Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 120... The Money Box

It is finally done! After 120 days, I have the final project ready! The reason I started this blog was to save my home from the tax man.  Now I need help from all of you to get caught up on my taxes.  I just wanted to make something special that people would want to buy and share.

 Yesterday, I wrote about the history of the Money Box and the story of the Rose Theatre in London. In 1981, an old art deco theater in my hometown closed due to years of damage and neglect and was slated to be torn down for a parking lot... the Warner.

A group of citizens got together and saved it. Finally, it has been restored and attracts people from all over Connecticut and nearby states for its entertainment.

It would have been a shame to see this beautiful theater lost. When I was younger, I spent many Saturdays at the Warner. Movies and cartoons and a drug store next door with a soda fountain. No movies are shown here any more, but I have been part of the group as a volunteer as usher for many of the entertainments and shows.

A Money Box. Piggy banks have very little value these days. You can't save money for anything important. My new little money box would hold about enough for a Starbucks coffee. If you use quarters, maybe you could get a donut with the coffee.

But the whole charm of hand made pottery is the way it is formed and the imperfections that occur when each piece is made under the guidance of a pair of hands and fingers.  I have store bought china. I set a place setting for company dinners. The plate matches the bowl and cup. All is uniform and perfect. It looks nice. But everyday I reach into my old cupboard and pull out a hand thrown pot, mine or another potters.  I pour in coffee and cradle it in my hand. I know what has gone into the piece. I know where it came from. I know how the clay was formed and dug. I know the wedging and spinning and the force it took to form it. I can feel the potter's mind connecting with the clay.

It is that way with all the things we make. Quilts, wooden bowls, photographs and an orange marmalade cake.  We pass on a bit of ourselves when we make things by hand. I look around my house and I see wood work and floor boards that were cut and planed by the hands of men in old fashioned clothes. I can see them placing the finished pieces in place and standing back with pride at their accomplishment.  Nothing in this house is perfect... or straight. One post on my living room fireplace is 2 inches higher than the other side. I can see the men putting it in. Maybe Nathaniel, and his wife Olive walked by and said... "It's shorter on this side!"  Nathaniel just shakes his head. "Well, maybe so, it is not perfect."

And so, my little Money pots are not perfect. None of my pottery is. For perfection, you would have to buy a pot from Walmart made in China by a machine run by people who are into production.  In the late 1700's, our New England population was growing.  The demand for goods led to the invention and use of steam, water and electric power. Hundreds of workers flocked to mills and factories to mass produce textiles, nails and pottery.  The age of small town potters as a necessary trade was over. In the early pottery factories, things were still made by hand, but at a faster rate. They were now more concerned with producing large quantities.  It has its place.

If only we could learn to buy less. That quality and craftsmanship is more important than how many objects you have in your house. Ever have a tag sale? Where the heck did you accumulate all this stuff? Those little froggies from Aunt Millie, the plastic spoon rests from the last convention. Throw it all out at a tag sale, and we start accumulating more the next day.

So here are my Money pots. Buy one and put it on a shelf, give it away to someone else, put it in your tag sale.

If you would like to order one, go to  They are available in random shades of yellow and copper green and manganese browns. If you would like to pick out your own, I will be up at the Big E in West Springfield MA. Sept 16 through Oct 2.  For only $15 you could help me to keep making pots instead of applying for a job at Home Depot this winter!

Money Box set up for Collection!
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 199... Collecting Money

In looking up the earliest yellow ware in England, the roots of my present yellow ware, for the upcoming exhibition at UCONN. I found hundreds of medieval pots on the London Museums web site. I also found many "money boxes".  Money.We all need money. I am trying to find a piece of pottery that I can market as a one-of-a-kind historical item, and here it is.  I had been working on a "money bank" already. I had made a model of my house, a copy of the one I want to save from the tax man. The model was finished, fired and I had made a plaster mold. I wanted to use red clay for the finished casting, seeing that my house is red brick. But the finished castings kept sticking to my new plaster mold.  I was using up too much of the red clay slip and was getting poor results.

Casting is not my expertise.  I cast some small statues and over the years, have mixed my own throwing clay scraps into a casting slip with good results. But I realized that the process of casting a bank and waste of slip was going to be prohibitive in producing many of the banks.

Then I saw these money boxes.  Hundreds were found at the Rose Theatre in London. The Rose Theatre was built in 1587. Pretty old stuff over the pond, my "old" house seems new by comparison.  By 1606, the theatre was abandoned, eventually torn down and years upon years of development covered over the theatre's foundation.

