By this time, the bulk of Staffordshire exports were handled by New York ceramic importers and dealers, who controlled the distribution network for the internal American trade.

The value of the “Blue China” wreck ceramic collection lies in its contextual relationship as a large, closed single deposit of mainly Staffordshire imports that reflect the cultural tastes and consumer habits of middle class America in a very narrow timeframe. No comparable ceramic assemblage has been found on the wreck of any other merchant vessel off America.

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