On February 20 Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in the U.K. will sell the earliest known American porcelain teapot. The blue-and-white porcelain teapot, missing its lid and its handle reglued, is attributed to the John Bartlam factory at Cain Hoy, South Carolina. The blue transfer-printed pattern on one side of the teapot is identical to one on a saucer also attributed to Bartlam that turned up in the U.K. a few years ago and is similar to a saucer sold by a dealer to a collector in Chicago.
“As far as I can ascertain, these are the only two pieces of this pattern, and this is the only John Bartlam teapot known,” said Clare Durham, who heads the ceramics and glass sales at Woolley and Wallis. “It features a palm tree similar to that featured on the four Bartlam tea bowls which have been sold over the last few years, and the slightly ghost-like almost featureless figures also match up.”
Durham said, “It was the palm tree that gave us the hint that it might be American, so we started researching it on that basis. Two saucers were found in the U.K. and sold as one lot in a sale in the Midlands early in this decade. One of them was recorded in the Isleworth porcelain catalog as possibly from that London factory before it was reclassified as Bartlam.” Durham noted that “clearly the patterns throughout the service were ‘associated,’ but whether that was by design or necessity is not certain!”
Durham said the teapot was brought to the auction house by a private collector from southwest England, one of its regular clients who often buys the “mystery” or problem pieces. “He spotted the teapot in a general sale in the Midlands and bought it via the Internet for £15. He had identified the pattern in the Isleworth catalog of 2003, but thought it might be pearlware. After quite a bit of research, we have discovered that it is actually very low-fired porcelain, and its key attributes—including the poor firing—match up with those recorded in the known Bartlam pieces. Unfortunately, it is far from perfect—the lid is lacking, and the handle has been reglued—so we are therefore starting it with a very low estimate of £10,000/20,000. This really just reflects the fact that it is to be sold. It will make what it makes, but there should be a great deal of interest in it as the only known porcelain teapot by the Bartlam concern and therefore the earliest known American porcelain teapot.”
Only one other piece of John Bartlam porcelain has sold at auction, a tea bowl found in the U.K. that sold at Christie’s in January 2013 for $146,500 to dealer Bill Samaha for a client, underbid by John Stuart Gordon, curator at the Yale University Art Gallery. Another similar tea bowl was sold by a London dealer to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the first one identified was sold by the trade to the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee in 2010. Another saucer in a Massachusetts collection was on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and another tea bowl is also in a private collection in the U.S. To date four tea bowls, two saucers, and the teapot from the Bartlam potworks are known, and all have surfaced in the U.K. The teapot is the only one currently in the U.K.
Although its paste has not been yet been tested, there is little doubt that the teapot is from John Bartlam’s kilns. Durham pointed out that “since the saucer and the teapot were the only known objects bearing the same transfer pattern, it is inconceivable that they are not from the same factory. The teapot has poor translucency and low firing issues associated with Bartlam porcelain and all the hallmarks of a phosphatic soft paste S-A-C body in common with American porcelains of this period.” (Because the chemical compositions of these porcelains are silica [SiO2], aluminum oxide [Al2O3], and calcium oxide [CaO], J. Victor Owen, a geologist who specializes in the analysis of 18th-century soft-paste bodies, calls them S-A-C wares in an article in the 2007 Ceramics in America, so the term S-A-C wares is now in use.)
In that same 2007 Ceramics in America, Hunter first revealed that John Bartlam’s “Pottwork in Charles Town” had used “Cherok[ee clay]” to make porcelain, citing a May 22, 1767, letter from Josiah Wedgwood to Thomas Bentley, revealing Wedgwood’s concern that an American potter would supply the American market that had embraced Wedgwood’s queensware enthusiastically. Hunter credited research by archaeologist Stanley South and Brad Rauschenberg, former director of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and Old Salem, who masterminded the excavations at Cain Hoy in the early 1990s, for proving that Bartlam was making porcelain in South Carolina before Bonnin and Morris were making porcelain in Philadelphia. Bonnin and Morris were long regarded as the first successful producers of porcelain in America. Based on excavated blue-decorated shards of tea bowls at Cain Hoy and his compositional analysis of the paste and glaze, South realized that what he had first called pearlware was indeed Bartlam’s attempt to make soft paste porcelain. South’s finds, first reported in 1993, were not published in detail until 2004. South told the Bartlam story again in the 2007 edition of Ceramics in America.
John Bartlam, a Staffordshire master potter, immigrated to the Charleston area about 1763 and established a potworks on the Wando River north of Charleston in what is now called Cainhoy. Bartlam advertised in a September 1765 Charleston newspaper that he promised “to make every kind of earthenware usually imported from England.” In 1768 he mortgaged his factory to further finance his business and advertised for young African Americans to work as apprentices in the new business. South wrote that in 1769 Bartlam returned to England to “raise some fresh supplies,” and on his return he moved his pottery from Cain Hoy to Charleston with the intention to manufacture china and pottery.
The fact that Bartlam went back to England to raise funds for his expansion suggests that he might have taken examples of his work with him, and this may be why the tea bowls, saucers, and teapot have all turned up in the U.K.
Hunter, writing in The Magazine Antiques in the January/February 2011 issue after the first Bartlam tea bowl was sold by a London dealer to the Chipstone Foundation, suggests that Bartlam may have shipped some of his wares back to England.
By 1770 Bartlam was advertising queensware in South Carolina, and by 1772 or 1774 he had moved his family and his business to Camden, South Carolina, where a source of kaolin was at hand. The family thrived there until the Revolutionary War. Bartlam joined the British army as a Loyalist and evacuated to Charleston with the British army after the British, led by General Charles Cornwallis, were victorious over Continental troops led by General Horatio Gates at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, where about 900 Americans were killed or wounded and another 1000 were captured, and wagonloads of equipment fell into British hands. Bartlam died in 1781.
A 2016 exhibition at the Camden Archives & Museum in Camden, South Carolina, displayed ceramic shards and images of the discovered tea bowls and saucers made by Bartlam. According to the article “Master potter John Bartlam made America’s first porcelain” by Katherine Richardson, director of the Camden Archives & Museum (find it online at the website of the Camden, South Carolina, Chronicle-Independent, dated July 15, 2016), Bartlam was notable enough to survive in memory well into the 19th century, when architect Robert Mills (1781-1855) wrote, “Before the revolution a pottery was established by an Englishman by the name of Bartlam. A brewery was established about the same time, and promised well; but these, as also several handicrafts, were all checked, and eventually destroyed by the war.”
Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest