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Blue China
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Blue shell-edge platters recovered from the "Blue China" shipwreck site
Slip-decorated ceramic jugs recovered from the "Blue China" shipwreck site
Oriental ginger jars recovered from the the "Blue China" shipwreck site
Hand-painted tea set recovered from the the "Blue China" shipwreck site
Glass bottles and tumbler recovered from the

"Blue China" Artifacts and Treasures

During its search for the side-wheel steamer Republic®, Odyssey Marine Exploration located the sunken remains of an unidentified sailing vessel. This ship had gone down carrying a substantial cargo of mid-19th century British-made ceramic wares discovered at the bow end of the wreck. Also lost with the vessel was a shipment of largely American made glassware—an assortment of bottles, bar tumblers and other commercial wares fashionable in the mid-19th century.

While the "Blue China" wreck did not yield a treasure in gold and silver, nor chests of jewels and pearls, the ceramics recovered from the site presents a rare opportunity to view the makeup of a British-made ceramic cargo carried by an American coastal trader in the mid-nineteenth century. The opportunity to recover and document this assemblage was an important first step in providing a glimpse into a mid-nineteenth century cargo that would have otherwise been inaccessible.

Over 400 individual artifacts were recovered from the "Blue China" wreck site. Safely recovered, the artifacts were then conserved in the Odyssey laboratory in accordance with current standards for best practice conservation. Some of the pieces are now displayed in Odyssey’s traveling exhibit, SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure, and the rest are in secure and climate-controlled storage at the Odyssey conservation facility—where they are maintained for further study, and publication. 

British Shell-edged Earthenware

The largest concentration of earthenware on board the vessel was British shell-edged flatware—soup bowls, plates, and plattersrecognized as the most popular and long-lived style ever produced by the English ceramics industry. The large quantity recovered indicates this dinner ware was part of the cargo. Initially marketed for upper middle-class families, British shell-edge was produced and exported in such large quantities between the years 1780 and 1860 that it appears to have been used in almost every American household.

Dipped Wares

Second in quantity of ceramics found at the site are British made slip-decorated earthenware, also known as dipped wares, and today often more generically as mocha ware. First produced by Staffordshire potters in the late eighteenth century, dipped wares enjoyed a long period of popularity and were the least expensive imported decorated earthenwares available in North America.

Canton Ginger Jars

Four intact examples of Chinese porcelain ginger jars of the so-called Canton type were recovered from the "Blue China" site. All four are missing their lids and date to the first half of the nineteenth century. The name “ginger jar” comes from the fact that similar containers were used to export from China large quantities of crystallized ginger (as well as other pickled food items). Such containers were a popular export to Europe and America for much of the nineteenth-century. The hand-painted underglazed blue decoration features a house by the water with a man fishing and a sailing boat. The outline of the embellishment is drawn with light and heavy blue lines and the color is washed to lighter shades to contrast with the white porcelain.

Painted Wares

Added to the collection recovered from the "Blue China" site are elegant oriental tea sets featuring finely-detailed, hand-painted floral motifs on tea bowls, saucers, creamers, and sugar bowls. No teapots were recovered or observed at the site. Based on the quantity found, these painted wares were likely a part of the cargo.

Cologne Bottles

The "Blue China" recovery produced tapered, transparent green cologne bottles with neck tops broken. Research suggests these originally contained French cologne as they are similar to another case found with the original company label of the French Perfumer, L.T. Piver.  While only two of these bottles were recovered intact, they were likely the remains of a larger commercial shipment.

Bar Tumblers

Over a dozen bar tumblers including two different types were recovered from the "Blue China" site. Several examples as well as glass fragments were found inside ceramic pitchers where they appear to have been packed for safe shipping and to make use of limited cargo space. Research suggests the tumblers date from mid-century (1845-1875) and could have been made in any number of American glass factories producing bar wares during this period. More affordable than expensive cut and engraved glassware, these tumblers were especially popular at this time.

 

Condiment Bottles

Seasonings and sauces were frequently used in the 19th century to enhance the taste of foods and to mask unwanted flavors resulting from lack of cold storage. The "Blue China" wreck produced a number of aquamarine glass bottles in two different sizes that represent the most common condiment or spice bottle produced at the time. Like all of the bottles recovered from the site, these samples are also missing their original paper labels. 

 

 

 

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