Collections › OSMG Collection › Squirrel Bottle

Squirrel Bottle

Artist/Maker:
Christ, Rudolph __Attributed to ||Holland, John __Attributed to
Place Made:
Salem North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
1804-1829
Medium:
earthenware
Dimensions:
HOA: 8 1/8″; WOA: 2 5/8″; DOA: 4 3/4″
Accession Number:
4252
Description:
This squirrel bottle was coated with a white slip and then fired with a green lead glaze. It stands erect and holds its paws beneath its mouth, holding a nut. Its tail curls around its body and blends into its shoulder rather than curling out. There is a small spout that protrudes from the top of the squirrel head. The ears, paws, and feet were molded separately and applied before glazing.

The squirrel was a popular pet and the subject of whimsical representation in paintings, toys, and various ceramic objects in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Two basic types of Moravian squirrel bottles survive: one stands upright and typically clasps a nut between its front paws; the other leans slightly forward with its head elevated. These two models were probably represented in the 1806 pottery inventory, which lists ninety-six squirrel bottles at 3 shillings 6 pence each and forty-five at 2 shillings each.
Also see “Ceramics in America” 2009.

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 impressed 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.

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.

Erickson, Michelle; Hunter, Robert; and Hannah, Caroline M.”Making a Moravian Squirrel Bottle.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA. (2009): 199-216.

History:
LABEL NOTES: “Two sizes of squirrels were listed on the [Moravian pottery] inventories as early as 1804; in 1820, prices of one and two shillings were indicated for them.” (Bivins 1972: 207)

“Very likely an extension of the English-style wares developed by Rudolph Christ, press-molded bottles and figurines became popular in Salem by 1800. Including a large menagerie (turtles, owls, ducks, turkeys, foxes, bears, fish) and other items that were direct imitations of English wares such as ‘pickle leaves,’ the large group of molded toys, bottles, and figurines by Salem potters is a particularly interesting aspect of their production. Each piece was painstakingly made in intricate plaster press-molds, some of the creatures requiring as many as four separate molds to produce. The Old Salem Collection fortunately contains many of the molds descibed on the potter’s inventories….”

“Rudolph Christ very likely made most of the figurine patterns himself, and each was exceedingly well-detailed, with crisp facial features and well-defined anatomical details such as feathers or scales.” (Bivins in Bivins and Welshimer 1981: 46)

Press Molded Wares
Moravian potters in North Carolina made press-molded earthenware for more than one hundred and twenty-five years. The range of forms documentedby surviving objects, molds, and references in pottery inventoriesis far greater than that of any contemporary American ceramic tradition. From smoking pipes to stove tiles, the Moravian potters at Bethabara andSalem expanded the production of press-molded earthenware to include figural bottles and casters, non-figural bottles, and toys. Rudolph Christcan 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).

Flasks & Figures
Moravian potters made thrown flasks, bottles, and other utilitarian forms long before introducing press-molded variants around 1800. During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the variety of figural objects listed in the pottery inventories expanded with each passing year. A molded flask with a stylized flower may represent one of the “57 bottles” listed in the 1810 inventory of the Salem pottery or one of the sixty green bottles listed in the 1824 inventory. In 1819 the stock-in-trade of the Salem pottery included eighty-four eagle bottles and plaster molds for producing two different sizes. Of the three bottles known to survive, all are the same size and have green glaze applied on a white slip. The 1819 inventory also listed one hundred and seventy-five “ladies” in three different sizes. Children enjoyed press-molded wares specially designed for them including doll heads to which cloth bodies could be attached. A figural form likely inspired by contact with Native Americans was the so-called “Indian.” The ceramic Indians listed at 10 shillings each in the 1806 inventory were the most expensive bottles made at the Salem pottery. No examples of this figure or its molds are known to survive.

Bears, Foxes and Squirrels
The design of Moravian bear bottles, which initially appear on the 1810 inventory, may allude to that animal’s reputation as a nuisance. On May 16, 1755, the Bethabara diarist recorded “last night a bear ate one of our
best hogs.” Based on inventory references and surviving examples, the Salem pottery produced only one model of a bear bottle, which depicts the animal with a slain pig beneath its feet. The press-molded fox casters made at the Salem pottery by 1810 depict that animal as a cunning predator holding a slain chicken between its paws. Only two identical examples are known, but inventory references suggest that the Moravian potters produced two sizes. The foxes listed in 1808 were valued at 1 shilling each, whereas those listed in 1810 were assessed at 6 pence each—the latter being the same as the smallest fish bottles. The squirrel was a popular pet and the subject of whimsical representation in paintings, toys, and various ceramic objects in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Two basic types of Moravian squirrel bottles survive: one stands upright and typically clasps a nut between its front paws; the other leans slightly forward with its head elevated. These two models were probably represented in the 1806 pottery inventory, which lists ninety-six squirrel bottles at 3 shillings 6 pence each and forty-five at 2 shillings each.

Also see “Ceramics in America” 2009

Credit Line:
Old Salem Antiquities Purchase Fund