Artifact of the Day

Artifact of the Day: February 21, 2016

With the invaluable help from our new intern, we started photographing some of the artifacts we recovered from Eutaw Manor back in the spring of 2015.  This is the first of many posts where we will share some of the more exciting artifacts that we recovered from Eutaw Manor, and in time, from the other interesting archaeological sites we discovered from within Herring Run Park.

Today’s artifact of the day comes from Eutaw Manor.  Among the thousands of artifacts recovered from the cellar hole at Eutaw were fragments from numerous porcelain dinner plates.

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Burnt Dinner Plate Fragments Decorated with Gold Leaf

Eutaw Manor burnt down on October 25, 1865 and the occasion of it’s destruction was reported in the Baltimore Sun.  According to the report, the owner, William Carvel Hall, was hosting a christening. Apparently during the party the house accidentally caught fire and burnt entirely to the ground.  The article mentioned that the gentlemen present at the party and the neighbors were able to save most of the furniture in the dwelling, but it seems likely far more of William Carvel Hall’s belonging were lost than could be saved.

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October 27, 1865 Baltimore Sun Article Detailing the Event of the Fire at Eutaw Manor.

As was apparent from the archaeological investigation last Spring, many of William Carvel Hall’s fine dinner china was among the many belongings he lost that day.  In fact, it seems likely that the same dinner china that we recovered and that appear in the picture above were part of the same set Hall was using during the christening party.  As you can see in the picture, the china was decorated with a delicate design made of gold leaf.  Much of the gold had apparently melted off during the fire and all that survived on the smoke damaged and burnt plates are a hint of what was apparently a fine dinner set.

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Another Example of the Gold Leaf Design on one of William Carvel Hall’s Lost Dinner Plates.

Gold decorated plates such as those pictured here from Eutaw Manor are also commonly known as luster or lustre decorated wares. Luster decorated wares became popular in the early to mid-nineteenth century and were named for the very thin metallic film that was applied to the glazed surface of the ceramic for decoration. There were several varieties of luster ware that were produced during this time and the gold leaf pottery recovered from Eutaw was applied through hand painting or stenciling.  For the plates found at Eutaw, a brush was used to either freehand paint or stencil floral design in gold.  Stenciling was developed around 1806 and involved affixing a paper pattern to the glazed vessel.  Wax was then used to coat the entire surface of the vessel, after which the paper pattern was removed to reveal the design as unwaxed areas.  After the gold was used to coat the design, the remaining wax or sizing was removed and the vessel fired.  Thus, the design appeared in luster against the glazed surface color of the vessel.

As it turns out, these particular plates were likely at least 22 years old by the time William Carvel Hall lost them in the fire.  Before William took possession of them, this set was among numerous dinner and tea service sets once owned by his parent’s Benedict William Hall and Ann Calhoun Hall.  When Benedict died in 1843, an inventory was compiled of all the possession he owned at Eutaw.  Among them were a set of white and gold tea service and a large lot of French china.  While the inventory does not specifically indicate “gold leaf”, it seems likely the same porcelain we recovered from the excavation at Eutaw Manor over 150 years after the house burnt down was part of the same set of French china or white and gold tea china included in the 1843 inventory.

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A Photograph of a section of Benedict William Hall’s 1843 Inventory showing the lot of white and gold tea china and the large lot of French China.
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