Collections › OSMG Collection › Turtle Bottle

Turtle 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:
WOA: 5-15/16″; LOA: 8-7/8″
Accession Number:
5527
Description:
In the shape of a turtle, this press-molded earthenware bottle has a stylized design on the upper shell, but molded feet and a tail that seem more realistic. Two different styles of turtle bottles—occasionally described as “terrapins” on inventories of the Salem pottery—were available when the form was introduced about 1800. The inventory for that year lists thirty-four turtles valued at 2 shillings each and thirteen at 1 shilling 6 pence each. The mold for one form of turtle bottle was taken from an actual turtle shell. Most often Moravian bottles were used to store dry goods or for decoration, but this example is glazed in the interior suggesting it could have been used to hold a liquid.

A press mold was usually plaster, consisting of two parts with the exterior design impressed (from a model) 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. After the pieces were removed from the mold they were assembled and then coated with a white slip. A green lead glaze was applied over the white slip in the case of this bottle.

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.

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:
Most often Moravian bottles were used to store dry goods or for decoration, but evidence of interior glazing may indicate they were used for the storage of liquids.

Press Molded
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. 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). (Art in Clay Gallery Guide)
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.(Art in Clay Gallery Guide)

Turtles, Fish and Crayfish
Two different styles of turtle bottles—occasionally described as “terrapins” on inventories of the Salem pottery—were available when the form was introduced about 1800. The inventory for that year lists thirty-four turtles valued at 2 shillings each and thirteen at 1 shilling 6 pence each. Of all the figural bottles produced at Salem,fish survive in the greatest number. Most are glazed green on the outside but examples decorated in tortoiseshell colors are known. 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. One form never mentioned in any of the pottery inventories is the crayfish bottle, which was made in at least two sizes. Since its basic shape mimics the fish bottle, it may have been counted as one of those forms. As was the case with the small turtle bottle, the molds for the crayfish appear to have been made from a natural specimen. Only two Moravian crayfish bottles are known, both with green glaze. (Art in Clay Gallery Guide)

See also “Ceramics in America” 2009

Credit Line:
Old Salem Purchase Fund