Friday, January 31, 2020

Early Ceramics of Philadelphia: Examples from the Market Street Project

Many of the collections in the Section of Archaeology were recovered from the city of Philadelphia. These collections are full of beautiful ceramic vessels that document the European settlement and early occupation of this area. Today we will look at a collection from Market Street that contains a wide variety of ceramics.

The city of Philadelphia was founded in 1682 by William Penn and his Quaker followers and by the end of the eighteenth century was the largest urban center in the United States. The earliest settlement of the city began along the waterfront of the Delaware River along Front Street and spread north and south. Market Street runs west from Front Street toward the Schuylkill River and is part of the “old City”. As well as being one of the earliest sections of the city, the east end of Market Street housed the first printing office of Benjamin Franklin, in which he printed The Pennsylvania Gazette.

Map of the city of Philadelphia in 1802 Showing Market Street and the waterfront (Public Domain)

Archaeological excavations were undertaken in the 1970s by PennDOT prior to the construction of an access ramp over I-95 between the Penn’s Landing Development and Market Street.
Preliminary work on this project would involve the demolition of 19 structures from Market Street to Church Street and between Front and Second Streets. The firm of Abraham Levy Architect, under the direction of Herbert Levy and Charles Hunter, was hired to conduct archaeological salvage prior to the demolition activities.

Surprisingly, beneath the buildings located within the demolition area a number of historic features were found, including wells, privies, garbage pits, and foundations of earlier buildings. These features represented the daily life of this part of the city during the early-eighteenth through mid-nineteenth centuries. Thousands of artifacts were recovered from the excavations and a total of eight sites were recorded (36Ph1 thru 36Ph8).

During the earliest years of settlement of Philadelphia, a large proportion of its ceramics would have been imported from England. Types such as Nottingham and Fulham stonewares, Staffordshire earthenware, and North Devon Sgraffito are all named for the areas of England in which they were produced.  Examples of these types were recovered from the Market Street sites.

Early English ceramics, including: (l. to r.) Fulham stoneware, Nottingham stoneware, combed Staffordshire, North Devon Sgraffito earthenware, combed Staffordshire (photo by PHMC)

Porcelain from China was a very popular type of ceramic that was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century and was later produced specifically for the export market. Attempts to reproduce Chinese porcelain in the early to mid-1700s were unsuccessful but resulted in a new type of ceramic called tin-glazed earthenware, which was manufactured in England, France, Italy, and Spain.

Examples of tin-glazed earthenware (top) and Chinese porcelain (bottom) from Market Street (photo by PHMC)

Another common type of ceramic was red earthenware or redware, so-called due to its red color. Redware has been made for centuries and continues to be made to this day. Although the first redware would have been brought from England and Europe, local potteries were soon established. Local clay sources from within the city itself were used for manufacture of bricks and likely were also used for making redware.

Brightly colored examples of redware from Market Street sites (photo by PHMC)

Two such local redware potters were Daniel Topham, who operated a pottery along 8th and Filbert Streets from 1766 to 1783, and Andrew Miller, Sr., who purchased the same property and operated his pottery from 1785 until his sons took over in the early 1800s. It is not known if any of the redware pieces in the collection were made by either Topham or Miller, but it is certainly possible that some of the redware comes from one or both of these sites.

Throughout the 1700s, potters continued to attempt to produce “porcelain-like” pottery and more refined ceramic types. These ranged from more delicate redwares, white (and scratch-blue) salt-glazed stoneware, and creamware.

Three teapots: (l. to r.) Refined red ware, white salt-glazed stoneware, and creamware

Thin-bodied, white earthenwares with beautiful and creative decoration, called pearlware, developed near the end of the eighteenth century. Pearlwares were very popular and came in a wide range of decorative techniques including mocha, banded or annular, marbled, engine-turned, rouletted, dipped, and many others.

Pearlware and creamware vessels with a variety of decoration were recovered from Market Street sites: mocha and banded mocha, dipped, engine-turned and rouletted, and marbled (photo by PHMC)

Even more delicate pearlwares can be found in the form of teacups and bowls. A great assortment of teacups, bowls, and saucers were recovered from the Market Street sites. Many of these are decorated with flowers, geometric designs, and Chinese scenes that have been hand painted or transfer-printed.

Pearlware teacups and saucers in varying designs and patterns (photo by PHMC)

These are just some of the many types of ceramics that were found during the excavations at Market Street. While the majority of the pieces discussed here were imported from Europe there were also a great number of potteries in and around the Philadelphia area throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that may be examined in future blogs. Additionally, ceramics were not the only artifacts recovered from these sites as they were rich with domestic goods and personal items that tell a story about the lives of the people of Philadelphia.

Due to the numbers of archaeological projects and recorded sites in Philadelphia, there are also many other site collections that contain these types of historic ceramics. As always, the Market Street assemblage and other collections held by the Section of Archaeology are available for use by anyone with scholarly research objectives.

Archaeological research of early ceramics has yielded fascinating information about consumerism in colonial America. The wealthy Quaker households of Philadelphia contained fine imported ceramics and glass stemware as opposed to the working-class neighborhoods with their locally made redware plates, bowls and tankards. The key role Philadelphia’s location along the Delaware and Schuylkill river played an important part in distributing these ceramics into the surrounding communities and researchers have traced Philadelphia potters across Pennsylvania.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about these beautiful ceramics but will also understand the important information they hold for archaeologists in understanding the activities of our early settlers. Preservation of the archaeological record from these historic neighborhoods have produced numerous publications. Below is a list of just a few that help to tell the story of Philadelphia’s past. We hope you will be inspired to examine the archaeological record of your community and help us to preserve the past.

For Additional Reading:
Carpentier, Donald and Jonathan Rickard
2001            Slip Decoration in the Age of Industrialization. Ceramics in America 2001. Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, WI.

Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts, Michael Parrington
1992            The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA.

Articles on Bonnin and Morris, Philadelphia porcelain makers:
Hunter, Robert
2007            Ceramics in America. University Press of New England, Lebanon, NH.

Myers, Susan H.
1980            Handcraft to Industry: Philadelphia Ceramics in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, No. 43. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Orr, David G.
2003            Samuel Malkin in Philadelphia: A Remarkable Slipware Assemblage. Ceramics in America 2003, pp. 252-255 (

Yamin, Rebecca
2008            Digging in the City of Brotherly Love: Stories from Philadelphia Archaeology. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .
--> --> --> --> --> -->

No comments:

Post a Comment