Saturday, July 2, 2011

Saucer of the Week: Chinese Export Porcelain for the American Market

This week's saucer post takes the series in a different direction, far from the shores of England . . .

. . . to China, where this pretty saucer was made in (around) 1800 for the American market.  It is decorated with an urn, similar to the English saucer I posted several weeks ago, that Parnassas so cleverly photoshopped.  The decoration is also related to that found on the Thomas Willing Chinese export porcelain service that I saw in the collection at Bayou Bend, three plates of which I acquired for our collection at Darlington House at the New York Ceramics Fair this past January.

But in this case, the urn is surmounted by a bird.  I'm not exactly sure what type of bird it is, but I think it could well be a stylized eagle.  I am confident that this saucer was made in China for the American market, given its decoration, the asperity of which the citizenry of the New Republic preferred to the more elaborate decorations favored elsewhere at the time.

I found this saucer in a pile of dusty plates in a junk shop in rural Connecticut thirty or so years ago, along with three other dishes from the same service, identically decorated.  I think I paid a dollar a plate for them.  After I had completed my purchase, and with the plates safely in hand, I explained to the fellow working behind the counter what he had just sold me, and that they were actually worth far more than what I had paid for them.  He didn't seem to care all that much, since he was an hourly employee of the shop, and not one of its owners.  He responded, "You're the second person who said that to me.  Just yesterday some other guy came in here and bought up the rest of them.  Must've been twenty or thirty of 'em he got.  He probably didn't see these ones that you found just now."

"Well, well," I thought, "that was some lucky guy."  If only I had been there the day before, imagine what a haul I would have found!

As it is, I didn't do all that badly . . .


  1. Very fortunate find, the reward for sifting through what may look like worthless items in a box!

    Art by Karena

  2. Beautiful saucer. Beautiful story.

  3. My guess is that there weren't 20 plates there yesterday or any day. I've discovered that there's a certain antiques dealer who will always entice or deflate by saying if only one had been in yesterday. "Do I have any daguerreotypes of professional people? No, but just last week I had one of a tinker and his young assistant, in perfect condition, too! You should have been here."

    It's a great saucer, Reggie, and I just know you got the whole stack.

  4. Gorgeous. The colors alone, sublime.

    I also love the primitive resolution of the central design on your saucer, Reggie. LOVE it. One can ride just about anywhere on an interpretation, if desired. If not so desired, fine, the design stands firmly on its own.

    This morning when I first viewed your dish, I did so via its classical allusions to Time in mind. A draped urn, albeit sparsely so, draped nonetheless alluding to Death; the white bird, more dove than eagle [to me], naturally winged to the side, yet aditionally [ecclesiastically?] surmounted with stylized wings of an angel, another classical symbol for Eternal Life; and finally the single clockvine blossom, the name obviously pointing to the passage of Time. All taken together, the symbols made me wonder whether this dish, and its mother service, might have been commissioned in memory of a dear departed loved one. Or not.

    Hence the eternal beauty of your saucer. Six or one half dozen on the interpretation side, same measure on the other side as well.

    Happy 4th to you and Sir Fenwick!

  5. I haven' been following the Saucer Thang Chronicles closely Reggie...but I assume you'll buy a one-off if it intrigues you. Do you prefer to buy sets? Are they displayed in various locales at Darlington and in town? Or is there a central repository? You know...kinda like Heaven. But for Reggie Saucers.

  6. As soon as I saw the picture it made me gasp. It's so pretty!

    Before I go back and read what you wrote, I want to tell you that you have inspired me to start my own saucer collection. My mother generously gave me 3 demitasse saucers to start me off: 1 was part of demitasse given to her as wedding presents, and the other 2 belonged to my great grandmother's china collection.

  7. Surely, a dove, yes? If an eagle, it seems quite emasculated. But then, Chinese Export porcelain painters often got things charmingly wrong.

  8. MDR: You are most likely correct--the fellow in the store probably told me that the other person bought ones before me to take the wind out of my sail. Good point!

    Flo: I believe you have perfectly deduced the symbolism here. You are correct: the decoration is similar to what is seen in many mourning pieces of the day. And of course the bird is a dove! Thank you.

    ADG: I'm not too picky when it comes to buying saucers, at least when it comes to the numbers of them. Many of ours were bought as singles, some in sets of two, and some in larger sets (usually with the cups in such cases). We scatter them about the house, on end tables (to use as coasters), bed-side tables (also as coasters), chests (as catch alls) and we also display them vertically on stands on fireplace mantles. We keep most of them (most of the time) in stacks, though, sitting in a cupboard in our dining room at Darlington, and we change them out with the ones out on view when it strikes our fancy. No saucers in our city apartment (which is in a modern high rise), only the country house.

  9. Emmaleigh504: I am very pleased to have inspired you to start your own saucer collection, and it sounds as if you are off to a very good start, indeed! Thank you.

    Aesthete: You, too, of the eagle eyes! Yes, I agree with you (and Flo) the bird is surely a dove, and not an eagle. Thank you.

  10. The event this piece was commissioned to capture as a visual record and its misunderstood symbol is amusing along with the pretty babble. Nice saucer.


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