The Saints’ Rest excavations conducted by the Campus Archaeology Program have been well-documented and researched not only because this was the inaugural project for CAP, but also that it is one of the earliest buildings on campus, giving us a rare glimpse into how students …
Where did the kitchenware at MSU come from during the early years of the school? As it was not economical to purchase dinnerware sets in the same way families purchased dishes for their home, the college most likely turned to catalogue companies, the Costco of the past. Evidence for this large scale purchasing of dinnerware and kitchenware items lies in purchasing logs and archaeological evidence. As discussed previously, the college purchased many different types of plates, bowls, cookware, and glassware in order to accommodate the students living in the dormitories on campus. Several ceramic sherds have been uncovered through Campus Archaeology excavations at the Brody/Emmons site, the first East Lansing dump, with the makers mark present showing that they were from “Albert Pick & Company.”
In 1857, Albert Pick and his brother Charles founded ‘Albert Pick & Company’, based in Chicago, as a kitchenware and furniture supplier for hotel and restaurant markets (Clayman, Made in Chicago Museum). The company grew steadily, and by the early 1900s, it had become a major supplier for hundreds of leading hotels, selling tables, chairs, silverware, linens, dinnerware, and even the first dishwashers! While most of the earliest ceramics purchased by MSU were from England, ‘Albert Pick & Company’ wares became more popular in the United States during the 1910’s, 20’s, and 30’s, corresponding well with the time period in which the Brody/Emmons dump was in use.
Among their many items for sale, Albert Pick and Company offered a wide variety of dishes, as can be seen in the photos below from their 1913 catalogue. Not only were different types and designs of dinnerware available, but a range of sizes were also provided. For example, six different sizes of plates were advertised in ‘The Green Newton Pattern,’ allowing the purchaser to tailor their choices based on their specific needs.
Pictured below is an example of one type of Albert Pick and Company plate or saucer bought and used in the East Lansing area. Unfortunately, we are currently unable to narrow down the manufacturing date of this dish, or find the name of its pattern, but future research may be able to address these questions. The makers mark below states:
Albert Pick & Company
While there is no direct evidence that this specific dish was purchased by MSU, as it was recovered from the first East Lansing dump, it is possible that it was bought for use on MSU’s campus or at a restaurant or hotel in East Lansing.
Sheridan Plaza Hotel Silverplate Creamer by Albert Pick & co., c. 1920; Andrew Clayman – https://www.madeinchicagomuseum.com/single-post/2016/02/03/Sheridan-Plaza-Hotel-Silverplate-Creamer-by-Albert-Pick-Co-c-1920s
Trade catalogs from Albert Pick & Co. http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/SILNMAHTL_32473
The Archaeology of Shopping: Variations in Consumerism in the Past http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=5070
From China to Historic MSU: A Not-so-Short History of Porcelain Part 1 http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=4869
From China to Historic MSU: A Not-so-Short History of Porcelain Part 2 http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=4943
Aren’t Bowls Just Bowls? Not for the First Students at MSU http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=4541
Avid readers of the CAP blog might remember our excitement last year when we discovered a piece of yellow-green vaseline glass in the Gunson assemblage. The glass glowed bright green under black light, indicating it contained uranium. This week as we continued to sort through …
Whenever we at CAP come across an interesting artifact, it sparks the inevitable, if inelegant question, “what was this thing doing on our campus?” It’s a simple question, but I’ve often found as I delve into researching an artifact that the journey of that object to our campus is connected not only with MSU’s history, but also with broader themes in American and even world history. This blog post explores how a broken dinner plate in an MSU professor’s trash pit is connected to a larger story of global trade, the rise of the middle class, and the beginnings of consumer society.
In his last blog post, Jeff discussed some of the decorated ceramics from the Gunson assemblage, the large collection of artifacts unearthed during excavations near Hannah Administration building. These artifacts date from the 1890s to the mid-1920s and are likely from a trash pit associated with the remodel of Professor Gunson’s house. One of these artifacts was a dinner plate decorated with a blurry, blue pattern on a white background.
As it turns out, this blurriness is not due to a manufacturing error or the effects of the elements, rather it is a decorative style known as “flow blue.” The name refers to the blue glaze that “flowed” as it was fired, giving patterns a characteristic blur. Flow blue was widely popular from about 1830 to 1915, and several pieces have been found on MSU’s campus.
Flow blue pottery was first manufactured in England sometime in the 1820s, but its origin story begins in China over a century earlier. In 1700, the East India Trade Company had recently secured England’s first successful trading post in Taiwan. As trade between China and England increased, so did exports of Chinese porcelain to Europe. Chinese porcelain was strikingly beautiful with rich, blue patterns hand-painted on stark white vessels. It was also delicate and subject to high tariffs, making it expensive and difficult to transport. Only the wealthiest could afford to import porcelain, adding to its allure.
English potters spent the next 100 years trying to replicate Chinese porcelain to meet demand for such a product. The difficulty lay in producing vessels that matched the bright white of porcelain. After many attempts including salt-glazed earthenware, creamware, and pearlware, the desired effect was achieved in the early 1800s with ironstone, a white-glazed stoneware.
