Alexander Sniffen

In my family, there’s a box of silver utensils that have been sitting in the dining room, untouched and unmoved for as long as I can remember. For many families there are items like this – ceramics that simply serves as a symbol, and are purely decorative in nature. Blue transferware plates are a common collector’s item, and many are themed, but all have consistently served a decorative purpose in the household. Specifically, many are focused on commemoration of important regional or national events in American history.

Plate 2

Chief Justice Marshall, 1818-1846, Enoch Wood & Sons, Earthenware, D: 5.25in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Preston Bassett, N0114.1976. Photograph by Alex Sniffen

This plate in particular was produced in Staffordshire, England – a hub of ceramic production in the early and mid-19th century.[1] Many of these plates, however, were also produced and imported for an American audience – reflecting American icons, events, and important buildings in the blue transferware.[2]

For example, this blue plate – an import from Staffordshire and possibly by Enoch Wood & Sons (the “Father of the Potteries”) – depicts the steamship Chief Justice Marshall, of the Troy Line.[3] I say possibly, because the makers mark is either rubbed off or missing.[4] This ship, the “Race Horse of the North River” as it was called, was a record-breaking passenger ship, completing the trip from New York, New York, to Albany, New York in 14 ½ hours.[5] This was in stark contrast to the Clermont, which took nearly 30 hours to complete the journey.[6] For those seeing this massive progress, it was certainly a revolution. The individuals standing in the photo may be looking on with awe, as the Chief Justice Marshall bolts down the Hudson River.

Chief Justice Marshall, 1818-1846, Enoch Wood & Sons, Earthenware, D: 5.25in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Preston Bassett, N0114.1976. Photograph by Alex Sniffen

Chief Justice Marshall, 1818-1846, Enoch Wood & Sons, Earthenware, D: 5.25in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Preston Bassett, N0114.1976. Photograph by Alex Sniffen

Commemoration of this sort of American icon was not uncommon, as Enoch Wood and other potters produced multiple different designs commemorating things in the United States like Independence Hall or George Washington.[7] The Chief Justice Marshall is just one of many different pieces of American history that the potters exported to the United States. While this plate may not have been used for actual meals, much like the forks in the living room, it represents a greater and overarching spirit of family and unity, and in this case – the celebration of a revolution of transportation.

[1] http://northeastauctions.com/product/chief-justice-marshall-troy-shell-border-staffordshire-dark-blue-transfer-printed-plate-enoch-wood-sons-1818-46/

[2] https://sha.org/assets/documents/Staffordshire_ceramic_importers-ISAS.pdf

[3] http://www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com/history/enoch-wood-sons

[4] http://www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com/pottery/printed-designs/makers/enoch-wood-sons

[5] http://www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com/pottery/printed-designs/patterns/chief-justice-marshall-troy-line

[6]  Arthur G. Adams, The Hudson through the Years. Westwood NJ : Lind Publications, 1983.

[7] http://www.americanhistoricalstaffordshire.com/pottery/printed-designs/patterns/america-independence-14

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