Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What’s All the Confusion About American Parian?

QUESTION: Can you tell me if the cream pitcher and sugar bowl I have are authentic pieces of Parian ware? Someone told me they might be American.

ANSWER: Parian ware is a type of salt-glazed pottery made in England beginning in the 1840s. The English pottery that originally developed it, W.T. Copeland, named it after Greek Parian marble since they intended to duplicate expensive marble sculptures for the growing merchant class who wanted to emulate decorative pieces owned by the wealthy. While it has the same ingredients as porcelain–white clay and feldspar–the proportions are two of clay to one of feldspar, instead of equal ones as in porcelain.

Victorians who were climbing up the social and economic ladder loved the statues of classical figures and such, made to resemble those of ancient Greece and Rome. After Copeland, the most famous maker of Parian, perfected the process, other English potters, including Boote, Minton, and even Wedgewood began producing it.

British potters, who immigrated to America in the 19th century, brought with them the skills to make Parian and established potteries from Vermont to South Carolina where they made Parian ware using English techniques. Just as their British counterparts, American women loved it because it resembled expensive marble at a fraction of the price. Most pieces are a dull, gray-white and unglazed.

Parian really took off in the United States after the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where several American potteries set up exhibits of their works. Potteries such as Ott & Brewer of Trenton, New Jersey and Union Porcelain Works of Brooklyn, New York created Parian statuary with truly American themes. Since the Civil War had ended a little over 10 years before, many of them celebrated the heros of it. The game of baseball had also gained national popularity, so Ott & Brewer produced a statue called “The Baseball Pitcher,” sculpted by Isaac Isaac Broome for their exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition.

What gets many collectors confused is that the Bennington Pottery, founded by Christopher W. Fenton, operated under the name Fenton’s Works from 1847 to 1849, and then as the United States Pottery Company from 1849 until 1858. It produced not only Parian statuary but also 16 different styles of pitchers to hold everything from water to ice tea and milk.

While the potters back in England marked their pieces, many in America did not. The United States Pottery in Bennington, Vermont, one of the most noted American Parian makers, marked only about 20 percent of their pieces and then mostly pitchers with either “Fenton's Works,” “U.S.P.,” or “UNITED STATES/ POTTERY CO."

So the creamer and pitcher above would most likely have come from one of the American Parian makers rather than one in England.

For more information on Parian ware, read Parian Ware–Affordable Art for the Masses.

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