Friday, August 12, 2022

New Market Site Ceramics - A Philadelphia Discovery

For the last several weeks, our blog posts have focused on the 50th anniversary of Tropical Storm Agnes and its impact on archaeological sites and cultural resources in Pennsylvania. This week, we would like to turn back to happier subjects and have a look at some of the beautiful ceramic vessels from a site discovered in the city of Philadelphia.

In the 1970s, construction of portions of I-95 and urban redevelopment projects occurred in the oldest sections of the city near the waterfront, prompting archaeological investigations in the areas that would be affected by demolition and construction activities. Several new historic archaeological sites were discovered as a result of these investigations, including the New Market site, 36PH0015.

In the 18th century, the public market, consisting of a row of covered shed stalls, ran along the middle of Second Street between Pine and South streets. The area surrounding the market was marked by the homes of the wealthy and influential. Thousands of artifacts recovered from excavations in this area yielded information on the diet, lifestyle, and economic status of the people who once lived and worked there. 

Some of these artifacts went on display in Philadelphia as part of the collections of the Atwater Kent Museum; however, after a time the collection was put into storage in the city. While in storage, the boxes of artifacts were damaged by water and vandalism and many objects ended up being dumped from their original boxes and bags, losing their context or connection to the original site. They were later donated to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, where they are currently curated.


Map of the City of Philadelphia c. 1802 Showing the Early City and Delaware River Waterfront (public domain) 

During the early years of settlement of the city of Philadelphia, most of the ceramics that people used were imported from Britain or Europe. A popular type of ceramic that was introduced to Europe in the 16th century was porcelain from China. English attempts to reproduce Chinese porcelain in the early to mid-1700s were unsuccessful but resulted in new types of ceramics, including tin-glazed earthenware and salt-glazed stoneware.

Many types of ceramics were recovered from Site 36PH0015 including lovely, delicate tea and table wares made of salt-glazed stoneware. These wares are marked by thin vessel walls and an orange-peel-like surface appearance and were very popular in the 18th century.  Other examples of scratch blue (and black) decorated salt-glazed stoneware have geometric or floral designs etched into the vessel body.

Examples of Delicate Salt-glazed Stoneware Tea and Table Wares from 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC)

Examples of Floral Designs in Scratch Blue and Black Salt-glazed Stoneware from 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC) 

Another common type of ceramic found at site 36PH0015 was red earthenware or redware, so-called due to its red color. Redware has been made for centuries and continues to be produced to this day. Although the first redware would have been brought to Philadelphia from England and Europe, local potteries were soon established. Clay sources were discovered within the city itself that were used for manufacture of bricks and for making redware pottery.

These large redware serving plates, or chargers, are typically highly decorated. Decorative elements on these chargers include colored glazes and slips, combed slips, and depictions of figures, animals, and flowers, as well as geometric designs.

Decorative Redware Chargers from Site 36PH0015. Charger at Left Displays a Horse and Rider Scene (photo by PHMC)

Decorative Redware Chargers from Site 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC)

Other forms of decorative ceramics from 36PH0015 include bowls, candlestick holders, figurines, mugs, pitchers, chamberpots, and other objects. A lovely polychrome painted redware bowl in the collection may be an example of work from 18th-century Moravian potters. 

Decorated Redware Bowl, Staffordshire Candlestick Holder, and Polychrome Painted Redware Bowl (photo by PHMC)

Other objects are more utilitarian and less decorative, including these three small glazed redware pieces. The small size of the mug indicates that it may have been for a child.

Small Redware Jugs and Mug (photo by PHMC)

Dishes, mugs, and cups often featured bright colors and whimsical designs such as the creamware pieces pictured below. Popular designs included using metallic oxides to make ‘clouded’ and ‘tortoiseshell’ color palettes and fruit and vegetable shapes such as the melon tureen and cauliflower-shaped teacup. Creamware was highly fashionable at the turn of the 19th century and wealthy Philadelphians would have bought these flashy and unique ceramics to keep up with trends. 

Examples of Decorative Creamware: Wieldonware Plate, Stylized Sprig-molded Melon Tureen Lid, Cauliflower Teacup, and Striped Teacup (photo by PHMC)

These are just a few of the many different types of ceramics that were recovered during excavations at this site. Due to the number of archaeological projects and recorded sites in Philadelphia, there are also many other site collections that contain these types of ceramics. As always, the New Market artifact assemblage and other collections held by the Section of Archaeology are available for use by anyone with scholarly research objectives.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about these beautiful ceramics and the important information that they hold for archaeologists in understanding the daily lives of early Philadelphia citizens. Below is a list of some of the many publications relating to archaeology in Philadelphia. 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.


Liggett, Barbara

1978    Archaeology at New Market Exhibit Catalogue. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.


Myers, Susan H.

1980    Handcraft to Industry: Philadelphia Ceramic 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