Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Crooked Town of Boston

Thursday, September 23, 2010
Susan reports:

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


Lady Burgley said...

This use of "crooked" reminds me of the old nursery rhyme.

"There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house."

Like many of the old rhymes, this, too, was based on history. Considering your interest in the Royal Stuarts, you probably have know this already, but here is an intersting site with the story behind the rhyme.

Anonymous said...

Many old towns are "crooked," with streets and lanes that either follow the natural topography or old Indian trails. The ones that were formally laid out on a regular grid, like Philadelphia, are the unusual ones.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Lady Burgley, I must confess I didn't know the history behind that rhyme - but it's fascinating, and makes perfect sense now. Thank you for linking to that site. I can see the seeds of many a future NHG blog in there!

Anonymous, that's very true of older towns. Even the older neighborhoods of New York, down on the southern tip of Manhattan, are quite irregular - and before the Great Fire brought about an unplanned "urban renewal" in the 17th c., even London, too, could have been called a "crooked" town.

LorettaChase said...

As someone who gets lost on the way back from the ladies' room, I appreciate a grid. I still get lost, but I appreciate it. I love crooked towns—and I had to laugh at Londoners calling Boston crooked. London is still crooked—and I'm not just saying that because I got lost...a lot. Even DH, who has built-in GPS, occasionally expressed perplexity. OK, it's not quite at the level of Boston...maybe...but still.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Haha, Loretta, here we go again - the nerdy minds thinking alike and posting simultaneously about crooked old London!

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Betty Anne said...

LOL! If I saw this pitcher at a flea market, I'd grab it. It's hilarious, and only partly because my DH is Boston-born-and-bred.

Audra said...

As a Bostonian, I nearly spit out my water at the sight of that jug. I want. I want so badly! ;)

Amanda W said...

I just found a mug at Goodwill made in England that says something similar, "Success to the crooked but interesting host of this house. I can't find out anything about it though. Glad to come across your blog and read about the history.

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