Early Chinese Export Cider Pitcher


Freed from British Trade restrictions following the American independence, Americans lost no time in establishing trade with China.  The first American ship involved in the China Trade was the "Empress of China," which sailed from New York in 1784.  Other American merchants quickly followed and began importing teas, spices, silks, and ceramics like the cider pitcher seen above.  Chinese porcelain was a particularly important item.  By the time Americans entered the China Trade, the Chinese had already developed certain stock patterns, several of which used Masonic symbols.  Since symbolism plays an important part in Chinese art, Chinese decorators must have felt a degree of familiarity in working with designs and symbols.  The most common stock pattern imported in the American trade is made up of polychrome symbols with either a star or grapevine border like the cider pitcher above.  The design includes the pillars and mosaic pavement and arranged around them are the beehive, a Chinese type work bench and tools, square and compasses, Bible, and a smooth ashlar fitted with a handle.  Other versions include only the sun, moon, stars, and a cloudy canopy interpreted as stylized Chinese rain clouds.  

Another type of Masonic decoration imported to America were personal monograms with a pseudo-armorial design of Masonic emblems.  The forms of Masonic decorated China Trade porcelain are primarily mugs, punch bowls, tea and coffee pots, and more rarely, entire tea sets.  The notebook of an American trader dated 1797, in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society, lists the "Price current at Canton for Chinaware" and includes 1 to 1 1/2 gallon Masonic bowls for 2 to 3 dollars each, and Masonic pint mugs for 20 dollars a hundred.  Most of this porcelain was for private use, although the history of some of the larger punch bowls definitely suggests that they were used in Lodges.

A special "Thanks" to Brother Al Lohman, a 30 year collector and 30+ year Masonic Lodge member from Wisconsin for submitting the pictures of this beautiful pitcher.  Al trades on eBay under the User ID  "lochlohman"




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