Posts by Andrew Bair

Made in Japan

77_70_38DI2 With the exceptions of pieces owned by famous people, or particularly rare or valuable examples, ceramics are often overlooked as important aesthetic and historic objects. This is unfortunate because dinnerware, vases, figurines, and the like have much to tell us about the people who made and used them, and their societies. The National Heritage Museum owns a diverse group of ceramics, ranging from commemorative mugs for Masonic events to delicate porcelain teacups. The sugar and creamer set and the vase, seen here, were donated to the museum in 1977, and have been waiting for their stories to be told.

Both the sugar and creamer set and the vase are examples of the so-called "Nippon China" that was popular in American homes between 1865 and 1921.  "Nippon" is the transliteration of the more formal Japanese name for Japan. While Japanese craftsmen had made high-quality porcelain for centuries, the Western world only developed a strong interest in Japanese culture in the late nineteenth century, when many American and European artists began to incorporate Japanese-inspired motifs and imagery into their work. 77_46_1DI1

The end of the Tokugawa policy of seclusion in the 1850s meant that Japanese borders opened to foreigners for the first time since the early seventeenth century. This allowed Westerners to discover Japanese fine art and decorative arts, triggering a new fashion for Japonisme - the influence of Japanese art on Western art and design - that lasted into the early twentieth century. Likewise, Japanese artistic influences inspired many notable decorative artists who were active in the Art Nouveau movement, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Edmond Lachenal.

Like most other pieces of Japanese export porcelain during this period, the Museum's objects were hand-painted by Japanese artists with designs that were specifically created for Western audiences. Americans who purchased porcelain tableware and housewares in the early twentieth century were drawn to the ornate and the exotic.  They were also used to the gilded, highly decorative designs hailing from Limoges and Staffordshire. Both the floral motif of this vase and the idyllic landscape pictured on the sugar and creamer set reflect the popular designs of contemporary products from France and the United Kingdom, which had dominated the American market. Ironically, during the Meiji Period (1868-1912), when these objects were made, the Japanese favored simpler designs.  Gilded lusterwares, like this vase, were unfashionable in their country of origin.

77_46_3DI2 The marks on each of these objects provide insight into their history. Both the sugar bowl and the creamer are marked on the bottom with a trademark consisting of an “M” encircled by a wreath, with the words “Hand Painted” printed above and “Nippon” printed below the wreath. The “M” signifies that these pieces were made by the Morimura Brothers factory, which later developed into the Noritake China corporation. Morimura Brothers used this mark from 1911 to 1921. Likewise, the maple leaf stamp on the bottom of the vase was also a trademark of Morimura Brothers, which branded various products with this distinctive mark between 1891 and 1921.  

The year 1921 signaled the end of an era for Japanese export porcelain, as a new American law required that foreign manufacturers mark the country of origin of their products in English. Japanese products designed for the American market began being labeled with the anglicized name “Japan.” In turn, this evolved into the once-ubiquitous “Made in Japan” label that came to appear on everything from toys to electronics sold in the United States later in the twentieth century.


Alden, Aimee Neff, and Marian Kinney Richardson. Early Noritake China: An Identification and Value Guide to Tableware Patterns. Des Moines: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1987.

“Japanese Porcelain Noritake Marks.” Antique Chinese and Japanese Porcelain Collector's Help and Info Page. Nilsson, Jan-Erik, 2006,, accessed September 29, 2010.

“Nippon China Dinnerware History.” Antique China Porcelain & Collectibles. Nacq Partners, Ltd., 2010,, accessed September 29, 2010.

Van Patten, Joan F. Collector’s Encyclopedia of Nippon Porcelain: Identification and Values. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 2001.

Vase, 1891-1921, Japanese, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Dorothy A. and Albert H. Richardson, 77.70.38.

Creamer, 1911-1921, Japanese, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Edith V. Carlson, 77.46.1.

Sugar Bowl with Lid, 1911-1921, Japanese, National Heritage Museum Collection, gift of Edith V. Carlson, 77.46.3a-b.

Are the National Parks Better in Stereo?

88_38_25DI1 Andrew Stereo cards, also known as stereographic or stereopticon cards, were among the most popular photographic media in the United States from the 1860s to the 1930s.  A stereo card consists of two virtually identical photographs of a given subject that are mounted side-by-side on a rectangular card.  When viewed through a special device known as a stereoscope, the two images would project a single, larger, three-dimensional image of that subject.  The National Heritage Museum has almost 200 stereo cards in its collection, including several that depict national parks in the western United States.

Both of the stereo cards pictured here show scenes from Yosemite National Park in California.  The first shows the Fallen Monarch, a deceased giant sequoia tree that can still be seen today in Mariposa Grove at Yosemite.  The card was published in 1908 by the Keystone View Company, one of the leading American suppliers of stereo cards in the early twentieth century.

This stereo card is a relatively uncommon example, because it is a hand-colored photograph.  Photographers in the late nineteenth century occasionally hired artists to tint a black-and-white image with watercolors, oil paints, or dyes.  While hand-coloring was something of a novelty for American photographers, it was very popular in Japanese studios during this period.

