By Nancy Finlay for Your Pubic Media
When setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner, you probably bring out your best china and glassware, perhaps including some pieces that have been passed down for generations.
The Connecticut views that appear on some old pieces of the Staffordshire china in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society now provide quaint glimpses of bygone times. This was not the case when the china was new. They were contemporary views, showing Connecticut as it appeared at the time when they were first issued. The English potters produced sets of this china for the American market, targeting a very specific local audience, who would readily have recognized the scenes, either because they knew the sites themselves or because they were familiar with them from contemporary engravings.
Most of these early views were based on engravings published in London in 1831. They include two works by Thomas Cole (1801-1848), the well-known Hudson River School painter: a panorama of Hartford from the far side of the Connecticut River, and a view of Daniel Wadsworth’s estate, Montevideo, on Talcott Mountain. Wadsworth, the founder of the Wadsworth Atheneum, was among Cole’s earliest patrons. Views of the Samuel Russell House in Middletown and the New Haven Green are by Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892), then a young architect at the beginning of his career. The engravings were directly transferred to the china and applied to a variety of different forms—cups, saucers, plates, bowls, platters, pitchers, etc.—in a variety of different colors. They appear on china made by some of the best known English potters, including William Adams & Son, Job & John Jackson, and Enoch Wood & Sons.
Later views on Staffordshire china continued this tradition. Late 19th-century china produced by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons depicts the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford less than 10 years after it was completed.
So, when setting your table for the holidays this year, think about the history contained in these old dishes.
Nancy Finlay, formerly Curator of Graphics at the Connecticut Historical Society, is the editor of Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880.