A Memorable Gift
March 22, 2011
At almost two feet high, this pitcher stands out from the crowd of transfer-printed jugs made in the late 1700s and early 1800s. During this time, English pottery manufacturers designed and sold great quantities of light beige-to-white earthenware, called creamware, to Americans. Much of it was plain or minimally decorated tableware, but consumers who wanted to splash out could order transfer-printed designs with gilded or enamel-painted decorations to embellish jugs, bowls or platters.
Some of these surviving objects celebrate accomplishments, both individual and national. This monumental pitcher, personalized with an inscription that says, “From John Walton to St. Paul’s Lodge,” may have marked either the founding of the Groton, Massachusetts, lodge in 1797 or Dr. John Walton’s (1770-1862) term as master from 1806-1808. Much bigger than typical examples, which are large enough for 2-3 transfer prints, this pitcher features over a dozen different Masonic and floral transfer-printed designs. Hand-applied gilding decorates the top and base and also highlights elements of the printed decoration. Walton most assuredly gave his lodge a lavish gift.
Unlike the majority of transfer print-decorated pitchers, this one bears a maker’s mark, WEDGWOOD, impressed on the bottom. This mark identifies the famous Staffordshire pottery company founded by Josiah Wedgwood as the pitcher’s maker. Unfortunately, none of the transfer-print designs on the pitcher are signed. A few of the transfer prints, such as a stanza that begins “The World is in Pain/our Secrets to Gain,” and an image thought to have been derived from different Masonic membership certificates (see illustration), are fairly common on antique creamware pitchers decorated with Masonic themes. Many other designs on the jug relate to English Royal Arch Freemasonry. They are less common in the Museum or the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collections, but do appear other collections. For example, a 1925 history of the Grand Lodge of Ireland includes an illustration of a 1797 pitcher of the same size and maker with a very similar decoration as the Walton gift.
How St. Paul’s Lodge used this enormous vessel is an open question. A rough calculation estimates that, if filled, the jug would hold about four-and-a-half gallons of liquid and weigh nearly 40 pounds. The secretary of the Union Lodge of Dorchester, Massachusetts, left a clue as to how his lodge used their pitchers. He described a pair of smaller (11" high) transfer-print-decorated pitchers (see illustration) given to the lodge in 1811 as “punch pitchers.” In 1802 St. Paul’s Lodge comprised 42 members. If they filled this pitcher with punch (and could lift it!), every member could certainly have a serving. Regardless of its use, this monumental presentation piece ensured the donor was long remembered.
Part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts housed here at the Museum, John Walton's gift to St. Paul's Lodge is currently on view in Curators' Choice. If you know about other monumental pitchers associated with Masonic organizations, we'd love to hear about them! Please get in touch or leave a comment.
Pitcher, 1797-1810. Wedgwood, Staffordshire, England. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.10165. Photographs by David Bohl.
Pitcher, 1811. England. Gift of Union Lodge, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 75.46.11a-b.
John Heron Lepper and Philip Crossle, History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, Vol. 1, Dublin: Lodge of Research, 1925.
John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Lexington, Massachusetts: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994.
S. Robert Teitelman, Patricia A. Halfpenny and Ronald W. Fuchs II, Success to America: Creamware for the American Market. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antiques Collectors’ Club, 2010.