The tableware assemblage aboard the SS Republic was comprised largely of sturdy white ironstone china, the product of a number of Staffordshire, England potteries. By the 17th century, Staffordshire had become a major ceramic production center due to the local availability of clay, salt, lead and coal, and close proximity to a number of seaports to ship finished goods. Hundreds of companies produced decorative or industrial ceramic items.
Also known as English porcelain, stone china, and white granite, ironstone china was first introduced by Staffordshire potters in the early 19th century as an alternative to white porcelain without the cost of these finer wares and with the added advantage of great strength and durability. These British wares, the least expensive lines available for price-conscious consumers, undercut the popular white French porcelains produced by Haviland and other Limoges and Paris makers.
Invoices of earthenware shipped to Philadelphia show that by the early 1840s, America had started receiving steady shipments of undecorated ironstone china and ‘white granite’ imports. The extreme hardness of ironstone, as well as its durability, and simpler style of decoration, was in fact, a key selling point and ceramic dealers began expanding their market to include services used by large steamship companies, clubs, taverns, colleges and hotels, advertising in city newspapers and via popular trade cards
The most prevalent forms of tableware recovered from the wreck site were ironstone china teacups and saucers in a number of shapes and sizes, including the smaller demitasse variety totaling over 600 pieces. All of the saucers bear the maker’s mark of John Maddock & Son, a prominent Burslem (Staffordshire) pottery founded in the 1830s.
The quantity of demitasse cups and saucers recovered from the wreck site suggests these wares were shipped as cargo perhaps intended for a New Orleans wholesale pottery agent.