Only three individual examples of transfer-printed wares were recovered from the Jacksonville “Blue China” wreck including this single plate featuring the 'Asiatic Pheasants' pattern. These few distinctive items may hint at the presence of a larger consignment of decorated cargo wares not identified during the limited on-site recovery of surface material; quite plausibly the result of loss through bottom trawling impacts.
The technique of transfer printing designs under the glaze on ceramics represents one of the great 18th-century English innovations that revolutionized the Staffordshire ceramic industry, enabling the application of complex decoration both quickly and relatively inexpensively. It also permitted uniformity of design between vessels that had previously not been possible. Transfer printing developed at a time when businesses were searching for ways to produce more economic goods by mechanical processes. Until then, the only methods known to potters for decorating their wares was painting, which was not only labor intensive but also costly. Only the most affluent could afford complete sets of dinnerware since every dish had to be carefully painted by an artisan. Transfer printing in effect allowed hundreds of sets of dinnerware to be produced at a fraction of the time painting took and for a fraction of the cost, thus making such table wares more readily accessible to middle class families.
Transfer printing is the process by which a pattern or design is first engraved on a copper plate. The plate is then inked with a metallic oxide pigment and the pattern printed onto a special tissue; the inked tissue is used to transfer the design onto a biscuit-fired ceramic object. The object is then glazed and fired again, which vitrifies the glaze and transforms the metallic oxide pigment to the desired color.
Staffordshire potters manufactured thousands of printed earthenware designs in a variety of colors and patterns, which gained immediate acceptance from both the British and American markets, many of which remained immensely popular until the mid-19th century. While the production span of most patterns was short-lived and often limited to one potter, patterns such as ‘Asiatic Pheasants’ as featured on this individual examples was extremely popular and was manufactured by a number of potters, and is still produced in Staffordshire today.
Podmore Walker & Co., which opened for business in Well Street, Tunstall, in 1834, is generally acknowledged as being the first producers of the ‘Asiatic Pheasants’ pattern (although who actually originated the pattern remains unsubstantiated). The company was joined by Enoch Wedgwood in 1854 and became Wedgwood & Co. in 1860. Well before this partnership, the pattern was used by a number of other manufacturers and not always under license. However, co-operation between pottery firms was not unusual, patterns were frequently loaned, and when large orders arrived they were often sub-contracted to other firms, even competitors, to meet demand.
The reverse of this plate bears the large printed mark ‘F. PRIMAVESI/& SONS/CARDIFF’ measuring Fedele Primavesi’s firm, located in Cardiff and Swansea, Wales, specialized in the re-sale of Welsh and Staffordshire pottery wares. The company was active from 1850-1915. Pottery agents or dealers such as Fedele Primavesi served as middlemen between the potteries and the china retailers or warehouses. In this case, the Primavesi mark was applied by the manufacturing pottery.