Skip to main content

Made For America

March 2023
2min read

Distant lands supplied patriotic tableware to the new Republic

No artifacts of the early days of the Republic possesses, to many eyes, more antique charm than the decorated chinaware which graced the shelves and tables and lined the wainscottings of the newly prosperous Americans. Strangely enough, nearly all of them were fabricated abroad, in far places like China or in the potteries of our then recent enemies in England. Foreign merchants and manufacturers were quick to grasp the opportunity presented by a new market, beset with a craving for household luxuries but unable to satisfy it from local American sources. Little ceramic tableware was produced here, either in the colonial or in the early republican eras. And thus the foreign potters, many of them exquisite craftsmen, decorated their products with many a patriotic scene or personage they had never beheld with their own eyes. It was a skill well calculated to fill the need and excite the taste of the Americans, and the wares they made have been copied and avidly collected for over a century.

American ships engaged in the China trade brought back among their exotic merchandise great quantities of porcelain—the “real china” our ancestors were so proud to display. Ordered through local dealers in Canton, this fragile freight had to he carried hundreds of miles overland from the ancient potting center of Ching-te-Chen. Most of it reached the Cantonese agents already decorated with painting under the transparent glaze, but undecorated white wares were also sent, to be painted in Canton to the purchaser’s special order or to some Chinese merchant’s idea of what he could sell the foreigners. In some cases designs were copied with great care from a given model. In others, we can only guess what the Chinese artist had to work from—a United States coin, the seal on a ship’s papers, or a client’s rough sketch—but the results, with their faint oriental charm, make a lively commentary on American history.

That narrow strip of northern Staffordshire that is known throughout England simply as “The Potteries” began sending fine earthenware to America early in the Eighteenth Century. After the War of 1812 this trade grew phenomenally in volume as a result of deliberate efforts to attract the American buyer. Transfer printing from copper, plates, a process invented about 1755, replaced the slow and expensive hand methods of decoration; the publication, in portfolio or as book illustrations, of views of America by a number of able artists as well as portraits of American notables and representations of American naval victories afforded plentiful subjects. Some 700 designs, attributable to about thirty different potters, are recognized by today’s enthusiastic collectors of this “historical Staffordshire.” Up to 1830 or so the American wares were printed in a rich, dark blue, attractive and practical to produce; later other colors were introduced. Before the end of the Civil War the vogue for such decorations had almost entirely passed.

If patriotic sentiments are wanted

In the Eighteenth Century the seaport of Liverpool was thriving on its pottery industry, which went back to the Middle Ages, and its role as a port of call in the slave trade. American vessels which began to sail to all parts of Europe soon after i 783 put in there regularly, and the officers and crews were so many prospective customers to trade-minded Liverpool. In their bid for business with the new Republic, Liverpool potters produced quantities of fine cream-colored earthenware decorated with transfer-printed designs calculated to appeal to the patriotic sentiments of Americans.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "August 1955"

Authored by: Ruth Painter Randall

New light on the tragic case of a President’s widow who saw her own son as a hated enemy

Authored by: The Editors

Newspaper ads from occupied New York illumine Revolutionary War loyalties

Authored by: Louis Morton

Military science was very rigid in the 1600’s. It quickly changed when Americans began to fight Indians

Authored by: Bernard A. Weisberger

Calling millions to repentance, Moody and Sankey devised a new method of spreading the gospel

Authored by: The Editors

Never before printed, the headquarters record of the British conqueror of New York illuminates crucial events of the American Revolution.

Authored by: Victor W. Von Hagen

Some men see the beginnings. The conquistador who first saw the Mississippi also took the Inca highway to fabulous Cuzco.

Authored by: Daniel O’flaherty

Not until the Civil War was about over did the U.S. Navy manage to put a halt to the South’s imports

Authored by: William Brandon

The imagined liberty of Rousseau’s primitive individual was actually attained by the free trappers who helped America gain a continent

Authored by: Rudolph Marx, M.d.

Stalwart as he was, the general was often ill. A doctor studies his record and notes shortcomings in Eighteenth-Century medical care.

Authored by: Ruth B. Davidson

Distant lands supplied patriotic tableware to the new Republic

Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.