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History in an antique: every collector jug tells a story

By Christopher Proudlove ©

by Christopher Proudlove�
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the chase


One of the joys of collecting is talking to other collectors, so it was a pleasure to receive an e-mail this week from someone in Bala who wanted advice about a rather smart antique pottery jug. That’s Bala, Ontario, not the lakeside village in North Wales, which is one of the joys of the Internet (see panel). Never has there been a better way to exchange knowledge and trade with collectors, wherever they might live.

So, in the never-ending quest, we resolved to identify the maker of the jug and learn all about it. The first part was easy. As can be seen in the accompanying illustration, the base of the jug carries and impressed mark which reads “Published by W. Ridgway & Co Hanley, October 1, 1835.

What makes this jug particularly interesting is that it is decorated with the famous story of Tam O’Shanter, based on scenes from the poem by Robert Burns (1759-96).

But first things first. The famous Ridgway family of potters have a complicated history. In simple terms, brothers John and William succeeded their father, Job, who trained at Swansea and Leeds before returning home to Hanley in 1781 to found a pottery company of his own.

He built the Cauldon Place Works in Shelton in 1802 and the two boys joined him in 1808. Job died in 1813 and the brothers continued trading as partners until 1830 when they went their separate ways.

John retained the factory where he produced porcelain fine enough to receive Royal assent as Potter to Queen Victoria.

William, meanwhile, concentrated on fine quality domestic earthenware and was clearly successful — he went on to own six factories in the Potteries.

How it got to Canada is unclear, but the fine relief moulded jug is a William Ridgway speciality, one of more than 25 with different designs, made over a period of almost 30 years at his Church Works in Hanley.

Fortunately for today’s collectors, the varying designs or either published or registered and many bear impressed marks,which means they can be dated with some certainty.

Interestingly, the Tam O’Shanter jug is the earliest Ridgeway jug to carry a date mark.

It tells the story based loosely on Douglas Graham of Shanter, Ayrshire (1739-1811), whose wife Helen was a superstitious shrew.

He was prone to drunkenness and womanising on market day and on one such occasion the local wags clipped his horse’s tail – a fact he explained away with a scary tale of witches which his wife was naive enough to believe.

On one side of the jug we can see Tam carousing away the evening of market day in the local hostelry:

Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
Wi reaming sAats, that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnie,
His ancient, trusty, drougthy crony:

However, “the minutes wing’d their way wi’ pleasure”, the clock on a wall showing almost midnight, Tam must quickly make his way home.

But in his inebriated and confused state, he claims he is waylaid by a couple of warlocks and witches and is forced to run for his life.

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou’ll get thy fairin!
In hell, they’ll roast thee like a herrin!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
Kate soon will be a woefu’ woman!

The witches give chase and Tam heads for the river, knowing that they are unable to cross running water.

But before his grey mare Meg, or Maggie, reaches the bridge:

For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle!

Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

The other side of the jug shows the chase. One of the two witches in the seen is shown clinging on to the horse’s tail just as Tam reaches the bridge over the stream, while the jug handle is modelled with a hand clutching the tail.

The designs are almost certainly copies of contemporary prints taken from pictures in circulation at the time. Most notable among them are illustrations by the eminent engraver Thomas Landseer ARA (1795-1880) brother of the famous Sir Edwin Landseer, which were published in an edition of Burns’s poem by Marsh & Miller of London in 1830.

The email from Canada asking for information about Ridgway jugs in fact began: “Hello from the Moon”!
Its sender went on to explain that his home was situated where the Moon River flows into Lake Muskoka in Bala, Ontario. “We live on the Moon River. And so, we live on the Moon!”
Bala was founded in 1868 by Thomas Burgess, a settler born in Scotland who had visited North Wales prior to emigrating. On his arrival he said the area and its lake reminded him of Bala and he decided to adopt the name.
Burgess built a sawmill, opened a general store, bakeshop, blacksmith’s shop and post office and in 1917, the family helped establish a hydroelectric plant on the site of the original sawmill.
In 1922, Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, vacationed at Bala and was inspired to write The Blue Castle. The boarding house she stayed in is now home to the Bala Museum and has become a shrine to her.
The town is officially twinned with our own Bala in Gwynedd.

