Unearthed on the Hammond-Harwood House property during an archaeological dig, this decorative plate was found in shards and carefully glued back together. It reveals how early 19th century dining looked when Frances and Richard Loockerman lived in the house.
By 1800 nearly 60 million pieces of porcelain had been exported from China to grace tables across Europe and America. Westerners harbored an emotional attachment to this dinnerware from the Far East. These tangible objects had an intangible value that represented wealth and status. The cobalt blue glaze survived firing more easily than other colors, making the blue canton ware and similar porcelain less expensive and more widely available.
Many entrepreneurial potters in England capitalized on the West’s love of Chinese porcelain, and created their own Chinese-inspired transferware. This blue willow pattern plate was produced in England by the Riley brothers, who operated a vigorous business from 1802 until about 1828. The English legend of the blue willow pattern features star crossed lovers in a fictional story dating from the 1840s. Keen to cater to Western clients, the Chinese reproduced this pattern, thus reversing the English imitation of their methods. The Chinese even indulged later 19th century visitors by creating a garden where the fictional legend took place.
This English-made plate was likely part of a set used daily, as it was inexpensive and widely available. Archaeology at Hammond-Harwood House also turned up evidence of imported Chinese porcelain, which the Loockermans likely used for guests and special occasions. By the end of the 19th century, blue-and-white porcelain was ubiquitous and seen as a nostalgic representation of early America. This plate serves as an example of the type of piece that helps to authentically represent the daily lives of the Loockermans and their enslaved servants Mary, Matilda, and Juliet.