The second card, published in 1867 by the noted early Western photographer Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916), also shows a view of Mariposa Grove at Yosemite.  Typical of the stereo cards of the American West in the Museum’s collection, it is not hand-colored and does not depict any people.  Instead, its primary focus is the majesty of the Western landscape.  Although there were no true national parks in 1867, when this photograph was taken, California had already set aside part of the Yosemite Valley as a state park.  In 1890, Congress established Yosemite as a national park.88_38_62DS1 Andrew

Viewing stereo cards was a common pastime during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Many upper- and middle-class Americans living in that period owned a stereoscope.  Ultimately, however, stereo cards declined in favor of newer technology. Handheld cameras like the Kodak Brownie, invented in 1900, allowed anyone to take snapshots of their favorite scenes.  By the time that the Keystone View Company ceased its regular production of stereo cards in 1939, motion pictures were already enormously popular with the American public.  Stereo cards were unable to compete with the social, cultural, and audiovisual experience of going to the movie theater.
To see photographs of the national parks as they appear today, please visit our current exhibition, Treasured Lands: The Fifty-Eight U.S. National Parks in Focus, which is on view through October 17, 2010.


Burns, Ken, and Dayton Duncan. The National Parks: America's Best Idea. New York: Knopf, 2009.

Gilbert, George. Photography: The early years: a historical guide for collectors. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.

Runte, Alfred. National Parks: The American Experience. 3rd ed. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

"The Kodak Brownie at the Franklin Institute." The Franklin Institute History of Science and Technology. The Franklin Institute, 2010,, accessed March 31, 2010.

"Welcome to Carleton Watkins Stereoviews." Welcome to Carleton Watkins Stereoviews,, accessed February 28, 2010.

Top: The Fallen Monarch, Mariposa Grove, 1906, Keystone View Company, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, United Kingdom, Australia; collection of the National Heritage Museum, Gift of William Caleb Loring, 88.38.25.

Bottom: In the Mariposa Grove, 1867, Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916), California, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Gift of William Caleb Loring, 88.38.62.

Does This Building Ring a Bell?

91_037_2aDP1 Did you know that the Old Belfry is the only site in Lexington, Massachusetts, to ever appear on an official United States coin?  In 1925, the United States Mint issued over 162,000 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollars to mark the 150th anniversary of the opening battles in the American Revolution.  Each silver half dollar bore the image of the Old Belfry on the reverse or back side, along with Daniel Chester French’s (1850-1931) Minute Man statue from Concord, Massachusetts, on the obverse or front.  The National Heritage Museum owns two of these coins, which it received in 1991, along with their original presentation boxes.

The town of Lexington originally built the Old Belfry in 1762 on land owned by Jonas Munroe. Six years later, the Belfry was moved to the town common, where it stood during the Battle of Lexington. On the night of April 19, 1775, the Belfry’s bell sounded the alarm that the British regulars were coming.  While the original Belfry was destroyed in 1909, the Lexington Historical Society built an exact replica in 1910 on its original Belfry Hill location. 91_037_2aDP2

During the months leading up to the anniversary celebration, the United States Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Commission came up with the idea for the commemorative half dollar, and created a preliminary design for the coin.  Next, the Commission, which was primarily composed of residents of the two towns, hired noted sculptor Chester Beach (1881-1956) to turn their blueprint into a metallic reality.  While Beach is most famous for his marble and bronze statues and busts, including The Unveiling of Dawn (1913) and Fountain of the Waters (1927), he also designed the Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar (1923), and produced the models for the Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar (1928).

91_037_2bDP1 Although Beach had his own ideas of how the coin should look, the Commission insisted that he follow their predetermined design.  In the end, he reluctantly created models for the coin that met the Commission’s exact specifications, but refused to sign the design as he had done for his previous half dollars.  Each coin came in a pine presentation box, with the Concord Minute Man and the Belfry, respectively, printed on the lid and the bottom of the box.  While Beach may not have been satisfied with the final product, fairgoers in Lexington and Concord liked the coins enough to buy 60,000 of them between April 18 and 20, 1925.  An unseasonable snowfall impacted the turnout for the fair, which featured a reenactment of the battle at the North Bridge in Concord, and an elaborate military parade afterward.  Collectors in New England bought most of the leftover coins.  

While the Massachusetts State Quarter, issued in 2000, showed a figure resembling the renowned Minute Man statue in Concord, the Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar remains the only legally issued American coin to depict a Lexington landmark.  Will the Mint recognize Lexington again in 2025, for the 250th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord?  We hope so!


"1775 Battle Acted at Concord Bridge: Great Crowds See a Pageant in Which Minute Men Again Face British Regulars. Throngs at Lexington Dawes and Pershing Take Part In Series of Exercises Beginning With Paul Revere's Ride." New York Times (1857-Current file), April 21, 1925, (accessed January 11, 2010).

Murphy, Ian. “Lexington Belfry Has Storied History.” The Concord Journal, April 11, 2007, (accessed January 21, 2010).

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. “1925 Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar.” Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, (accessed January 8, 2010).

Opitz, Glenn B., ed. Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo, 1984.

Tour Lexington, Massachusetts. “Historic Sites and Museums.” The Liberty Ride, (accessed January 11, 2010).

Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins, 2010 (63rd Edition): The Official Red Book. Edited by Kenneth Bressett. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, 2009.

Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial Half Dollar and Box, 1925, U.S. Mint, Washington, D.C., National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Dorothy L. and Stephen W. Smith, 91.037.2a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.