While Chinese porcelain was hand-painted, transfer printing technology developed in the mid-18th century created an opportunity for potters to market their products to a wider audience. Transfer printing uses ink and damp tissue paper to transfer designs from an engraving to a piece of pottery. This method allowed for quick and easy application of designs, which reduced the cost per item. The result was an affordable luxury that could be sold to the emerging Victorian middle class.
Transfer printed pottery became a highly successful early form of mass production, and precipitated some of the earliest mass marketing efforts. Transfer printed products could be produced cheaply and in large quantities, but in order to drive up demand, potters employed new marketing techniques such as catalogues, traveling salesmen, and showrooms in major cities. Items that were once primarily seen as utilitarian became decorative, collectible status symbols for the middle class.
One slight disadvantage to transfer-printed items is that they tend to have an overly crisp look that makes them appear obviously manufactured, rather than hand-painted. No one likes to look cheap, so potters had to come up with a way of disguising this quality.
Enter: Flow Blue. Cobalt oxide, the compound responsible for the blue color in transfer printing inks, tends to bleed slightly when vessels are glazed and re-fired. The bleeding produced designs that appeared handcrafted, hid minor cosmetic defects, and thus looked more expensive. The blue could be made to “flow” even more with the addition of lime or ammonium chloride.
It was sometimes difficult to control the amount of “flow.” Manufacturers ended up with large stocks of factory seconds rejected because the patterns were too blurry. Factory seconds were shipped to the US and sold cheaply in the American market. Here, flow blue became especially popular with the middle class who could now afford to buy these decorative items.
Flow blue was printed on a variety of mediums, but ironstone was particularly popular in America because it was durable and impermeable, which made it more sanitary than earlier, more porous ceramic wares. However, ironstone could only be decorated in a limited number of ways because few glazes other than the blue transfer-print could withstand the heat of firing. This meant that a lot of 19th century ironstone was decorated in flow blue—tea sets, dinner plates, and even dog bowls—and potters had to get creative with their designs.
By the late 1800’s, more than 1500 patterns were available in flow blue. Early flow blue patterns mimicked Chinese imports, featuring imagery such as pagodas, temples, and mountains. Later, English pastoral scenes and floral motifs became fashionable. The plate recovered from Professor Gunson’s trash pit features a floral “Montana” pattern manufactured by the Johnson Brothers.
The Montana pattern found on the plate in the Gunson assemblage dates to about 1913, which means Professor Gunson may have had some of the last flow blue exported from England. Around 1915, most English manufacturers stopped making flow blue. The cobalt used by English potters came from Saxony in Germany, and World War I effectively cut off this supply.
As I researched Gunson’s dinner plate, I couldn’t help but think about how this object connects MSU to a whole range of historical events. Flow blue pottery is the result of a century of English attempts to replicate Chinese porcelain, the demand for which was created over hundreds of years of trade between Western Europe and China. The transfer printing technology used to produce flow blue pottery is one example of long-term trends in mass production and mass marketing. Even the fact that such a plate made it here to a rural Michigan campus relates to the growth of a middle class able to select and purchase items like decorative dinnerware for use in their homes. Sometimes a broken is just a broken plate, but with a little bit of context, sometimes a broken plate reveals a (literal) piece of history.
On university campuses, all sorts of different items are present. One type of item that is commonly found but under-utilized are industrial ceramics. Also known as hotel wares, hotel china, or restaurant china, these ceramics are designed to be extremely tough and cheap, perfect for …
As every archaeologist knows for every hour you spend in the field, you can expect to spend 4 hours in the lab. This has proven true for our recent field school excavations. A fruitful 5 week field school this past summer has left us with …
My project involves examining where, what company, and the timeframe the different marker’s mark, collecting from the excavation from the Admin/Gunson site, came from. As we wrapped up with Unit A on Monday, I finished taking and collecting pictures of the marker’s mark found from each level. After sorting them out into groups, I came to the conclusion that the majority of the dishware was from K. T. & K Co. (Knowles Taylor & Knowles), Johnson Bros, and the Homer Laughlin China Company. I am still in the processing of determining where and what company the other marker’s marks are from. It’s difficult when only parts of the marker’s mark is present or has been damaged.
Marks & Library has been an excellent resource that I have turned to. They have images of different kinds of maker’s mark and can help with determining the timeframe of which they were used to and from. I have also looked at a few books in the arts and humanities part of MSU main library. They have several books about ceramic, dishware, and marker’s mark.
I think the most different and interesting piece of marker’s mark from Unit A would have to be C. Ahrenfeldt Limoges from level 10. Limoges style porcelain was produced near the city of Limoge, France beginning in the late 18th century and continues to this day. It does not refer to a specific manufacturer, but rather the style of ceramic. This piece appears to have two marker’s mark printed together. C. Ahrenfeldt Limoges comes from the company Charles Ahrenfeldt and the second marker’s mark comes from the company Charles Ahrenfeldt & Son. On the other side includes some flower decoration. This is helpful because having one piece of decoration can help determine what the complete dish would have looked like and can possibly help determine the timeframe of the marker’s mark.
Not all of the marker’s mark has decoration present on the opposite side. Since my project focuses on determining the company and timeframe of the maker’s mark, not having the decoration doesn’t hurt my research but can only help it.
I am very excited to start the next unit. I would like to compare the different marker’s mark from Unit A to the other units to see if there are more fragments of maker’s mark that possibly could be are from the same company but a different timeframe or even a different company.