Interestingly, the scene inside the inn and the handle formed by a witch’s hand clutching the horse’s tail can also be seen on a Burns jug manufactured by another potter which appeared a year before the Ridgway version.

The coincidence is too great and it can be safely assumed that Ridgway copied the idea from the other potter. At the time, the laws of copyright were but a twinkle in a lawyer’s eye.

It was common practice in the middle of the 19th century for potters to take their inspiration for events going on around them. Modellers of Staffordshire flatback figures depicting famous politicians, soldiers and actors copied the illustrations in the broadsheets, penny dreadfuls and playbills and printers made a good living by publishing prints of engraved illustrations specifically for the pottery industry.

Another charming Ridgway jug is modelled with the story of John Gilpin’s ride, while others are similarly decorated in relief with classical motifs, arabesques, fruiting vines and other naturalistic elements.

Oddly, such crisply modelled examples of the potter’s skill, whilst becoming less common, remain surprisingly affordable. It is more than possible to pick up an extremely fine and undamaged example for under �200, while �80 to �120 is the going rate for most at auction. Of course, replacement value for insurance purposes is somewhat more.

As a result, it is eminently possible to build a collection of Ridgway jugs picking up an examples of the many different designs available without breaking the bank. They make a fascinating documentary of middle-class aspirations during the course of the Industrial Revolution that brought great wealth to a relative few.

Pictures show, top:
The Ridgway jug showing poor Maggie in full gallop but with a witch hanging on to her tail

Below: left to right: The reverse of the jug decorated with the scene inside the tavern showing Tam enjoying a foaming quart being poured by the landlord�s wife

The illustrations of the same scenes by Thomas Landseer from an edition of the Robert Burns poem Tam O�Shanter published in 1830

The jug handle formed by a witch�s hand grasping the horse�s tail

The impressed mark on the base of the jug, It reads: Published by W Ridgway & Co Hanley October 1, 1835

drinkingprint1pprint2incised markdetail1

Tags: Ceramics · Pottery · Ridgway

38 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kim Morgan // Nov 6, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for this information. I have a similar jug, light blue in color with a pewter hinged top. It has been in my family for many years. Now I know its story. Thank you

  • 2 Christopher Proudlove // Nov 6, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    You’re very welcome – that’s what WriteAntiques is all about.

  • 3 Joanne Scott // Nov 11, 2007 at 4:09 am

    I have a set of three of the above jugs ,large medium and small,all in perfect condition. My GG Grandfather brought them across from England around 1892 to Melbourne Australia,his name was Joseph Burgess .The original letter you recieved from Bala Ontario funnily enough says Bala was founded by a Thomas Burgess.Cheers Joanne Scott

  • 4 Sandra Rhodes // Nov 13, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    I have an identical jug to the one illustrated biscuit coloured with a pewter top however it has no handle and someone many years ago made a valiant attempt to mend it with a metal handle and a band around the neck. ! Which enabled me to have a companion to an heirloom Ridgeway jug (Bachus design .. which is in good condition but does not have any date on it so I am not sure how old it is) for next to nothing! I now know the fascinating story of the Tam o Shanter Jug . Thank you very much.

  • 5 Lori Lutjer // Jan 12, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    I found a similar one – about 5″ tall hallmarked on the bottom in Orlando, Fl in an antique shop with a lot of English items. My sister has found one in Tennessee, and we were wondering about the history. Thank you so much for the information. Antique items are beautiful but it is the history behind them that make them fascinating to me, and here are items from this one pottery all over the globe! What a great website.

  • 6 Jesmond Cassar // Mar 22, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    I have just bought a similar jug in light blue colour and with pewter lid. Although i have several antique items, i must say that recently i started a collection of these embossed jugs. The first i bought was a Charles Meigh jug (White) parian and this made me appreciate more the work on these jars that i decided to start collecting them. But i have 2 which i do not know any information on them. Where can i send you the pictures maybe you can help me identify them,

    Thanks.

