Artifact Corner: Victorian Pitcher and Basin

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at this Victorian pitcher and basin. It has a lovely cattail motif on both the pitcher and the basin. There is no makers mark on the bottom of either the pitcher or the basin, but it does have a number 48 carved into the bottom of the pitcher. We actually have two identical sets of these in our collections. The other set has has the number 110 on the bottom of that pitcher. These are likely the number of sets that were produced by the manufacturer. This type of porcelain is known as ironstone wear, or just called iron stone. Let’s learn a bit more about the material and how it’s made, and what life was like for the early Victorians without indoor plumbing.

Ironstone china, ironstone ware or most commonly just ironstone, is a type of vitreous pottery first made in the United Kingdom in the early 19th century. It is often classed as earthenware although in appearance and properties it is similar to fine stoneware. It was developed in the 19th century by potters in Staffordshire, England, as a cheaper, mass-produced alternative for porcelain. The original patent for ironstone, British Patent number 3724, from 1813 by Charles James Mason, is as follows: 4 parts china clay, 4 parts china stone, 4 parts calcined flint, 3 parts prepared ironstone and a trace of cobalt oxide. The goal was to make hearty pieces that would not break easily, and stand up to the daily rigors of household chores.

This beautiful pitcher and basin set was likely used every single morning and evening by members of the Delord family. Getting ready in the morning in a home with no plumbing or central heating was a lot more laborious than our morning routines. First and foremost, you needed warm water. The Victorians did not believe very hot or very cold water was good for you, so warm water it is. That meant building a fire or stoking the embers from the fire the night before. Once the water is warmed, you would put it in the pitcher, and bring it back to your basin. Now you can wash up for the day. Some women added flower petals to their water, like rose, lavender, or chamomile. This would not only perfume the water, making it smell nice, but would also act as an astringent. You would wash your face in the basin first, then use a damp washcloth to wash the rest of your body. Having a full bath was something that happened once or twice a month. Then it’s time to get dressed, and put your hair up. There is a common misconception that women did not wear makeup, and this is simply not true. Women in the Victorian Era wore makeup, but it was meant to be subtle. The fashion of the time was to have as natural a look as possible, and makeup was used to simply enhance your beauty. With all of that done, you were ready for the day. Once you were ready for bed, the pitcher and basin were filled with warm water again, and it was time to wash up.

This pitcher and basin are in fantastic condition. There are no chips or cracks to the pieces, a testament to just how hardy the ironstone wear is. There is some slight discoloration of the glaze, but that is not terribly uncommon for a piece of this age, that has received this much use. This set is a reminder of how lucky we are to have indoor plumbing and hot water on demand. We are so lucky to have these beautiful pieces in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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