This week’s Pennsylvania Treasure is a porcelain scent bottle and stopper made by The Tucker Factory in Philadelphia. The bottle is made of glazed porcelain with enamel, gilt and painted decorations. The name “M.Earp 1837” is inscribed on one side of the artifact.
CAP curators Amy Frey and Rachel Lovelace-Portal chose this item because it is beautiful example of early American porcelain.
The story of the scent bottle and of Tucker porcelain starts with Benjamin Tucker, a Philadelphia merchant who imported plain china and sold it in his store. Tucker had 10 daughters and two sons, William Ellis (1800-1832) and Thomas Tucker (1812-1890). William Ellis helped his father in the shop by painting blank china pieces to enhance their value.
William Ellis became interested in manufacturing porcelain and experimented with different formulas. By 1825 he had finally discovered the right formula for creating porcelain and began leasing the Philadelphia Waterworks to house high-temperature kilns. One year later, he bought four acres of land in Delaware containing a quarry to provide the feldspar necessary for porcelain production. His brother, Thomas, became involved in the business as the chief decorator. By the time William Ellis died in 1832 and was succeeded by Thomas as superintendent, Tucker porcelain was in high demand. It was the first high-quality, American-made porcelain produced in French and English styles. Nevertheless, higher production costs and an inability to compete with inexpensive, imported porcelain caused the company to falter in 1838.
This scent bottle is dated 1837, which means it was likely made while Thomas was managing production. The bottle bears the name, “M. Earp.” Mary Earp was a native of Philadelphia, born in 1816. Thomas began to court Mary through the porcelain he decorated himself. Exactly when Thomas began courting Mary is unknown, but the earliest piece bearing Mary’s name dates to 1835. The story goes that they had a lengthy courtship and Thomas won her hand in marriage by giving her many pieces of inscribed porcelain. This scent bottle, and a twin which is now in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, are just two of the many pieces Thomas gave Mary.
Thomas and Mary married in 1838 and had five children. After a long life together, they both died in the 1890s.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.