  • 7 Barry // Mar 23, 2008 at 4:07 am

    Thanks for the information. I just purchase a 12 inch version of this jug with pewter lid at auction and was delighted to find this website with history on this piece.

  • 8 Kate Jones // Mar 24, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    This is bizarre, whilst clearing out a sideboard in preparation for a move I came across the Tam O’Shanter jug, given to me by my Grandmother a few years ago. It bears all the stamps talked about in the article but also the number 12 – were there only a limited number produced? Purchase price at auction is mentioned but what about replacement value for insurance purposes. My jug is in almost pristine condition save for a minute chip on the bottom and a tiny chip on the inside of the spout.

  • 9 Gary Gee // Apr 16, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    I purchased one of these jugs in Germany many years ago. Mine is tan in color and has a pewter lid. It is one of the smaller versions. So, it only has one witch. Information on these jugs is also found in “A Collector’s Guide to Nineteenth-Century Jugs” by Kathy Hughes, ISBN 0-7102-0302-0.

  • 10 Eric // Mar 27, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    How very satisfying to be able to spend 30 sec and be able to document such an unusual piece.
    I recently unearthed this identical green jug from my mother’s/grandmother’s basement and my sisters expressed no interest. I loved the story it told, but my version was much different!Plus I am a huge R Burns fan…. thanks so much for the posting.

  • 11 Christopher Proudlove // Mar 27, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    You’re very welcome. Thank you for your kind remarks.

  • 12 Sueb // Jan 23, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I have the smaller version in tan with one witch and all the stamps including a number 30. My great grandmother brought it over from Germany in the late 1800s. It is in excellent condition but without its pewter top, lost in transit through the years.

    The story is fabulous, thanks.

  • 13 Christopher Proudlove // Jan 23, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for your kind words. Look after your jug!

  • 14 Donna // May 10, 2010 at 7:35 am

    I have one of the tam o’ shanter jugs.

    Mine dose not have a stamp on the bottom,
    I am having a hard time. identifying it.
    I would love to send you some pictures?

  • 15 Christopher Proudlove // May 10, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Donna, thank you for your enquiry. Please do send me images and I’ll see what I can do. Also, please let me have measurements of your jug and details of any distinguishing marks and damage.

  • 16 LINDA LINYARD // May 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    I HAVE AN EMBOSSED JOHN BESWICK 1972 YULE JUG LIMITED ADDITION NO 19, CAN YOU TELL ME ANYTHING ABOUT THIS JUG PLEASE?

  • 17 Jean Noel // Jul 24, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I have a blue tam o shanter jug dated 1835 about 6 inch tall with a picture of a man on horseback with swors raised could you tell me what it is worth it has ridgeway potterys also stamped on.thank you Jean Noel

  • 18 Michele // Aug 27, 2010 at 4:32 am

    I purchased one of these at a flea market a few years ago. It has a bowl that it sits in and no markings at all. It’s also blue and white in color. It has every detail as this one and I was just wondering if there was a lot of reproductions of these? What is it worth?

  • 19 Sheila Nicholls // Aug 27, 2010 at 9:16 am

    I have a beige coloured jug by ridgeway dated 1 October, 1835 astamped on bottom. There are raised bullrushes and long leaves on jug. It has elaborate handle with leaves also. It has a half inch linear chip on the top edge, but this is not obvious and would not be noticed unless picked up and examined. I would much appreciate an idea of what it is worth. Sheila Nicholls

  • 20 Christopher Proudlove // Aug 27, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Sheila
    It’s not easy giving valuations on things I can’t see and you don’t say how big the jug is. The damage is a problem, but I suspect you would be asked to pay around £30-40 for it by a dealer.

  • 21 Sheila Nicholls // Aug 27, 2010 at 9:23 am

    I did not mention the jug is 10 and 3 quarter inch high.

