What is this?
Dinner plate removed from HMS Guerriere by Captain Isaac Hull
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
Why Captain Hull chose to pilfer this colorful piece of dinnerware from the cabin of his conquered enemy is anyone’s guess. It may be that he needed an easily transportable souvenir to give to friends or family back home. Perhaps the pattern struck his fancy. Most likely this was one of many items quickly taken in a general sweep before the Americans set the shattered vessel on fire and consigned her to the waves. No matter how it escaped destruction, it remains as a gaudy reminder of Constitution‘s first victory of the War of 1812.
The development of transfer printer ceramics in the mid-eighteenth century revolutionized the English pottery industry. While first applied to soft-paste porcelain and enamels, manufacturers like Josiah Wedgewood and Sadler and Green soon used transfer printing on less expensive earthenwares. The white grounds of these new “creamwares” and “pearlwares” made a perfect backdrop for black-inked prints of popular military and political heroes, landscapes, and other common motifs.
The transfer decoration was applied to partly biscuit fired ceramics (1st firing). The transfer was taken from an engraved copper plate, filled with cobalt and oil as a flux, by means of tissue paper. The potter laid the print onto the item, applied pressure, and then removed the paper with water. Once dried, the piece was fired at about 1112º F (600ºC) to fix the cobalt and burn away the oil. The piece was then glazed and fired again at about 1832º F (1000ºC). The glaze sealed the print and made for a durable and decorative ceramic.
The ten-inch dinner plate is made of soft paste porcelain decorated with a blue transfer print and red overglaze. The print is of chinoiserie snakes and dragons, interspersed with four pastoral scenes featuring tents and domes buildings. There is a 2 ¾ inch crack along one edge, as well as a small chip in the rim. The reverse bears a statement written [possibly in the hand of Isaac Hull]: “This plate was take from the Guerriere by Commodore Isaac Hull.” An early to mid-20th century newspaper clipping recounting Hull’s career and awards is glued beneath the label.