Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Enoch Wood & Sons (1818-1846) "Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast Africa" 16.5 inch platter, ca. 1825.  Although hard to see, the title of the pattern is printed on the left near the bottom of the center of the pattern.

One of the reasons I started writing this blog was to share what I have learned from studying transferware patterns.  I was always curious about an Enoch Wood (1818-1846) pattern, "Cape Coast Castle On The Gold Coast Africa."  It is part of a series known as the Irregular Shell Border Series, which mainly includes American and British views.  An African view didn't seem to fit in.  I learned that Cape Coast Castle was a major British trading post located in the Gold Coast (a British Colony) from the 17th through the 20th centuries.  As such, the pattern falls into a British colonial category, rather like a lot of transferware patterns with views of India.   I learned that merchants from all over the world, including America, came to Cape Coast Castle to trade.  If you look carefully, you'll see that the ship in the foreground is flying an American flag.

Cape Coast Castle functioned as an important British market between the natives of the Gold Coast (now Ghana)* and British, American, and other merchants.   Some of the major commodities exchanged were slaves, gold, mahogany, blankets, spices, sugar, and silk.  The castle was also a notorious prison for the slaves who were waiting to be exported.  For many reasons,  it seems odd (to me) that a slave trading post is featured on a transferware platter.  Although the platter is beautiful, its subject is morally repugnant. Also, by the time the platter was made around 1825, British slave trading had been abolished.   Still, perhaps the pattern was used because Cape Coast Castle, however infamous, continued to be a major trading post for nearly another hundred years.

Cape Coast Castle today. It is now a tourist attraction.
I thought I'd add a second pattern in the Irregular Shell Border Series that depicts a Gold Coast trading post.  The pattern features a Danish-Norwegian trading post, "Christianburg on the Gold Coast Africa."  Christianburg Castle was the headquarters for Denmark-Norway's** commercial activities on the Gold Coast:  presumably, slaves as well as gold.

Enoch Wood & Sons (1818-1846) "Christianburg Danish Settlement on the Gold Coast Africa" 20 inch platter, ca. 1825.

I'm reading a novel, "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi, that begins in the late 18th century at Cape Coast Castle.  The book is the impetus for this post.  Although I had knowledge of the slave trade between Britain and its colonies, the book fleshes out the story of the actual business of slavery.  It is painful to think of people as commodities.

Obviously, this is a transferware blog, not a slavery history blog, but I thought I would direct you to some slavery information.  If you want to know more about British slave trading, follow this link.  An interesting history of slavery in America is found here.  For more information about Cape Coast Castle, visit "Ghana's Slave Castles: The Shocking Story of the Ghanaian Cape Coast.

*The Gold Coast was a British Colony that became the independent nation of Ghana in 1957. The Gold Coast is to the left of Nigeria.

The Gold Coast is printed in red to the left of Nigeria.

** Denmark-Norway was one country from 1523-1814 except 1533-1537.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


"Jefferson" 2.35 inch by 2.5 inch child's early 19th century child's mug.

I recently visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).  Among his many illustrious accomplishments,  Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.  He was also a slave owner.  It is still difficult for me to fathom a slave owner writing: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."  What I learned at Monticello, is that Jefferson was in debt, and his slaves were an economic necessity.  While he was alive, his slaves were needed to run the plantation. When he died, his slaves were sold to pay his debts.

Jefferson wasn't the only American Founding Father and President to own slaves: George Washington and James Madison were also slave holders.  However, this is not going to be a post about the evils of slavery, that too is self-evident.  My visit to Monticello inspired me to look at anti-slavery transferware.  Much of anti-slavery or abolitionist transferware patterns were meant for children.  Remember, that children's pottery was intended to instruct as well as delight.

"Perish Slavery/Prosper Freedom" child's mug.  "Perish Slavery" indeed! 

Early 19th century mug illustrating a slave sale.

The other side of the mug above includes the poem: "Like cattle to a fair,/They sell us, young and old/From mother too they tear-/For love of filthy gold."
Here is a close-up of the slave sale.  The child on the barrel has been asked to dance.  This was to demonstrate to buyers that he was in good health.

Close-up of the scene on the mug above.
At the Reeves Center at Washington & Lee University, I saw an interesting juxtaposition of the pattern above with a creamware jug commemorating Jefferson.

An interesting juxtaposition

Also seen at Washington & Lee University.

"Remember them that are in Bonds" child's plate.

Not all anti-slavery transferware patterns were intended for children.  Here is one of my favorites. The poem on the other side of the jug was written by William Cowper (1731-1800) in 1788. 

"Am Not I A Man And A Brother" jug with lustre decoration.

The other side of the above jug includes the words of William Cowper's "The Negro's Complaint: Fleecy locks and black complexion/ Cannot forfeit nature's claim;/ Skins may differ, but affection / Dwells in white and black the same./ Slaves of gold whose sordid dealings/ Tarnish all your boasted powers:/ Prove that you have human feelings/ Ere you boldly question ours." Here is a link to the entire poem.

When I visited Monticello as a child, there was mention of slavery, but no condemnation of it.  Luckily, times have changed.  Sort of.