Thursday, December 18, 2014


Inappropriate Patterns for Children

I wrote an article for the Transferware Collectors Club Bulletin in 2012 titled Inappropriate Patterns For Children.  I decided to redo the article for my blog as the topic is such a favorite of mine.  I am the editor of Children's Subjects for the TCC Pattern and Source Print Database, so I see a lot of 19th century children's patterns.  Many are sweet and instructive, but some are horrific!

Children haven’t changed in the past two hundred years, but the concept of childhood and what is appropriate for children has changed.  Nineteenth century British children’s mugs and plates were created as inexpensive gifts or rewards to teach religion and the alphabet as well as to delight with pictures of animals and children’s activities.  However, some of the patterns found on this pottery are frightening!

Seal Hunt, which was made by Thomas Elsmore & Son (1872-1887), illustrates a method of seal hunting.  The molded alphabet border does aid in learning the alphabet, but the clubbing of seals would be deemed an inappropriate gift for today's child.

Thomas Elsmore & Son (1872-1887) Seal Hunting 7 inch child's Plate

The next pattern, The Romish Bishop Bonner, which was made by Powell & Bishop (1876-1878), is an odd choice for a child even though it was intended to teach a religious history lesson.   Perhaps this pattern was a reward for doing well in Sunday School.  Substitute the word Catholic for Romish, as the history lesson is about Bishop Edmund Bonner (c.1500 to 1569) who served during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I (aka Bloody Mary).  Actually, Bonner was known as Bloody Bonner. He was able to survive quite awhile during the enormous upheaval of the English Reformation, as he changed his ideas about religion (Catholic, Protestant, Catholic) to that of the reigning monarch. During the time of Queen Mary, who reinstated Roman Catholicism, he burned many Protestants, including Thomas Tomkins. The description of Tomkins martyrdom is quite gruesome, but, as stated on the plate, he withstood it well. The entire text reads: "The Romish Bishop Bonner Burning Tomkins hands before his Martyrdom. He was burned in Smithfield Market March 16th 1555. He suffered with admirable patience and constancy." Bonner was imprisoned for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I (another Protestant). He died in prison in 1569.  This is an excellent history lesson but a rather morbid topic for children. Note the source print for the pattern, which is a woodcut from John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, ca. 1570.

Powell & Bishop (1876-1878) The Romish Bishop Bonner 6.25 inch child's Plate

Source print for The Romish Bishop Bonner Child's Plate, ca. 1570

Although not frightening, the pattern is inappropriate humor (not even vaguely humorous today).  The title, Flow Thou Regal Purple Stream, refers to the bloody nose of the boy who is second on the left.  One wonders why this particular scene was considered an interesting pattern for a child’s plate.  Were the boys heroes for fighting?  Was a bloody nose a badge of honor?  Fighting and bloody noses (from fighting) are certainly frowned upon in the 21st century!

Flow thou regal purple stream child's 8 inch plate, ca. 1830

Early Sorrow is a sad reminder of the familiarity that the 19th century child had with death.  When mothers died regularly in childbirth and siblings succumbed often to disease, one does wonder why a child needed to be reminded of the prevalence of death.  However, the death of a pet, in this case a pet bird, is the same today as it was in the 19th century;  an inoculation against a greater loss.   Still, this pattern would not be eagerly sought as a gift for today's child.

Early Sorrow child's plate/Notice the dead bird near the cage

This gift for a good and well-loved child is a mug with the inscription,  Present For My Dear Boy.   I doubt, however, the choice of a fox running off with a goose clamped in its mouth is something conducive to milk drinking.

Present For My Dear Boy child's  2 inch by 2 inch mug, ca, 1830

Although the poem titled My Grandmother has good intentions, it has the unfortunate mention and illustration of a dead dog! The poem, which was written by William Upton,  was copied from a picture sheet for children published by William Darton, Jr. in London in 1813.  The poem reads: “Who took me in a coach to ride/Because I griev’d when Puggy died/And bought me Sugarplums beside/My Grandmother.”  The grandmother is doing her best to cheer up her granddaughter, but I doubt the pattern would be given to a granddaughter today.

John Rogers & Son My Grandmother plate, ca. 1830

As mentioned, children’s patterns were often meant to teach the alphabet.  This plate shows a large and attractive letter “D”.  However, instead of illustrating the letter with a cute dog or dear dolly, it is matched with a drunkard and the rhyme “D  Was a Drunk-ard (notice how even the word is falling down)/And had a red face."

  D Was A Drunk-Ard And had a red face 6.62 inch child's alphabet plate
The plate below illustrates a scene from the very popular anti-slavery book Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which was published in 1852.  Many scenes from the book were used on children’s plates, but none are as violent as the pattern seen here:  “Pay Away Till He Gives Up: Give It Him: Give it Him!  Uncle Tom Whipped To Death.”  The pattern is frightening and a bit sordid.  

Child's  8.5 inch plate Uncle Tom Whipped To Death

I never thought of the violence inherent in the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice.  I sing it to my grandchildren.  Visually, the plate below reminds me of the shower scene from Hitchcock's  Psycho.  I would never give it to them as a gift.  Now I'll think about the words too!

Three Blind Mice 7.5 inch child's plate

As a cat lover, perhaps I am being too sensitive to the use of the words wicked and kill in the plate below.  My granddaughter didn't like these words either.

Oh! beat her, kill her, wicked Puss  7.25 inch child's plate, ca. 1820

I hope you will send along a few of your inappropriate patterns for children.  My blog is a fine repository for these patterns, but perhaps not the hands of our little ones.


  1. I've never found one of these! Sampler verses can be similarly full of warnings, gloom and foreboding, but I've not seen much violence depicted in stitches.

    1. It would be interesting to me to see some of these samplers that are full of gloom and doom!

  2. This is a great collection and a great topic. What a fascinating measure of how the world, or at least the piece of it we know in the west, has changed...

    1. Thank you! I am always interested in children and childhood.

  3. Hi Judie we dont see much in the way of childrens chine of the 1800s here in Adelaide but when it turns up it is quickly bought by collectors . The seal hunting ( horrific )was still practiced in parts of Australia just over 100 yrs ago in the late 1800s . Strange to imagine that these items were for children . Justin

  4. Such a fascinating topic! Many morbid scenes and sayings were stitched into samplers a hundred or so years ago, and maybe some were meant for children. It's bizarre to think at one time these were thought to be appropriate for anyone, let alone a child! Love your blog Judie!

    1. Lovely to hear from you! I am still obsessed with dishes. And children. I enjoy your blog too!