|Shaw's - History of the Staffordshire Potteries - originally published in 1829|
Chapter 3 - On the Origin of the Art, and its Practice among the Early Nations
next: Chapter 4 - Manufacture or Pottery prior to 1700
previous: Chapter 2 - Lane End and the vicinity
contents: index of Shaw's book
[these headings are not in the original - they are added for ease of reading]
|Origin of pottery manufacture|
|The early use of Clay|
|Utensils for domestic purposes|
|Origin of the name Porcelain|
|Merchants to Britain|
|Manufacture in Britian|
BEFORE commencing the Details of the Rise and Progress of the Art of manufacturing Porcelain and Earthenware in this district, now distinguished by the appellation of the STAFFORDSHIRE POTTERIES; we consider it proper, if not indispensible, to mention briefly such historical collateral facts, as
tend to elucidate, in the absence of unquestioned data, the Origin of the Invention, its extensive spread among the most early families, and its preservation to the present day by some of those ancient nations, who are considered remaining branches of the earliest kingdoms.
There cannot be a doubt, that, in the earliest period of human society, Man would soon feel the necessity of possessing Vessels capable of receiving and containing any liquids he might desire to use for food, drink, or occasional refreshment; and also of preserving the superfluous quantity. Indeed, unless we admit that they possessed vessels of different kinds, by which they could convey the liquor to the mouth, we cannot readily account for the prevalent intemperance of the ancients.
In the infancy of Society, the pliancy and adhesive properties of Clay would be noticed, and suggest its application to various purposes. In Job, the most ancient author known, (B.C. 2247.) there is mention of the
Impression of a Seal upon Clay, (xxxviii, 14.) At that period it was a custom, (preserved to the present time, in those countries,) for persons who deposited any substances in a store room, to place on the lock, or hinge, which kept close the cover or door, a lump of soft clay, on which there was impressed the owner's peculiar mark, as the moderns now use a Seal. See Nordern, part 1. p. 72; Pocock, vol. 1, 26. Matt, xxvii, 66.
The facility with which ductile Clay can be formed into Bricks, and the hardness which it possesses after it has been burned, would soon suggest to those who used it, the application of it in forming various utensils for domestic purposes. The figure and size would accord with the purposes for which they were designed, and correspond to the maker's fancy; but the desire of ease would incite to the abstraction of all superabundant materials from the outside. The importance of the invention, and the simplicity of the principles, would excite in different persons the desire of understanding it; and cause them very speedily to attain some degree of excellence in the
practice.— "I think (says Mr. Jacob Warburton,) vessels of Earthenware for the purpose of holding wine, oil, and other liquids, were more ancient than vessels of wood—they would be made with very great facility."
The kingdom of EGYPT is believed to have been founded
Two thousand two hundred years before the advent of the Messiah. This people, in their union of fable and fact, mention their knowledge and perfection in this Art, and also in the manufacture of glass, (LOYSEL,
Art de la Veriere, p.1.) at a very early period of their history. Their Instructor in these, and the various Mechanical Arts, for which they subsequently became famous, they state to have been
Theuth or Thoth, (Phenician Taut, Greek Hermes, and Latin
Mercury, See Philo-Byblius, Sanconiatho; Livy. lib. xxvi, Herod, lib. v. c 7. and Annius of Viterbrium.) most assuredly one of Noah's sons or grandsons; Goth
thiot alt, signifying the lather of interpretation, and of his people;) Mercury being the scribe or amanuensis of Saturn or Noah, the father of all learning; the inventor of all arts, who gave them improved forms of speech, and introduced Letters for double communication.
The earliest Historical Records of the
CHINESE, mention the existence of the Art, and its practice in both Pottery and Porcelain, in considerable perfection. In this Empire, and also that of Japan, during the five centuries immediately preceding the Christian era, were manufactured Earthenware of very superior
qualily, and the elegant and delicate porcelain, (which Britons call China, from that nation.)
tse-ki, formed from the argillaceous earth, by the Chinese called
kaolin, in quality much like our China Clay, combined with the
silecious stone called petuntse, same as our Cornish growan stone.
