|Tea Service, circa 1817
Maker: Flight, Barr and Barr
Purchased by John Neilson,
proprietor of the Quebec Gazette
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Cat. no. 983.64.2
Photo S97-17917, CD2004-877
PORCELAINNot everyone could afford porcelain, but for those who could — "the higher classes," as government officials and rich merchants were sometimes referred to — there was a wide choice. In the early nineteenth century the best English porcelain was available in Canada. Prior to about the 1830s, however, it was usual for all classes to dine off earthenware. Those who used porcelain tableware were more apt to have it in the form of tea and coffee sets, breakfast sets and dessert services.
In the first half of the century English potters supplied most of it. Porcelain from Staffordshire, Liverpool, Worcester, Derby, Shropshire and Yorkshire was advertised by importers in the larger centres.
Even those who could not afford porcelain in the ordinary way had a chance to acquire it by methods that were common business practices of the day. At the end of the eighteenth century, Worcester teaware was being offered in exchange for furs in New Brunswick. For many years lotteries were a popular selling technique. In the 1830s a Montreal merchant was offering "13 Superbly Decorated China Tea and Coffee Services" and one "Richly Decorated" dessert service in a lottery where every prize was of tableware. Prizes were not always limited to tablewares. Porcelain ornaments and items to be used on the writing table were sometimes featured.
The Davenport factory in Staffordshire was referred to by at least one nineteenth-century Canadian writer as "a household name" in Canada. Just when porcelain was first made at this pottery has never been firmly established, but it was very early in the nineteenth century. This dessert plate comes from a service that at one time was in the possession of the Papineau family of Montreal and Montebello. Other items from this service are known, including tureens and shaped dishes. Each piece is painted with a bird (identified on the back) taken from illustrations in the Comte de Buffon's Histoire naturelle des oiseaux, first published in the eighteenth century.
One of the rarities in the Museum's collection of early nineteenth-century porcelain used in Canada is a tea and coffee service of Flight, Barr and Barr Worcester. What makes this service of special interest, apart from the fact it is complete for 12 and in almost mint condition, is the documentation that came with it. The Museum acquired it from a direct descendant of the original purchaser, John Neilson (1776-1848), proprietor of the Quebec Gazette. Through the years the Neilson family preserved not only the porcelain but the shipping order, dated at Worcester on March 17, 1817. It listed all the items and directed them to Neilson at Quebec. Such documentation for the Flight, Barr and Barr period of Worcester is rare, not only in Canada but in England itself.
Neilson's service was purchased from the factory. Others in Canada bought their Worcester from importers who made buying trips to England or who employed agents based there to make selections for them.
With the Worcester, the Museum also acquired a part coffee service of Coalport porcelain that had belonged to Neilson. The sugar basin bears the printed mark that the Shropshire potter John Rose began using in 1820, when the Society of Arts awarded him a medal for a lead-free glaze.