Sea Pottery: McCarty Cove “Treasure”

Island “treasures”

While walking the tidal flats of McCarty Cove this past winter with trusty beagle Chloe,I landed on “unburied treasure”. On several occasions, I found old pottery shards alongside low-tide stones and shells. A mystery from the past — could they have come from the nearby ship’s chandlery; better yet, might the shards have come from a shipwreck?…or might the terracotta pieces be remnants from Wiscasset Brick and Pottery, which operated on Birch Point Road in the 1800’s?

Stymied in my own research, I contacted Laurie LaBar, Chief Curator, History and Decorative Arts, Maine State Museum; and this is what she said:

What a fun collection of ‘sea pottery’ you have found. There’s quite a variety of pieces. Because the whole coastal plain has nice deep pockets of iron-rich clay, there were redware makers in pretty much every other town, starting in the early 1800s. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to know whether Wiscasset Brick and Pottery made the terra cotta pieces, unless one had a few intact specimens for comparison, but that’s a strong possibility!

The (redware) industry had pretty well died out (in the late 1800’s ) in favor of more durable stoneware (your 2-gal crock); and later in the century, ironstone (your white shard). If I just had the terra cotta, I’d suggest a mid-1800s date. However, the transfer-printed pieces, together with the stoneware and ironstone, suggest a late-1800s date. Add in that there was a local redware manufactory nearby at that time, and that’s probably your time period.

England produced millions of tons of transfer-printed ceramics for local use and for export. Stoke-on-Trent in North Staffordshire was the center of this industry, as it was until the mid 1900s. The pieces you found suggest to me a typical middle-class household of the area, engaging in what in my archaeology days we called “casual Euro-American dumping practices.” Should you excavate the family privy you might find more pieces of the same pots, or at least of the same services.

That said, the pieces may not be related at all if you found them scattered in disparate places. Of course, they’d still speak to the sort of community one found along the water at the turn of the 20th century, even if they came from several families. If the pieces were found within a 15-20 yard area as you suggest, the pieces are probably all from one family. The shards represent the range of everyday ceramics one family might have.

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Posted on June 15, 2012, in History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. There is nothing better than a great and unexpected find and they’re made even better when you have the history to go along with them! Bravo!

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