  • 22 Christopher Proudlove // Aug 27, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Michele
    There are lots of reproductions around of these bowls and jugs, which were intended for washing in the days before en suites, or even running water from a tap, come to that! It’s hard to give a valuation without seeing it – send me a picture and I’ll see what I can do. Without markings of any kind, it was made probably by one of the countless Staffordshire Potteries companies, but they are decorative and nice to have.

  • 23 Sheila Nicholls // Aug 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Thank you very much Christopher for you promt reply. I think I will list it on ebay for £30 and see what happens.

  • 24 Christopher Proudlove // Aug 27, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Let us know how you get on – or indeed, send us the listing!

  • 25 Michele // Aug 28, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Here’s a pic of it. I’d like to sell it and was wondering how much is it worth and if it’s just a reproduction? As I’ve said before it has no markings on it.

  • 26 Michele // Aug 28, 2010 at 4:27 pm

  • 27 Michele // Aug 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    http://s719.photobucket.com/albums/ww195/michelerr1977/?action=view&current=tamoshanterjug.jpg

  • 28 Cindy // Jan 6, 2011 at 1:42 am

    I am trying to find the maker of a pitcher I brought a weeks ago from a thrifty store. My pitcher looks just like the green Ridgeway pitcher with the Tom O’shanter Scene but my pitcher is cream colored with a orange glaze. The relief is not as sharply detailed as the Ridgeway pitcher and there is no marks to adentify the maker. Do you know who made this pitcher and how old is it?

  • 29 Christopher Proudlove // Jan 6, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Cindy, Thank you for your post, it’s always a pleasure to hear from a reader. Sadly, however, it may never be possible to be certain who made your pitcher – it could even be by Ridgway, but unmarked and therefore open to doubt. Thing is, so many 19th and early 20th century Staffordshire potters copied the Ridgway pattern that many anonymous examples survive in relatively large numbers. Sorry I cannot be more helpful.

  • 30 roly // Apr 1, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    We have the jug as per photograph and also imprinted the same on the bottom – plus the number 12 . What does the number 12 mean . The jug is in perfect condition

  • 31 roly // Apr 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Sorry , I should have explained that the height is approx 7 inches .

  • 32 Christopher Proudlove // Apr 1, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    rolycope, thanks for your post. The number 12 probably means the size of the jug or mould used to produce it.
    Regards
    Chris

  • 33 Marion K Morrison // Feb 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I have a fawn jug 5″ high, 5″ at base, with a tan collar and handle with daisies in relief round the border and the body of the jug has, on one side, relief depiction of Tam O’Shanter and cronies “Boozin’ at the nappy” and on the other side, Cutty Sark grabbing Meg’s tale on the bridge. On the base is a thistle stamp with Buchan, Portobello and the figures 126,30(?)/81 and a smudge beside the last 1. Do you have any knowledge of this jug?
    Thank you for your website. Most informative.
    MKMorrison

  • 34 Marion K Morrison // Feb 13, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Any knowledge of a Tam o’Shanter fawn and tan jug 5″ high with Buchan Portobello thistle stamp on base? Two pictures of T o’ S in relief, one on each side.

  • 35 Sherwood // May 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Wondering how many of these were produced? I just bought the identical pitcher today, with the same markings, and doing research found one for sale on EBay, and then your story here…good news for myself, seeing as the one on EBay is for sale for $80, feeling like I got a bargain at $5.

  • 36 Christopher Proudlove // May 28, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Congratulations on bagging your bargain. However, it’s going to be impossible to answer your question about numbers. The jugs were slip cast using moulds and production could have run to many, many thousands. What’s more pertinent is to ask how many have survived, but we’ll never know that either! Thanks for the post.
    Regards
    Chris

  • 37 w fox // Sep 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    hi chris ive got a lot of old porcelain in all shapes and sizes left to me by my mother who had a passion for encrusted pots .but i am clueless when it comes to identifying them can you help

  • 38 Christopher Proudlove // Sep 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Take it to your local auctioneer, or if it’s too much to carry, ask him to visit you. He’ll help you identify it and give you saleroom valuations for free – you don’t have to sell with him if you don’t want to.

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