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Fish Bottle

Holland, John __Attributed to ||Shaffner, Henry
Place Made:
Salem North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
LOA 7 3/4; WOA 3 3/4
Accession Number:
Molded in the shape of a fish, this small, earthenware bottle mottled green, brown, gold and beige glaze on outside; evidence of kiln trivet on proper right side. The fish stylized fins and gills with incised detailing lines; the eyes are large and raised. It is not glazed on the interior, suggesting that it was not used to hold liquids. Though many molded bottles made by the Moravian potters survive, the fish bottles of various sizes survive in the largest quantity. This small sized bottle was likely marketed as a toy or present.

Moravian potters in North Carolina made press-molded earthenware for more than one hundred and twenty-five years. The range of forms documented by surviving objects, molds, and references in pottery inventories is far greater than that of any contemporary American ceramic tradition. From smoking pipes to stove tiles, the Moravian potters at Bethabara and Salem expanded the production of press-molded earthenware to include figural bottles and casters, non-figural bottles, and toys. A press mold was usually plaster, consisting of two parts with the exterior design of the bottle carved on the interior of each half of the mold. Once the clay was set up, the molds were removed and the form remained with the impressions of the mold. (See Michelle Erickson, Rob Hunter, and Caroline M. Hannah’s article in the 2009 Ceramics in America) Moravian potters made thrown flasks, bottles, and other utilitarian forms long before introducing press-molded variants around 1800. Fish appear in the April 30, 1801 inventory of the Salem pottery valued at 1 shilling 6 pence each. Three sizes were available the following year, and by 1806 the pottery was producing four patterns—the number represented by surviving molds listed in the 1828 inventory. (Art in Clay Gallery Guide)

Rudolph Christ can be credited for the successful production and marketing of press molded figural wares during his tenure as master of the pottery at Salem
(1789–1821). Rudolph Christ apprenticed under Gottfried Aust in Salem, North Carolina. He established his own pottery in Bethabara in 1786 and worked there until 1789. He succeeded Aust as master potter in Salem from 1789 to 1821. (Ceramics in America 2009) The production of press-molded wares also continued through the tenure of John Holland, who apprenticed under Rudolph Christ and as noted in Moravian records, inherited molds used in Christ’s shop. Rudolph Christ retired in 1821 and John Holland took over as Salem’s third master potter. Although the pottery ceased to operate as a congregational business in 1829, production of press-molded wares continued in the shop of Holland and another Salem, potter, Heinrich Schaffner until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.

Brown, Johanna. “Tradition and Adaptation in Moravian Press-Molded Wares.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2009) 105-138.

PROVENANCE: This piece descended in the Bruner C. Sloop Family, China Grove, North Carolina.
Credit Line:
Purchased by the Mountcastle Fund