As anyone who has walked along the tables of a flea market knows, there seems to be a basic human need to commemorate people and events on pottery. Recent presidents (and presidential hopefuls), World Series champions, and even Big Bird can be found on mugs, plates, and ashtrays.
Museums, too, have shelf after shelf of creamware commemorating long-past shipwrecks, battles, and even more presidents – plus kings and queens. But just when we think we've seen it all (the cast of Twilight on a pet food bowl, anyone?), we come across an example that is just plain bewildering, even to a Nerdy History Girl. Especially to a Nerdy History Girl.
The legend on this English-made jug: "SUCCESS to the Crooked but interesting Town of BOSTON!" Were the politicians of Boston already so infamous – albeit interesting – by 1800 that they merited an import jug of their own? And why wish them success in their crookedness?
Alas, the explanation is much less intriguing. Once the American Revolution had ended, British manufacturers were perfectly happy to put ill-will behind them for the sake of pleasing the new nation of potential consumers across the ocean. Potters were quick to produce creamware featuring American heroes like George Washington for export. Boston, that former hotbed of rebellion, was now praised and glazed as the new home of liberty. But long before the days of Sam Adams, Boston had also been famous for its narrow, winding streets, and dubbed a "crooked town" because of them. Thus the maker of this jug intended to praise the quaintness of Boston, not comment on the Bostonians' honesty – but it's probably no accident that this particular jug was not a popular model, and is today rare.
Above: Jug, probably Staffordshire, England, 1808-15, Winterthur Museum, Gift of S. Robert Teitelman
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.