Today, MCHS is very strict about what we accept into the museum collections. Much as I love THINGS, we simply can’t (and shouldn’t) store and care for one or more of everything; instead, we look for pieces with strong county provenance . . . that is to say, a good local story. When we moved into the Beall-Dawson House in the mid 1960s, however, we were suddenly faced with a large and empty house. To furnish it, and help tell the stories of the people who lived there for over a century, we collected furniture and decorative arts for the look rather than the history. Though every furnished room contains artifacts with local provenance (and at least one piece with Beall or Dawson family connections), some of our furniture and decorative arts collection has no particular relation to Montgomery County.

For instance, we have several examples of functional art pottery from the early 20th century. These three pieces were collected by Grace M. Eager of Wisconsin and Colorado; they were inherited by her granddaughter, Marian Roscheck, and donated by Mrs. Roscheck in 1989. We use them from time to time in the Beall-Dawson House to help set the scene, when we need that scene to be “real people lived here in the early 20th century” – or when the museum needs a little spring-like uplift. If you, dear reader, could use a little spring right now yourself, please enjoy these charming floral ceramics.

Blue Drapery, Weller Gc60

The earliest of the three is this 6.75” tall jardinière, made by Weller Pottery of Zanesville, Ohio. The “Blue Drapery” pattern – a highly descriptive name, as you can see – was introduced in 1915. The bottom is stamped, simply, “Weller.” Weller Pottery was founded in 1872, and the company began designing and producing art pottery by the 1890s.

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Newcomb College Gc62

From about the same time is this small (2” tall) bulb bowl, decorated with narcissus blooms, produced in 1917 by craftspeople at the Newcomb College Pottery in New Orleans, Louisiana. The various marks on the bottom tell us the school and the date (“IW77” means 1917, no. 77), as well as the potter, Joseph Meyers, and the decorator, Sadie Irvine. Both were well-known members of the pottery, which opened at H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for women in 1895.

Newcomb College mark Gc62

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Roseville "Apple Blossom" Gc61

Finally, here is a bowl or small jardinière by the Roseville Pottery Co. of Zanesville, Ohio, in the “Apple Blossom” pattern introduced in 1949. The numerical marking on the bottom – 300-4″ – gives us the classification (300 = bowl) and size (4” tall). Roseville was one of the more prolific, and better-known, art potteries of the early-mid 20th century, but as you can tell from our other pieces here, it wasn’t the only company working in this style.

Roseville mark Gc61

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For more information on each pottery, click on the Wikipedia links scattered throughout this post, or do a quick internet search by pottery name for some of the many, many collectors’ websites available. Or, of course, try your local library for published books. Pottery collectors love their stuff, and there’s a lot more info out there for you! We have several other examples of art pottery in our collections – including other Roseville patterns – but today’s theme was ‘blue with flowers,’ so ceramics fans will have to wait for a future post to see more.

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Today we have a ceramic teacup and saucer with an extra feature: a partial cover, attached to the rim, with a semi-circular opening. This addition had the highly specific function of running interference between the hot beverage in the cup, and the drinker’s facial hair.  In short, this is a mustache cup.

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The invention of a cup with a mustache guard is attributed to English potter Harvey Adams, in the 1860s.  Mustaches were very popular in Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and like many other fashions, they inspired inventors and manufacturers to create new tools (don’t forget our mustache curling comb). Our example has no maker’s mark, but based on its history, the cup is likely an American-made piece from around 1900.  The design is relatively plain; to enjoy some more elaborate examples, of ceramic and silver, try an image search on your favorite search engine or auction site.

This handy utensil helped prevent soggy and stained mustaches.  In case any modern mustache-sporting readers – who’ve soldiered on through life without a special coffee cup, thank you very much – might think their forefathers were a bunch of wimps, remember that Victorian- and Edwardian-era facial hair styling often required the use of wax.  A piping hot beverage in close proximity to a quantity of mustache wax could result in a cup of melted-wax-flavored tea, not to mention an unfashionably limp mustache.