Artist drawing of the Rose Theatre
In 1988, a 1950s office block was torn down revealing the foundation of The Rose and a team of archaeologists moved in to uncover the past.  Among the objects uncovered were Money Boxes.

Now the mystery of how and why they were used. I still haven't figured it all out, but the shape and size of these boxes indicate that that they were small so they could be tied onto a wooden pole and passed among the threatre audience for collection fees. Most of the money boxes (which are not money boxes at all, but small round clay pots) had knobs on the top and a large slanted slit in the side. The shape of the slit may have prevented money from being shaken out by the audience or the ushers and the pot had to be broken to get the coins out. If they were larger, the heavy coins of the day would have weighed down the pot on the pole.

Excavation of the Rose Theatre

How perfect that these fit into my current situation. I am to present these reproduction charming little pots from Elizabethan England to collect money for my old building! 

And what will you and I use these "boxes" for? Well, we can tie them on a pole and collect money at our own events. We can set them on a shelf for loose change. We can give them to the parents of new babes for college savings. We can use them to remember a time in history when no paper money existed and a coin was all that was needed to see a Shakespearean play.

Coins found at the Rose Threatre
In Middle English, "pygg" referred to a type of clay used for making various household objects such as jars. People often saved money in kitchen pots and jars made of pygg, called "pygg jars". By the 18th century, the spelling of "pygg" had changed and the term "pygg jar" had evolved to "pig bank."

Of course, you will have to break them to get your money out. Old clay banks were very common.  Makers of Yellow Ware in the USA and England, did not put an cork in their banks. This is one of the reasons the antique, quaint banks are so pricey today.


Antique yellow ware banks

My first Money Pots came out of the glaze fire this morning. Tomorrow, Day 120, I will post photos of my money pots.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 118... Time Passes

Where does the time go? I am giving up, or rather changing the special project I was working on, which wasn't working out right, and am hot on the trail of a new and better project. 

I have been asked by the University of Connecticut, Torrington branch, to put up an exhibit and do a talk on Yellow Ware. I have titled the exhibit: "Yellow Ware, the other Historical Pottery".  It's interesting how one thing leads to another and how time goes buy sometimes too slowly and sometimes way too fast.  The invite for the exhibit has sent me down another path than where I was going with my special project to help make money to save my house from the tax man. 

Where do I start with Yellow Ware?  I have done talks before on the history of New England clays and potters, but this one will be about Yellow Ware specifically.  I attended the ALHFAM conference this year in West Virginia.  I thought I could introduce my pottery to The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums and they would buy my pots and I could pay back the tax man. There was a lot of interest in my pots and in Yellow Ware, but most history folks still are attached to the Red Ware, and mostly the Pennsylvania style of slip and sgraffito designs.

These are some of my Sgraffito I did while demonstrating pottery at Dollywood land in TN.

However, Red Ware potters in New England were not into the sgraffito or much of the slip trailing. Early potters were simple folks. They knew people needed pots to cook and store food, they dug the nearly free clay out of the ground and with skill of their ancesters, spun it into servicable pots.  Some got creative, the dabbed on copper glaze or black with manganese and sometimes yellow, a reaction of iron in the clay and lead in the glaze. 

Yellow Ware came later to New England. Or rather, was later made in New England.  The 1600s colonists from England, my ancestors and some of yours, brought the simple yellow clay bowls and mugs with them on the boat. Once they got here, they found out we had no yellow clay.  Yellow clays can be fired higher and therefore made a tighter and stronger pot. They settled with buying their yellow ware from merchants.  Early merchant ads offered "Just in from Liverpool... earthen ware, cream ware and all manner of serviceable earthen vessels".  I doubt they meant red ware. Red ware was so common and cheap, that the English didn't care how much we made. They wanted us to buy from them. This probably meant buff clay items in the form of yellow ware (a lower fired but harder ware than red ware), stoneware and salt glazed pots which were what we needed from England.

Yellow ware and stone ware was not made in New England until the early 1800s.

So what are the English roots?  I found that the English were making common, simple pots from their yellow and buff clays in Elizibethan England.  Archeological digs have uncovered lots of really kool pots...check this out....

Saxo- Norman-Early Medieval Jug 10th-13th century

Surrey/Hampshire border ware

(1480 - 1900)...

Browse through the London Museum of 674 post Medieval clay pots. The museum also has pots from the Bronze and Iron Age... 3500 BC to 500 AD. And yes, some were made with buff and yellow clay. 

Bronze age

So where do we draw a line? I don't think we can.

Tomorrow... Day 119... where the London Museum has led me and my pottery. I have my new project, a better one than before, in the kiln as I type, and hopefully I will post a photo tomorrow... If time allows.

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