J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Knockoffs of Cincinnati Chinaware

A while back, a longtime Boston 1775 reader alerted me to this story in the New York Times:
Shirley M. Mueller…, an independent scholar and collector of Chinese export porcelain in Indianapolis,…is looking for dinnerware painted with winged goddesses, holding aloft trumpets and bald eagles, which are symbols of the Society of the Cincinnati. Elite military officers formed the Society in 1783, and they commissioned custom porcelain from artisans in China. Those artisans applied the American insignia on standard white ceramic wares, with blue scrollwork and leaves around the undulating rims.

Chinese factories also exported plain versions of the blue-edged products. Some nefarious painters have lately been adding goddesses and eagles to the centers of authentic but boring 18th-century plates.

Ms. Mueller has so far tracked down a few freshly embellished pieces. In 2009 she borrowed one suspect for lab testing at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, comparing it with an authenticated platter in her own collection that had been widely exhibited and featured in publications. The pigments on the forgery contained levels of chromium, zinc and cobalt that do not appear in those used by Chinese ceramists.

The whole back of the fake had the wrong tint. “The necessary refiring of the later dish to add the central embellishment left a partial gray surface on the back,” Ms. Mueller and the Winterthur scientist Jennifer Mass wrote in a 2011 article for The Magazine Antiques.
The porcelain shown above is a genuine fake. It’s a modern reproduction of George Washington’s Cincinnati chinaware, sold by Mount Vernon.

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