This particular cup was donated by Mary Beth Fleming; it belonged to her great-grandfather, Charles Clark Waters (1866-1934) of Neelsville. We are also fortunate to have two photos of Mr. Waters, which rather delightfully provide visual evidence for the cup’s necessity.  Here he is in 1890 (left), in a portrait taken by Bachrach & Bro. in Baltimore, and circa 1910 (right), taken by Clinedinst in Washington, DC.  As always, click the image to enlarge.

Left: Courtesy Mary Beth Fleming. Right: Donated by Charles and Marian Jacobs.

Left: Courtesy Mary Beth Fleming. Right: Donated by Charles and Marian Jacobs.

Mr. Waters appears to have favored the curled-ends handlebar style of mustache (though he could have been experimenting with other styles for the 20 years between photos, of course).  Judging by other historical examples – including patterns featuring the words “forget-me-not” or “remember me” – mustache cups were popular gifts.  Perhaps Mr. Waters’s wife or children presented him with this cup and saucer one Christmas or birthday?

Here’s a little escapism for us today, with a fanciful landscape for your enjoyment.

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This medium-size (just over a foot wide) ceramic platter was made by Allertons Ltd., in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England.  The pattern name is simply “Chinese,” as evidently the designer saved all of his or her imagination for the picture itself: a flower-bedecked landscape featuring curly-roofed pagodas, towers, bridges, robed figures, and even a little dragon perched on top of the main building.  (The transferred image is rather blurry – that’s the  fault of the actual piece, not my bad photography – so though I suspect the dragon is supposed to be an architectural feature, it could easily be a resident instead.)
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Transferware printing on ceramic was developed in the late 18th century, as an economical alternative to hand-painting every piece.  By the mid 19th century, transferware patterns in a wide variety of styles were being produced, particularly by the many potteries in Staffordshire, England. Romantic and ‘exotic’ scenes, of varying degrees of accuracy, were very popular.  This pattern, showing what someone fondly believed to be a Chinese landscape, fits right into that tradition, and the Allertons pottery was founded in 1831 . . .  however, the mark on the platter’s reverse indicates that it was in fact made between 1929 and 1942.

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Judging from the number of pieces available for sale today on auction sites,  Allertons’ “Chinese” pattern was a popular one in the early 20th century.  I’ve not found an example earlier than 1912 (the company added “Ltd.” to their name that year), so it would appear that this was a new design for the 20th century, not a reprint of an older pattern.  We often picture Art Deco and Modernism styles when we think of the 1920s and ‘30s, but historical nostalgia was also popular, and many designers looked backward, not forward.  Allertons’ romantic throwback “Chinese” design filled a consumer desire for new things that looked old.  In the late 1960s, this particular platter filled the same purpose again: an anonymous donor thought this piece would help us furnish our newly acquired Beall-Dawson House with appropriately antique-looking antiques.

 
Enjoy transferware?  Check out previous examples on the blog here and here, or visit our Pinterest board!

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2011, and hello to 1909!

This 8.25″ diameter calendar plate, “Compliments of W. Hicks, Rockville, Md.,” was given or sold by Washington Hicks, owner of a general store in downtown Rockville, 104 years ago. 

Calendar plates have been made since the late 19th century, and are still produced today (though in my experience, modern freebie advertising calendars tend to be paper, not ceramic).  They were particularly popular as an advertising medium in the early 20th century; a search of the internet, or your local collectibles/antiques store, reveals many such plates, with their pleasant images, useful (if often extremely small) calendar markings, and an added “Compliments of…” inscription.  The history of our plate between leaving Mr. Hicks’ store and arriving at the Society (donated by Mrs. Merritt Techter) is unknown, but the wear marks indicate that it was used as a plate, not as a decoration (though perhaps it did spend a year serving as a functional calendar).

Washington Hicks operated his general or dry goods store in Rockville from the late 19th century until 1940 – hey, when you’re 90 years old, I guess you can retire (he died in 1944).  His son W. Guy Hicks continued to run the store until his own retirement in the late 1950s.  We have a few other odds and ends from the store, including letterhead from the 1900s proclaiming Hicks to be a “Dealer in Foreign and Domestic Dry Good, Notions.”  The photo below shows the storefront in 1910; signs above the door advertise “Dry Goods, Notions, Shoes, Clothing, Etc.  Crockeries, Queensware, Hardware,” and displayed outside are rakes, wash tubs, a lawnmower, and what I think might be ice cream makers. 

