Reviews / Compte Rendus - Elizabeth Collard, Nineteenth-Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada

Reviews / Compte Rendus

Elizabeth Collard, Nineteenth-Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada

Alan Smith
University of New Brunswick (Fredericton)
Elizabeth Collard, Nineteenth-Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada, 2nd ed. (Kingston and Montréal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1984), 477pp., 156 plates, numerous text ill. Cloth $39-95, ISBN 0-7735-0393-5. Paper $22.50, ISBN 0-7735-0392-7.

1 By any standards this is a remarkable book. Seen by the present reviewer, of English heritage, it is even more remarkable in that it is the only extensive work on ceramic history, known to him, dealing with what happened to those vast quantities of earthenware, and to a lesser extent porcelain, made in Great Britain and exported overseas in the nineteenth century. It presents the British ceramic industry from the other side of the coin, that of distribution and consumption, and justifiably so, since pots were made to be used, and not for the academic pursuits of decorative art historians! Although Canada was not, of course, the only market for British pottery and porcelain abroad, it does provide an excellent case study of what happened to the trade in one of England's former colonies; the author has given us a magnificent record of this trade, based on the most exacting standards of scholarship.

2 Collard has spent many years of painstaking and devoted research in collating her material, and has clearly continued this work since the first edition was issued in 1967. There are many additions, especially in the lists of Canadian potters, discoveries of artifacts and newspaper advertisements and much other new material. The primary aim of the work is to show how Canadians in the nineteenth century depended heavily on imports of crockery from Europe, mainly from England, and the enormous difficulties faced by traders and dealers in distributing the goods to the remote areas of a new country, particularly in Upper Canada. These problems followed the additional hazards of the Atlantic crossing in sailing ships, and later steamers. The first three chapters explain these matters in great detail, showing how the costs of the ocean crossing, wagon and river transport, wharfage dues and warehousing had to be added to the original cost of the pots from Staffordshire and other manufacturers. Descriptions of the trade via Hudson Bay, through York Factory and the Red River passage, in predominantly Indian territory, are stirring indeed and make one think again about the relatively humble products of the Staffordshire Potteries which had this future to face. By the 1880s such cities as Calgary and Winnipeg were receiving Staffordshire pots. The eastern areas were supplied by the St. Lawrence River route, while Upper Canada was often reached via Minnesota. Pottery destined for the far west, beyond the Rocky Mountains, faced the vast and dangerous journey round Cape Horn and up through the Pacific Ocean before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

3 As the trade developed Collard shows, in chapters 5 to 10, the establishment in Canada of various types of earthenware manufactured by famous English firms such as Wedgwood, Spode, Mason, Derby and Worcester, the latter supplying porcelain as early as 1832. Technical aspects of the pottery, particularly its methods of decoration, are described, and much basic information about the histories of the firms concerned is supplied. Stoneware, known variously as ironstone, ironstone china or stone china, being a hard and extremely durable material, was much in demand to overcome breakages during transport and to meet the hard conditions under which pioneers lived, when replacements were difficult and sometimes impossible. Hotels and steamboat companies also found ironstone an ideal material and much was manufactured especially for the Canadian market, with Canadian views and commemorative designs. Rougher British earthenwares, much from the northeast of England, often collectively known as Sunderland Ware, and Scotland are considered in chapter 11, and the supply of decorative and ornamental ceramic goods in chapter 12. Chapters 13 to 15 describe the importation of porcelain, on a much lesser scale than earthenware, from England, France, Germany, and in the early part of the century, from the Far East. Porcelain was generally distinguished from earthenware by the term "china." The section on Parian porcelain, an unglazed marble-like material used for figures and commemorative busts, is quite splendid, explaining the Canadian involvement in lotteries for this type of "art" manufacture through the activities of The Art Union of London. Chapters 16 to 20 show how such well-known firms as Ridgways, Podmore Walker & Co., Thomas Godwin, C.J. Mason, Davenport and many others from Staffordshire, provided pottery for the Canadian market, and the author has traced the sources of many prints used as pottery decoration, such as those by that intrepid voyageur and topographical artist W . H . Bartlett. Fascinating indeed is the story of the ways in which English potters provided special designs for Canadian customers, such as beaver and maple emblems, and the exploitation of popular maritime subjects, such as the steamships Britannia and Great Eastern. The former was one of the first vessels commissioned by Samuel Cunard's British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, and the latter attracted considerable renown as the world's largest steamship built in 1857, which visited Québec in 1861. The remaining chapters of the book (21 to 26) are concerned with Canadian potters who gradually built up their concerns to compete with the import trade. Most important among these were the White family, potters of Saint John, New Brunswick, who so appropriately called their settlement Crouchville, commemorating that well-known English term of stoneware pottery "crouch"; the Farrars of St. Johns (now Saint-Jean) and Iberville of Quebec Province, known as the Staffordshire of Canada; and the Humberstones, who potted at York County, near Toronto. A list of over four hundred Canadian potters of the nineteenth century is given in Appendix B, while Appendix A examines the various potters' and dealers' marks used on the pottery itself.

4 In this extraordinary book Elizabeth Collard has added a vitally new dimension to our understanding of the English pottery trade and has opened up possible avenues of research in other countries to which British potters sent their goods. Research into eighteenth-century markets for Staffordshire, Liverpool and other English pottery and porcelain has already to some extent been done, especially in terms of the United States and European countries, but the exploration of nineteenth-century markets is a far more complex affair, as the trade expanded to meet the growing needs of pioneers and European emigrants, especially to North America. In the present book it would, perhaps, have been useful to have been given some idea of the eighteenth-century antecedents to the nineteenth-century pottery trade in Canada, even though this would have resulted in an even longer work; also, it would certainly have been useful, especially for the non-Canadian reader, to have had a map showing the sites of the locations mentioned, for many are too small to be included in a standard world atlas. The footnotes to the chapters are extensive and invaluable, but a select bibliography might also have been added. The book has a useful index.

5 One final comment about the contents of this book cannot be resisted, and this concerns the illustrations of native Canadian stoneware jugs and pots for the kitchen and farmhouse, superbly proportioned, honest and strong, with restrained decoration and simple but effective printers' type-impressed names (plates 117, 118, 122, 123, 136). Such pots, like English mediaeval and later country-made pots, or Chinese Sung dynasty pieces or Japanese tea-wares, are timeless, and to a potter's eye have more artistry, grace and tactile quality than any of the wide range of tablewares of eclectic and fashionable taste with which the book is mostly concerned. This is not in any way meant as a criticism, but more as a comment on the way in which popular tastes were nurtured and fostered in a new and pioneering country by the time-worn standards of nineteenth-century England.

6 Production of Nineteenth-Century Pottery and Porcelain in Canada is of high quality, especially in the printing of the plates. The publishers and author are to be congratulated on this second edition of an undoubtedly classic study, which is based, as all good business research should be, on the humble and ephemeral notices and advertisements of traders, dealers, distributors and manufacturers, culled from newspapers, journals and other public records.

Alan Smith