EXCITEMENT IS BREWING; This battered teapot may not look like much... but its historic significance is causing a considerable stir.
The fact that it cost its owner a mere PS15 at an antiques fair in the Midlands makes the story even more compelling.
Salisbury, Wiltshire auctioneers Woolley & Wallis are playing down its likely selling price when they offer it on February 20 because of its less than perfect condition, but their ceramics specialist Clare Durham, who first identified its importance, reckons its significance cannot be underestimated.
Research has revealed the teapot is the earliest piece of porcelain ever made in America, produced by an enigmatic Staffordshire emigre master potter who even gave the great Josiah Wedgwood cause to be concerned.
Little is know of its maker John Bartlam (1735-1781) before he travelled to America. The UK Registry Duties Paid of Apprentices Indentures, 1710-1811 has a record of payment made on May 30, 1761 when a Simon Chawner is apprenticed to Bartlams, who is described as "Potter of Lane Delph, Staffordshire".
Lane Delph was one of the principal areas of the ceramics industry and Bartlam would have been one of a number producing creamware, pearlware and earthenwares.
However, probably in some debt, he learned that good quality clay had been found in the Charleston area of South Carolina and in about 1763, he and his family set sail to seek their fortune.
The move was a canny one. The British colony was, at the time one of the most fashionable, with residents vying to have the latest and finest ceramics shipped over from England. South Carolina was also part of the lucrative kaolin belt, which shipped so-called "Cherokee" clay by the ton to potters in the UK.
Bartlam established his first factory in 1765 in Cain Hoy on the Wando River, where with the help of African American apprentices, he produced earthenware pots good enough to rival Wedgwood's.
Indeed, in a letter to his patron, Sir William Meredith, Wedgwood expresses fears both that Bartlam's success might encourage workers at their Etruria factory to leave and join him.
By 1771 Bartlam claimed to be making "Queens Ware" - a Wedgwood staple - and "china" at a factory located Charleston itself, but that business failed in 1773.
Undaunted, the following year, he opened another factory in Camden, South Carolina, from which he was exporting Queens Ware which, according to his advertising, was "equal in quality and appearance, and can be afforded as cheap, as any imported from England."
The American War of Independence of 1775 affected production and Bartlam died in 1781, his property sold off to clear his debts.
American ceramics scholar Dr George Terry had researched Bartlam for years and knew he had a kiln somewhere in the Cain Hoy area, but not exactly where or what had been made there. The breakthrough came in 1972, when shards of pottery were uncovered by a bulldozer.
One piece in particular caught his eye, a piece of "Pearlware" painted delicately with a blue Chinese figure in a boat with a curved bow. Eighteen years later, Terry and archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology revisited the site, which was about to be cleared for houses.
Digs subsequently revealed the site of Bartlam's house and thousands more pottery shards, proving that he had worked there from 1765-1770. Among them were more pieces of the same blue and white pottery, which when tested, proved to be true soft paste porcelain.
This astonishing find made Bartlam the earliest known producer of porcelain in North America.
In 2010, the detective story shifted to the UK when a tea bowl whose distinctive transfer-printed pattern matched the Cain Hoy shards was discovered in a private collection. Previously it was believed to have been made by Joseph Shore's short-lived Isleworth factory in London.
Once identified, it was purchased privately by the Chipstone Foundation, a Milwaukee-based foundation devoted to promoting the study of American material culture and the decorative arts. Although the purchase price is unknown, it is thought to have beeen in the region of $50,000-$75,000.
A John Bartlam showing the same as the teapot triple trellis Photo: Private Publicity surrounding that sale alerted the UK owners of two matching saucers and three further tea bowls, all previously thought to be Isleworth. One tea bowl was sold to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2012 for $75,000, while another was sold at Christie's in New York in 2013. It realised $120,000 (PS76,000). Both saucers are now in U.S. collections. The discoveries take the total number of known Bartlam pieces to seven. How they reached Britain is not known.
The big question is, are there more? Clare Durham believes there could well be as the seven pieces probably came from a matching tea service.
Here's how to spot them: | The transfer-printed design is similar on all pieces. One side of the teapot shows two Sandhill cranes (native to South Carolina) beneath a tall palm tree. To the right is a sampan with two figures seated aboard, one rowing, while in the background is a sailboat with a single figure and, to the right, a wooded settlement with two huts.
| The reverse shows a version of the "Man on the Bridge" pattern, the figure crossing from a Chinese garden with pagoda. This pattern was used at the English factories of Bow, Isleworth and New Hall and it is likely Bartlam employed an English decorator who had worked previously at one or other of the factories.
saucer design and the border. collection | The print on the saucers is the same as that on one side of the teapot. The other giveaway is a triple trellis border seen on the outside edge of the saucers and tea bowls.
| The Bartlam teapot will be sold on Tuesday, February 20. For further information, contact the auctioneers, telephone 01722 424500.
A John Bartlam saucer showing the same design as the teapot and the triple trellis border. Photo: Private collection Top: The Bartlam teapot showing the underglaze printed design of cranes, palm trees and sampan Bottom: Clare Durham of auctioneers Woolley & Wallis with the Bartlam teapot Three views of the Bartlam teabowl sold at Christie's New York for PS76,000 (Photo Christie's Images) The key to the discovery: shards from a Bartlam teabowl found by archaeologists at Cain Hoy and tested as soft porcelain Photo courtesy of The Charleston Museum, Charleston, South Carolina Teapot-3 The Bartlam teapot showing the underglaze printed
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|Publication:||Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)|
|Date:||Feb 19, 2018|
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