Flower or plant brick/inkwell, 1730-1750
Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004
Click to Enlarge

Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004

  • Overview
  • Description
  • Further Information
The rectangular vessel stands on four low feet. It is brick- or box-shaped with projecting mouldings at its upper and lower edges. The combination of projecting edges and corner feet give it some similarity to a lidded chest, and leave one unprepared for its small size. Its top surface is pierced in a regular pattern of large and smaller holes, which correspond to three walled compartments - the interior is divided into equal thirds by upright walls. The inner and outer surfaces are covered by a lead glaze made opaque by the addition of ashes of tin. As long as it remains intact, the glaze makes the clay vessel waterproof. The side walls of the vessel are ornamented with simple cobalt blue floral and garden motifs in vague imitation of those on oriental ceramics.

The function of these small, rectangular vessels has been debated widely in professional literature. They are often called "flower bricks," and the assumption is made that they were used to hold sprigs of fresh or dried flowers. Although it is true that the addition of flowers to living spaces is a significant feature of 18th century design, and 20th century historic interiors have used the vessels to hold flowers, contemporary documentation or images have not been found to support that assumption.

The vessels are also described as inkwells or quill holders. One author, Frank Britton, English Delftware in the Bristol Collection, cites a brick in the collection "in the form of a flat chest on bracket feet" that has "two cross partitions within in, splitting the interior into three compartments. This does suggest that the central one might have been used for ink." (p. 96) In the case of this object the description has some possible justification, since the interior of the central section shows staining from ink. There is no assurance, however, that the ink is not the product of a 19th century romantic imagination. In a letter to former HSP Curator Elizabeth F. Jarvis, glass and ceramics author Arlene Palmer Schwind wrote that: "of the dozen or so examples at Winterthur, none have any ink stains, or other evidence one would associate with an inkwell (and being low-fired earthenware they would absorb ink spills)." However, see "Condition."
Connection to Franklin
postmaster@benfranklin300.org Terms of Use Credits