This people are peculiarly remarkable for the care with which they have avoided all foreign intercourse; and thereby precluded every opportunity for strangers to make observations and collect information
concerning their manufactures. Lather D'Entrecolles had to employ considerable cunning to obtain Specimens of the earths used. Some writers have asserted that the modern productions of this country are inferior to the ancient; but from inspection and comparison of the different very ancient and modern specimens, we are persuaded that little if any alteration whatever takes place in either the quality, materials, or process. The most accredited statements of recent Travellers, mention that at King-to-Ching, in the province of Kian-si, the various Articles for constantly employing
five hundred furnaces, are prepared by eight hundred thousand workpeople.
During a long succession of ages, the PERSIANS have been well acquainted with and practised the various processes of manufacturing Earthenware and Porcelain of truly excellent quality. The Porcelain is formed of an argillaceous earth, which, by firing, becomes altogether like a pure enamel; this is combined with small pebbles, and Glass. The examination of fractured pieces gives a grain as fine in its particles, a transparency as clear, the enamel within and without as soft and pure, and the coating or varnish as exquisitely beautiful, as any of the productions of either China or Japan. Its tenacity is such that it will serve for pulverizing articles, and as it is not easily affected by alteration of temperature, it therefore is formed into utensils in which food can be boiled. There is mention of a vessel having been manufactured at Yezd, which weighed only the eighth part of an English Ounce, yet would contain six quarts of water. (Sir J. Chardin's Travels.) The victorious army of Pompey brought many porcelain vessels from Pontus to Rome. And Harmer, (vol. i. p. 75,) mentions that the King of Persia having been offered some Chinese Porcelain, by the Agent of the D.E. India Company, as a present, regarded it as so greatly inferior to the productions of his subjects, that he treated the offer with ridicule.
Some writers suppose the ware to be named
Porcelain, from the Porteguese name of a Cup, porcellana; that people having first brought this production from China to Europe. Others regard it as a contraction of the French
pour cent annees, from the supposition that their materials, were maturing 100 years prior to being used. But we prefer Whittaker's etymon, (vol. i. p. 55. 8vo. Account of Hannibal's Course over the Alps,)
that the name Porcelain comes from the herb Purslain, which has a purple-coloured flower, like to
the ancient china, which was always of that colour.— The English name,
China, is evidently from the country whence it was brought.
Porcelain, for its semi-vitrirication, requires the Silex and Alumina to be tolerably pure; and also for that glassy transparency and semipellucid lustre which constitute its chief characteristic. A large proportion of Silex is used; but the Alumina gives the consistence, which renders the mass ductile while soft; capable of being turned, on the lathe, to any shape, and of retaining its form when being fired or baked in the oven. The fusible materials require to be so adjusted, that only the most ardent heat can reduce them into the requisite state of vitrescence. Pottery seldom has the components in equal purity; they are also more fusible, and fewer in number; neither are they susceptible of the high polish and ornament which distinguishes Porcelain.
PHENICIANS (sic) doubtless were the most distinguished commercial people of antiquity. Near the centre of the south-east coast of the Mediterranean, were situated their most important marts, Tyre and and Sidon. The former
is allowed to have been founded by Agenor, the grandson of Nimrod; and from Sidon being so constantly mentioned in connection
with it, there is cause to believe that both ports were contemporaneous. From these were exported to
the neighbouring states, considerable quantities of glass and earthenware
From this source we regard the GREEKS to have obtained their knowledge of this manufacture. And only on this supposition, can be accounted for, the
ignorance of some of their writers concerning the nature of these productions; as Bellacensis and Fallopius; who called them
Stones and Semi minerals.