Charles Brewer collection, MCHS Library

Today’s artifacts, a ceramic teacup and bread plate, come from the National Park Seminary (NPS), a late 19th – early 20th century girls’ school in Forest Glen. Both pieces are marked in gold with the Greek letters Chi Psi Upsilon. The bread plate is stamped on the reverse with the maker’s mark for Warwick China Co. of Wheeling, WV (1887-1951). They were donated to MCHS by Helen Gruver Kline, NPS class of 1921.

The Seminary is one of those Montgomery County places that bring just a hint of mystery to the landscape. In this case, the mystery tends to be either “What is that fancy, old-looking building you can see from the Beltway?” or “Did we really just drive past a pagoda?” The short answers are: 1) A fancy hotel/school/condo development, and 2) Yes. As for the long answers…

The first building at NPS was actually a resort hotel, Ye Forest Inne, built in 1887 to take advantage of the county’s new suburban railway. Many of these railroad hotels prospered, but the Forest Inne did not. It was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Cassedy, experienced educators who opened the National Park Seminary, an elite girls’ preparatory school, on the site in 1894. Over the years additional dormitories, classroom buildings, and clubhouses (more on that in a bit) were built in and around the glen. The hilly, wooded landscape was dotted with picturesque bridges, romantic statuary, and elaborate architecture. Students came from across the country to take advantage of the school’s much-touted proximity to the culture and society of the Nation’s Capital.

The clubs, or sororities, at NPS were a unique feature – or, as the 1920-21 catalog phrased it, “peculiar and original with this school.” For one thing, they were not associated with national sororities; they were social clubs, with voluntary membership (no recruitment or hazing), created by the students and faculty to promote sociability, congeniality and the development of life skills. For another thing, each group’s clubhouse was built in a distinctive style. Thus a stroll through the NPS campus takes you past a Dutch windmill, a Swiss cottage, a “Spanish mission,” an English Colonial house, a bungalow, a “castle,” and, yes, a “Japanese” pagoda.

The Japanese Clubhouse pagoda was built in 1905 – in a style that veers a little more toward Chinese than Japanese, but what can you do. (Interestingly, the name was changed to the Chinese Pagoda during World War II.) It was home to the Chi Psi Upsilon club/sorority, and our teacup and plate were used here. I haven’t found a list of the club’s membership, but presumably our donor belonged to “Chi Psi U” during her years at NPS. (The 1920-21 school catalog does list Helen Russell Gruver of Washington D.C. amongst the registered students, but club affiliation is not inculded.) We have a nice assortment of catalogs, viewbooks, yearbooks, photo albums and scrapbooks in our library collections, allowing me to trace a little of the clubhouse history over time, but in the interest of brevity – or such brevity as I can muster – the images and text here come from the 1920-21 catalog/prospectus for potential and incoming students.

The broad purpose of the club system is summed up next to some of the photographs of the “artistically beautiful” houses: “The Clubs mean the sub-division of the school into small families with the mother-relation sustained in each. . . . A Student’s retreat for rest and recreation. A club girl learns how to work in organization; how to respond to the needs of community life; how to render efficient social service; how to be a companionable woman.” And finally, in case you, as a parent of a potential student, are still not convinced that it is worth the time and money to send June/Dorothy/Helen/Marian to school: “A companionable woman makes the best wife and mother.”

(Please don’t think I’m making fun of the school, its administration or its students – I’m not! The ins and outs, whys and wherefores of women’s education throughout history is fascinating to me, and I love NPS. A lot of very positive things came out of schools such as this one, and if convincing Mother and Father that an NPS education was the surest ticket to a good marriage with a diplomat’s son was the way to get things done, so be it.  I do my best to remember that the work of people like the Cassedys and Mrs. Kline gave Modern Me the space, distance and opportunity to be a teeny bit sneery.)

And what happened to the school? Well, to make a long story short, the campus was bought by the US Army early in World War II, and became the Walter Reed Hospital Annex; for many years, the classrooms, dormitories and grand spaces once occupied by young women were occupied instead by convalescing soldiers. Over the years the various structures fell into disrepair, and in the late 1980s members of the surrounding community formed Save Our Seminary, a group dedicated to finding new uses for the old buildings. Happily for those of us who love a bit of architectural variety in our suburbia, the remaining dorms, classrooms, clubhouses and support structures are in the midst of a major renovation. You can – if you choose and are able – live in the Seminary. (But I’m sorry, I believe the Pagoda has already been purchased!)

