Fine Porcelain and Pottery - 20th February 2018

Lot 342

An important and previously unrecorded American porcelain teapot attributed to John Bartlam (Cain...

Estimate £10,000 - £20,000 | Hammer £460000

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An important and previously unrecorded American porcelain teapot attributed to John Bartlam (Cain Hoy, South Carolina), c.1765-69, printed in underglaze blue, one side with two cranes beneath a tall palm tree beside figures in a sampan and a solitary figure in another boat, the reverse with a version of the Man on the Bridge pattern, the eponymous structure linking small islands in a Chinese pagoda landscape, the cover lacking, the handle broken off and restuck, 9cm (3 1/2 inches) high, 17.5cm (5 inches) across.

This teapot has only recently been identified as a piece of early American porcelain, believed to be part of a matched tea service that reached England in in the late 1760s or 1770s. It is only the seventh recorded piece of John Bartlam's porcelain and relates to a group of wares sold at auction in 2002. Among that group were four teabowls which were found to match sherds excavated at Bartlam's factory site in Cain Hoy, South Carolina. Two of the teabowls were sold to American museums by private treaty, another to a private collector by the same method, and the fourth was sold at Christie's, New York, on 25th January 2013, lot 179; being bought by a dealer on behalf of a private collector in the US.

Alongside the teabowls in 2002 were sold two saucers, which have since been reclassified as Bartlam and both sold by private treaty to separate American collectors. The design on these saucers matches exactly that on one side of the teapot. More details of one of the saucers can be found in Steven Goss's new publication British Blue and White Saucers 1745-1795. Although the pattern on the saucers is not the same as that of the teabowls (known as the Bartlam on the Wando pattern), there are a number of significant similarities. The teabowls feature an unusual palmetto as part of one of the printed landscape vignettes, a device which is echoed to the interior and not known on any recorded piece of English blue and white porcelain of this era. The Salbas Palmetto is not a tree native to China or the Far East, whose designs Western potters were used to copying and adapting, but it is the state tree of South Carolina. It features more predominantly on the two saucers and the teapot, towering above two cranes standing at the water's edge. In Chinese Art, cranes are commonly depicted alongside pine trees as a common birthday motif and a wish of long-life and happiness (cf. Terese Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, p.180). However, as Sandhill Cranes are native to South Carolina then it is likely that the engraver of this print was used to witnessing such birds standing beneath palmetto on the banks of the Wando and adapted a Chinese design accordingly.

The Man on the Bridge pattern on the reverse of the teapot is known at several English factories including Bow, Isleworth and (at a later date) New Hall. The pattern here most closely resembles that of the London factories and, given the skill of the engraver, it is likely that Bartlam had employed an English decorator who had previously worked for one of these concerns.

Little is known of John Bartlam before he travelled to America. The UK Register of Duties Paid of Apprentice's Indentures, 1710-1811 has a record of a payment made on 30th May 1761 when one Simon Chawner is apprenticed to John Bartlam, 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 growing number producing creamware, pearlware and other earthenwares. He left England around 1763, possibly in some debt, to settle in South Carolina and set up business as a potter, establishing himself first in Cain Hoy around 1765. The move was a canny one - South Carolina was at the time one of the wealthiest and 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 Cherokee clay by the ton over to potters in the UK, including Josiah Wedgwood. In a letter to his partner, Thomas Bentley, in May 1767 Wedgwood writes, "I am informed they have the Cherok[ee clay] to a Pottwork at Charles Town"; the potter in question undoubtedly being John Bartlam.

The proximity of a supply of kaolin, the wealthy local clientele and his clear entrepreneurial spirit meant it was inevitable that Bartlam tried his hand at making porcelain to rival that being imported from England at great expense. It is almost certain that he had help from someone with knowledge of the porcelain industry, perhaps a fellow Brit from one of the London factories, since not only is the Bartlam body extremely close to several of the London concerns, the decoration also bears similarities to some established patterns at both Bow and Isleworth. As early as 1766, Josiah Wedgwood writes again (this time to his patron Sir William Meredith), "[we] have at this time among us an agent hiring a number of our hands for establishing new Pottworks in South Carolina: having one of our insolvent Master Potters there to conduct them".

By 1768 it appears that once again Bartlam was having some financial difficulties and, based on a newspaper advertisement of the time, was looking to relocate his manufactory to Charlestown itself. This he seems to have achieved by the end of 1770, but the Charleston pottery failed and closed in 1772. Bartlam relocated further inland to Camden, backed by a man called Joseph Kershaw, and continued to produce pottery there until his death in 1781.

Further Reading

Cinda K Baldwin, A Great and Noble Jar: Traditional Stoneware of South Carolina, pp.8-9 for an account of Bartlam's financial backers and various concerns.

Steven Goss, British Blue and White Saucers 1745-1795, pp.244-245 for a discussion on a John Bartlam saucer in the same pattern.

Robert Hunter, "John Bartlam: America's First Porcelain Manufacturer", Ceramics in America, The Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, 2007, pp. 193-195.

Stanley South "John Bartlam's Porcelain at Cain Hoy, 1765-1770", Ceramics in America, The Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, 2007, pp. 196-202.

Lisa R. Hudgins, "John Bartlam's Porcelain at Cain Hoy, A Closer Look", Ceramics in America, The Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, 2007, pp. 203-208.

J. Victor Owen, "Geochemistry of High-Fired Bartlam Ceramics", Ceramics in America, The Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, 2007, pp. 209-219.

Robert Hunter, "A newly discovered eighteenth-century American porcelain teabowl", The Magazine Antiques, January/February 2011, pp. 254-257.