Porcelain and pearlware, crystal and cut glass from the tables of Constitution‘s officers.
By all accounts, naval officers were lions of the dinner table. Whether assembled around the wardroom table at sea or gathered for a fête ashore, these men routinely ate and drank to excess. For example, when Commodore Edward Preble sailed to the Mediterranean in 1803 on boardConstitution, he purchased a half-pipe and six demijohns of ordinary madeira, twenty bottles of fine madeira, ten dozen bottles of old port, four cases of claret, two barrels of strong beer, six hogsheads of London porter, eight gallons of old cognac, two cases of gin, a case of cherry brandy, and ten dozen bottles of cider, among other liquors. The cabin must have been a merry place!
It is fitting, considering such habits, that the bulk of the USS Constitution Museum’s ceramics and glass collection should be artifacts used for eating and drinking. Some items, such as William Bainbridge’s personalized wine bottle or a cut glass decanter used by the wardroom officers speak directly to the love of fine wine and liquors. Some objects are more demur, more domestic. Capt. John Mad Jack” Percival’s Blue Willow pattern tableware seems almost too precious for one whose reputation for action always preceded him. A fine set of Liverpool and Staffordshire jugs, emblazoned with transfer-printed images of American heroes or their victories speaks to the consumer’s pride in the nation’s accomplishments, and the English merchants’ love of profit. Whether commemorative or commonplace, the Museum’s ceramics and glass collection reminds us that Constitution‘s officers sipped and slurped with the best of them.