This dinner plate with its pattern entitled Indian Pagoda, was probably made in the 1830s by the Staffordshire pottery firm of Job and John Jackson, one of hundreds of English potteries that produced wares for both the English and American market in the 19th century.
Our example of Indian Pagoda is printed in black (the design was also offered in other colors), using the transfer decoration method – a process invented in the mid 18th century that enabled potters to decorate large quantities of dishes, using printed designs (applied like a decal) that were fired permanently onto the surface of the ceramic before the clear glaze was applied. Because these wares were not hand-painted, complete dining services (plates, bowls, serving dishes, tea and coffee sets) could be produced quickly at very affordable prices with new patterns introduced on a regular basis – reflecting (and influencing) buyer tastes and interests.
Indian Pagoda is just one example of a type of design seen on table wares that appealed to middle class consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. Wildly romanticized “Oriental” scenes; Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern, along with views inspired by classical antiquity and old world Europe (and the English countryside) characterized much of this ware. Indian Pagoda and other designs like it spoke to wanderlust and a thirst for the “exotic.” In particular, transfer decorated pottery and porcelain with Chinese inspired designs catered to the continued popularity for all things “Chinosierie” and scenes from “Old Cathay” were a perennial favorite among customers.
Print sources and origins for many of the patterns remain unknown. Generic scenes with pagodas and temples, tropical plants, and fantastically dressed “natives” were centered within exuberant “pseudo” Chinese fretwork borders or ones of flowers, scroll work, and other design motifs and compositions of European derivation. This free and sometimes indiscriminant combination of decorations is a true hallmark of the Victorian sensibility, where obvious delight was taken in mixing up visuals from different cultures and design vocabularies – partially out of ignorance about the far away lands referenced – but mostly to market new and novel products.
Indian Pagoda is part of a larger set of dinner plates currently on view in the dining room of the LeFevre House. In the spring of 2012, the Curatorial Department assisted by an intern from the SUNY art history department, will be inventorying transfer decorated ceramics in the HHS collection that will include taking detailed photographs and writing descriptions of each pattern. In some cases we hope to identify print sources as well.