For more information – since here I have blithely whipped through 100+ years of the school’s history, and have hardly done it justice – please visit the Save Our Seminary site, or this site, created a few years ago by an NPS fan.

It’s A Fine Collection’s second anniversary, which means our readers should be sending me/the blog some cotton (for you traditionalists) or china (as the “modern” choice).  While I await all those packages, here are some cotton, china and other artifacts for you, dear readers.

Today’s post is all about the details, the visual ones.  Since our museums are chock full of artifacts, and we discourage our visitors from crawling around on the floor with a magnifying glass, some of the finer points of the pieces on display can be lost in the shuffle.  Here are a few close-up views to whet your appetite; next time you visit, keep an eye out for these and other hidden gems!  (And if any of these strike your fancy, let me know you’d like a full post on the object and I’ll try to oblige.)

Red-and-black patterned cotton fabric on the late 19th century “Log Cabin” quilt in the slaves’ room.

One of the images on the Flow Blue ceramic pitcher in the bedroom.

A brass paw on the dining room fireplace fender, early 19th century.

Close-up of the painted designs on the circa 1805 tall-case clock in the front hall.

And a (not necessarily very difficult) mystery for you: Can you identify the location of this woman? [She’s on our campus in Rockville – don’t worry, it’s not a county-wide search.]

In last week’s coffee pot post, I mentioned the differences between pots for tea, coffee and chocolate. A reader requested further information on chocolate pots, so today we have a chocolate pot for him, plus a teapot for one of my coworkers – thus completing a Breakfast Beverage Trifecta. (We’ll leave orange juice, ale and other morning drinks out of the picture for now.)

Seven inches tall.

First, my favorite teapot, which features the owner’s monogram (for you, Liz!). This brown-glazed pot was given as a wedding present to Julia Prout Vinson, who married George Minor Anderson on November 19th, 1901. Both bride and groom were from prominent Rockville families; their Anderson descendants donated the teapot to the Society. The relatively plain pot (maker unknown) is made elegant by the addition of silver chains and bands, which attach an elaborate silver “JPV,” the bride’s initials*, to the body. Inside, a white ceramic tea infuser fastens to the underside of the lid, avoiding the need for extra strainers or the like.

Ten inches tall.

Next, a chocolate pot, circa 1890-95. Donated by Jean Krumm, its original history is unknown, but it is somewhat local; the bottom is stamped “Haviland & Co., Limoges, for Charles R. Edmonston, Washington D.C.” Mr. Edmonston can be found in the 1900 D.C. directory, listed as a merchant of china, glassware and crockery at 1205 Pennsylvania Avenue. Limoges helped popularize this vessel form in the late 19th century. Chocolate pots are tall, to accommodate a stirring stick, and are often part of their own porcelain set complete with matching cups and saucers. Using designated pots for each beverage keeps flavors and odors from mixing (and prevents the hostess from pouring the wrong drink).

There are no hard and fast rules; there are tall teapots, and short chocolate pots. But generally speaking, teapots are short and squat; coffeepots are tall with long spouts; chocolate pots are tall with shorter, pitcher-like spouts. (There are differences between the kinds of cups for each beverage, too.) For a nice tea/coffee comparison, here’s a complete tea set from the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog; note that the teapot (left) is a smidgen shorter than the coffee pot, though otherwise they’re almost exactly the same (to make a matched set).

In other cases, particularly earlier in the 19th century, coffee and chocolate pots are more similar to each other than to teapots; here’s an article from Colonial Williamsburg talking about some 18th century examples. Alas, we don’t have anything that early in our collections here.

* When I first came to work here, the fact that all of Julia Anderson’s wedding gifts featured her maiden name threw me for a loop. Fortunately I was set straight by our volunteers, who kindly did not express too much dismay at my etiquette ignorance. As The Social Mirror, an 1888 advice book, informs us, “Presents sent to the bride, if marked, bear her maiden name or initials.”