Four intact ginger jars, all the same height were recovered from the Jacksonville “Blue China” wreck site, almost certainly representing examples from a larger quantity shipped aboard the vessel. All four are missing their lids and no maker’s marks are present. The hand painted blue-underglaze decoration features a house by the water, a man fishing and a sailing boat. The outline of the embellishment is drawn with light and heavy blue lines and the color is washed to lighter shades to contrast with the white porcelain. Dated relatively tightly to the period 1840-60, these ginger jars help define the earliest date when the ship may have been wrecked.
Oriental (Canton) ginger jars were popular exports to both America and Britain for much of the mid-19th century. The name ‘ginger jar’ derives from the fact that similar containers were used for the export of large quantities of crystallized ginger (as well as other pickled food items) from China.
Americans’ taste for fine china developed during the Colonial era, when Chinese goods first came to the New World in British hulls. After the American Revolution merchants were free from the embargoes and monopoly restrictions formerly imposed on the colonies. The Orient, long a monopoly of the British East India Company, was now accessible to American shipping. Direct trade between the United States and China began in 1784 with the famous Empress of China, which sailed from New York to Canton, the only Chinese port open to Western nations. By the 1790s American trade with China had surpassed that of all other nations except for Great Britain.
The China trade had in fact, become especially important to America as a prolific source of revenue to both American merchants and the government, and for the essential ‘necessities’ it provided the American consumer, including tea, silks and porcelain. Yet, by the mid-1850s, as the ceramic composition of the “Blue China” shipwreck verifies, Chinese porcelain was greatly surpassed by British earthenware and was no longer considered to be an obligatory necessity for the vast majority of Americans.