Who would have thought that the story of porcelain would be such a rousing tale of wealth, intrigue and outrageous greed and gluttony? In spite of porcelain being used in China for hundreds of years, it’s formula was a closely guarded secret by the Chinese. Recently arrived from the Orient to 17th century Europe, porcelain quickly became a symbol of power, prestige, and good taste. Porcelain by weight was worth as much as gold in many parts of Europe in the 18th century. A colonial-era, porcelain, American made, punch bowl that has been called the “Holy Grail” of American ceramics is to go on public display for the first time in Philadelphia in April after its discovery during excavation on the site of the new Museum of the American Revolution.
The ceramic bowl, dating from about 1770, is the earliest known example of American hard-paste porcelain, a technique that was perfected by the Chinese hundreds of years earlier but which eluded European china makers. Although scholars have found documents indicating that the porcelain was made in America during the Revolutionary period, no such objects had previously been discovered.
“It’s the first physical evidence of what we call hard-paste porcelain being produced in America,” said Robert Hunter, an archaeologist and the editor of the journal Ceramics in America. “I’ve used the term ‘Holy Grail of American ceramics.’”
The bowl was found in 2014 among some 85,000 other items on the museum site. It was initially thought to be stoneware but later determined to be porcelain that was probably made in Philadelphia.