Investigations into Chinese Export Lacquerware: Black and Gold, 1700-1850

Maria João Petsica

Dressing table, brought to Salem for William (Billy) Gray (1750-1825), 13300, c. 1800. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Chinese export pieces that feature the black lacquer and gold decoration are commonly designated as Canton lacquer in a clear association with the place from whence they were shipped and believed to be manufactured. Lacquer decoration referred to as Canton lacquer was produced in gold painted decoration or miao-jin. In this technique, the decorative motif was painted in gold, by means of fine brushes, over several layers of black lacquer. Objects of this kind were brought home by merchants and sea captains to furnish their homes or as gifts to family members and friends (Image 1). During the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, a considerable number of lacquered pieces reached Europe and the US due to the trading activities with China. The Peabody Essex Museum has several remarkable examples of this production brought back from Canton (today’s Guangzhou) on the ships belonging to private traders and members of the East India Marine Society. The primary goal of my Ph.D. research is to characterize Chinese export lacquer production from 1700 to 1850 and understand how these objects were created and traded.

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A Closer Look into a Lesser Known Collection: the Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers

Box 56, folder 1

 

The Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers, or collection MH 156, is one of the Phillips Library’s recently processed manuscript collections.  A rather large collection consisting of 78 boxes, 2 flat files, and over 60 volumes, the Nathaniel B. Mansfield Papers arrived at the Peabody Museum in the 1950s, and documents the merchant and shipping business of this Salem based merchant, in addition to containing some personal papers.  One of only a handful of manuscript collections at the Phillips Library about trade with West Africa, this collection holds a number of very interesting items.

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Mapping the Diffusion of Imported Cloth into East Africa, c. 1830-1900

Kate Frederick

Cloth imports into East Africa, 1836-1900. Aggregated shipping records from MH 23, MH 235, MSS 901, and MSS 24 series (Peabody Essex Museum, Phillips Library), “Arrival and Departure of American Vessels,” RG 84, Records of Foreign Service Posts, Zanzibar, vol. 84 (National Archives and Records Administration), and government-published trade reports of Bombay and the United Kingdom. British and Indian sources include exports to both Zanzibar and Mozambique. American merchants in East Africa focused almost exclusively on Zanzibar-based trade.

The development of cotton textile production has formed the backbone of numerous industrial takeoffs, including Britain’s industrial revolution and, more recently, the catch-up of several East Asian countries. A seemingly perpetual disappointment of textile industries in East Africa, however, has prompted frequently renewed debates about the role that foreign competition may have played in impeding growth of existing domestic production in the region, particularly as East Africa increasingly opened up to global trade during the nineteenth century. However, insufficient empirical evidence has precluded substantive conclusions. My current project bridges the gap between theory and historical empirical reality to shed light on this piece of the African textile puzzle. Specifically, mapping the diffusion of foreign-produced cloth into nineteenth-century East Africa provides crucial insights into the nature of regional demand and consumption, along with related implications for domestic production Read more