A colony of
Phenicians settled at the foot of mount Vesuvius, in Italy, 1000 B.C. assuming the appellation of Etruscans; where they further improved their taste and workmanship under Demaratus, of
Corinth, in 660. Here, in a large manufactory, and subsequently in smaller ones, in other parts of the country, they practised the Art with much successful assiduity, that the elegance and perfection of their productions, the taste displayed in the form and
ornamental department, and the perfection acquired in the various processes, have scarcely yet been equalled; and obtained for the Potters every possible encouragement, at Rome, and the chief cities of that mighty empire.
W. A. Cadell, Esq. (Journey in Carniola, Italy, &c.) says among much useful and very interesting information on other of the Arts. — "Pliny observes that Etruria was the first country of Italy in which the art of pottery was practised, and that this art was afterwards carried to a state of the greatest perfection there; and particularly, that Arezzo was much celebrated for this kind of manufacture.
The ancient Romans made much use of earthenware vessels, called Amphoræ, in which they kept their wine, although wooden casks were employed for the transportation of it from place to place, as appears by the representation of waggons loaded with wine on the column of Antoninus in Rome.
In the city of Madrid, at present, wine is kept in earthen vessels, and not in casks. It is uncertain whether the antique earthenware vases, decorated with paintings on mythological subjects, were made in Etruria or not; but it is certain that most of them have been found in the kingdom of Naples, and in Sicily, After the revival of the arts in Europe, several ingenious artists in different countries improved the manufacture; Castel franco for instance at Faenza in Italy, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, manufactured the Majolica, ("the Italian word for earthenware,) decorated with designs after Raphael and Julio Romano, specimens of which are preserved in many collections.
In France, Bernard de Palissy, versed in the chemical knowledge of that age, made great improvements in the art of fabricating fayance. Bötscher an apothecary at Dresden, produced two or three different kinds of earthenware, one of which was of a brownish red colour, semivitrified, and so hard as to receive a polish on the lapidary's wheel, by means of which the pieces acquired a lustre equal to that of glazed pottery; cups and other vessels of this kind are to be seen in the Japan palace at Dresden.
In the year 1709, the same Bötscher first, composed the white porcelain, in imitation of the Chinese, which is now manufactured at the King of Saxony's works at Meissen.
Other manufactories of the same kind have since been established at Sevres, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Naples. Florence, Vicenza, in Staffordshire, and at Worcester, &c. The decomposed white granite of Limoges, an ingredient which forms the Basis of the French porcelain, as well as the decomposed white granite of Cornwall, are both found to be similar to the Kaolin of the Chinese; with this material, and a fusible stone found in Cornwall, and in other places in Europe, resembling the Chinese Petunse, a porcelain is formed, possessing exactly the same qualities as that fabricated in China.
In Staffordshire the English stone ware is manufactured of white pipe clay, much lighter and better glazed than either the Italian majolica, or the French fayance; and in consequence of this superiority it has been introduced into most parts of Europe. Amongst those who have distinguished themselves in the manufactory of earthenware, is Luca della Robia, a Florentine Goldsmith and Statuary, born in 1388. He made heads and human figures in relief, and architectural ornaments of glazed earthenware, terra cotta invetriata. These figures were employed in the decoration of buildings, and many of them, the works of Luca della Robia, are seen in the Churches of Florence to this day.
Stone ware, after the Staffordshire manner, and porcelain, of a pretty good quality, are made at Doccia near Florence, at the manufactory of the Marquis Ginori. The porcelain earth is not got in the country, but is imported from Vicenza.
This establishment has now existed upwards of fifty years. Large vessels of red earthenware are made at Florence, and in other parts of Tuscany, for the purpose of holding oil and other things, some of which are four feet high. They are not made on the potter's wheel, but are formed of rolls of clay, built up one over the other, round a conical form of wood. The large oil jars are
contracted at the mouth, and are made in two pieces which are joined whilst the clay is wet. Large
earthen jars of this kind are also made in Spain as well as in Rome, and used instead of wooden casks.
