Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State


Object Details

ca. 1800-1820
China, for export
ceramic; porcelain with overglaze enamels
Various sizes
This service was purchased and brought to Salem, Massachusetts, by Captain William Orne (1752-1815), owner of the Brigantine Essex of Salem, which returned from the Orient in 1806; Elinor Gordon, a Villanova, Pennsylvania, dealer; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Inscribed with the motto "E PLURIBUS UNUM," in banderole held by eagle
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mrs. Henry S. McNeil
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Related Objects

Chinese Export Porcelain Plate from George Washington's Society of the Cincinnati Service

Chinese Export Porcelain Plate from George Washington's Society of the Cincinnati Service

ca. 1784-1785; and later
ceramic; porcelain with underglaze blue and overglaze polychrome enamels

Object Essay

The dinner service is decorated in a pattern called “fitzhugh,” which refers to a group of Chinese export porcelain having certain identifying characteristics made between about 1780 and 1840. The decorative elements of this group include a central device—a medallion, eagle, monogram, or coat of arms—surrounded by four clusters of flowers and emblems associated with the four accomplishments of the Chinese scholar: music, painting, analytical skill, and calligraphy. The whole is enclosed by an elaborate border, either a trellis-diaper and spearhead border often called “Nanking,” or a complex design made up of butterfly, cell diaper, and floral motifs. Some examples that fall into this group, such as George Washington’s Cincinnati china (see Acc. No. 72.27), lack the four floral and emblematic clusters. The clusters and borders may be painted in blue, brown, orange, green, yellow, rose-pink, lavender, gilt, black, or gray. 

The name and definition of the Fitzhugh group developed over a long period of time.1Sir Algernon Tudor-Craig was the first to suggest that Fitzhugh may have been a corrupted pronunciation of Foochow (Fuzhoy), for the port, but J.B.S. Holmes pointed out that Foochow was not a Western port until the 1840s and was not associated with making or shipping china during the period of the Fitzhugh pattern’s greatest popularity. See Howard 1974, 53, for a discussion of Tudor-Craig’s first use of the term in 1927 and his 1929 explanation of origins; see Holmes, 130–31, for his explanation. In 1966 J.B.S. Holmes discovered that members of the English Fitzhugh family had played important roles in the British East India Company over three generations. In England, true Fitzhugh porcelains are those that mimic pieces associated with William FitzHugh, a supercargo (agent) at Canton who shipped china to England in the late 1700s. His pattern displays the characteristic center medallion, four floral groups, and the trellis-diaper and spearhead border.2Holmes suggests that the name may have been used in America during the nineteenth century, and Jean McClure Mudge confirms his suggestion by citing references to the pattern in American manuscripts of the early 1800s (see Mudge 1981, 165).

Fitzhugh patterns seem to have been more popular with Americans than with the English, reflecting the rise to prominence of the American traders at the time. Consequently, there is more variation in American-market Fitzhugh porcelains. The present set centered with an eagle, bearing a ribbon with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM and a shield with floral cluster, is a characteristically patriotic American adaptation of the Fitzhugh pattern. 

Ellen Paul Denker and Bert R. Denker

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.