It’s spring and many people are planting flower and vegetable gardens in their yards.
As the ground is dug into or turned, broken pieces of pottery sometimes turn up. Are these just pieces of trash to be tossed aside? Not if you like history and often a good story. Those little broken fragments show years ago there was a house nearby, and they tell a story about the people who once lived there.
If you live in an old house, as so many in Columbus do, the broken pieces of plates and bowls tell you about the people who once lived there. The type of china can tell you the former residents’ economic status, but most interestingly the pieces can often be identified as to the company and pattern. That opens the door to go to antique shops and look for identical, but whole, plates to either just look at or buy and use.
Because china patterns change with time like fashion trends, the broken fragments provide a wonderful tool for dating the structure they were associated with. One of the more interesting old china patterns in our area was produced by James and Ralph Clews at their Cobridge Works in England. It was named “Landing of Gen. Lafayette at Castle Garden New York.” That pattern by Clews was made between 1825 and 1834.
Interestingly, I have found broken pieces of the pattern at three Choctaw house sites in western Lowndes County and one house site in Columbus. The popularity of the pattern with the Choctaws probably resulted from a meeting Choctaw chiefs Pushmataha and Mushulatubbee had with Lafayette in December 1824. News of the meeting was carried by newspapers across the country. That pattern was a Staffordshire transfer printed plate and would have been considered good china for middle-class or everyday china for wealthy persons.
Many different Staffordshire transfer printed patterns were popular in the Columbus area from 1817 to about 1880. The most common plate fragment I have found at house sites in Columbus is “Canova,” which was made by Thomas Mayer 1826-38 and possibly by others. The “Blue Willow” pattern was also popular but over a long period circa 1780 to the present day. It was introduced in 1780 as a less expensive earthenware imitation of a popular expensive Chinese porcelain with a house pattern on it. An interesting Blue Willow pattern from about 1820 had butterflies around the edge.
Plain white plates became popular about 1850 and have continued to be in use. The earlier white pieces were a white ironstone china and were often heavier with a molded design around the rim. An early pattern called sprigware was hand painted with flowers that might be multicolored or just blue.
One of the best patterns for dating is blue or green shell edge or embossed edge English earthenware plates and platters. The pattern, which antique dealers often mistakenly call feather edge, lasted from the 1770s into the 1890s. It was a very popular inexpensive china. Since the pattern evolved with slight changes every 15 to 20 years it is a wonderful tool for dating. It was a popular pattern in both native American and Columbus homes.
The most popular porcelain types included Chinese Canton Ware into the early 1830s. In the mid-1800s Old Paris Porcelain became popular and after 1870 Haviland/Limoges.
There is a lot of information available on the history and identification of the type of dinnerware that would have been common in Mississippi from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. I have only given a very simplified overview in this column. In determining the age of pieces of earthenware the glaze is important. Is it creamware (c1760-c1820), pearlware (1779-c1835), whiteware (c1820 into present day)?
Some of this can get rather complicated. One of the tests used to determine if it is hard fired, soft fired or ironstone ceramic is to see if the broken piece of pottery will stick to your tongue or “the test of the tongue.” When doing that one always wonders where that broken piece of china has been.
Rufus Ward is a local historian.