Some writers have supposed the vessels brought to Rome at Pompey's triumph, and called
vasa, murrhina, murrina, murrea, (Pliny's Natural History, lib. xxxvii. 2.) were species of
precious stones, found in Parthia, of a whitish colour, and variously veined and variegated, so that in appearance they much resembled Porcelain. We are not informed how so many vessels of the same kind and material were found in one place. And both
Scaliger and Cardan, who rarely are of the same opinion, agree that the Parthians early practised the manufacture of Pottery and Porcelain; and that these vessels are really of the latter description. There certainly is an error in supposing Porcelain to have been fabricated from pulverized sea shells mixed with eggs, and buried
eighty or a hundred years. This may have been a size for the vessels; or the pulpy
appearance of the clay may have been mistaken for beaten eggs; and the shells would improve the pottery by the small portion of lime added to the ingredients. The practice of
long keeping it under ground to mellow, is occasionally adopted at the present time.
Mr. Joseph Blackwell, of Cobridge, when recently at Caltagnone, found a person who manufactures toys of earthenware, made of brown clay, painted in oil colours, upon the bisquet which far surpass any thing of the kind he ever saw in this district; and he purchased two as specimens.— At Calazolo he saw Baron Judica's Museum, collected at an enormous expense of time and money, fifteen years, and great part of his fortune; having by excavations under much of the city of Acre, discovered a great variety of vessels of Pottery, in the highest state of preservation, which can be proved to have been fabricated from the 9th century B.C. to the 7th A.D.
The early Sicilians were
celebrated for skill in potting. The beauty of these vases are well known in Italy; and sometimes a very
exorbitant price is obtained. For one the King of Naples lately gave 10,000 piastres, (£2200.) The Collection at Naples is superb, lor about,
£50. J. B. could have picked up a collection, which would have been invaluable in the Potteries.
From modern researches on the Trans-Atlantic continent, there is sufficient information acquired to warrant the conclusion, that the Art has a long time been practised to considerable extent, by the natives of the countries up the Black River, and also up the Amazon, Ohio, and Mississippi; and from the remains of manufactories which have been discovered, there is reason to believe that great traffic in these productions must have been carried forward with the neighbouring countries.
Two vases are extremely curious by well manifesting the first efforts of human ingenuity in practising a new invention. (Govenor Pownall's Narrative.
Archæologia, vol. V. p. 318.) Some specimens very recently discovered in Ross county, are regarded as equal in quality and manufacture to any in Italy.
The fact is indisputable, that the Phenician merchants traded to BRITAIN, for Tin. found only in the county of Cornwall, at a period at least two hundred and eighty-five years before the birth of Moses; and from this country were obtained all the supplies of tin for other nations. (Numb, xxxi, 22. B.C. 1456. 1 Kings, x, 22, B.C. 1000, Ezek. xvii, B.C. 600.) (Boye's Pantheon, p. 140. ref. 9. 6 edit.)
In the way of Barter, did these merchants supply our ancestors with the various Articles in request, whether the productions of other nations with whom they had dealings, or the manufacture and produce of their own country.
Among these, it appears proper to include Vessels of Pottery; because some yet remain, which are regarded as objects of peculiar interest, from their undisputed antiquity, tho' rude in construction, and irregular in ornament; and which are admitted to have been brought into England, many centuries prior to the Roman Invasion.
Commercial interchanges render the nations of the earth reciprocally dependent on each other, in consequence of the transporting their produce and manufactures; — the sources of employment to millions of mankind, who thence are enabled to
provide supplies for the temporal necessities and personal comforts of themselves and families.
The convenience of utensils of Pottery, and the ease and trifling expence with which they were
fabricated, may be supposed to excite the Britons very early to attempt
The manufacture of similar articles. When they first commenced the Art, cannot be accurately determined; but the remains of old potteries, which have been discovered in several of the counties of England, at different times, warrant the conjecture of the period being long anterior to any authentic
next: Chapter 4 - Manufacture or Pottery prior to 1700
previous: Chapter 2 - Lane End and the vicinity
contents: index of Shaw's book