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Plate

  • Place of origin:

    London (possibly, made)
    Bristol (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1727 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tin-glazed earthenware painted in cobalt blue

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the support of the Hugh Phillips Bequest and through the generosity of Sir Harry Djanogly CBE

  • Museum number:

    C.7-2016

  • Gallery location:

    Ceramics, Room 138, The Harry and Carol Djanogly Gallery, case 5, shelf 8

This is one of a set of six English tin-glazed earthenware ('delftware') plates of a standard type known as 'Merry Man' after the first line of a light-hearted, six-line verse which asks 'What is a merry man?'. Each line appears on a separate, sequentially-numbered plate as follows: 'What is a merry man / Let him do what he can / To entertain his guests / With wine and merry jests / But if his wife do frown / All merriment goes down'. Such motto plates continue the Tudor tradition of individually-inscribed, small, round, thin, wooden platters or trenchers made in sets of twelve or six. While the sets of ceramic plates were probably for display and perhaps occasional use, the earlier wooden trenchers were more often presented to diners bearing small sweetmeats on the plainer side. As each guest turned over their emptied trencher, a line of a poem or song would be revealed which might then be read out or sung as appropriate.

The Dutch started the fashion for Delftware motto plates in the 1650s. The first English versions copied Dutch imports or were painted by Dutch immigrants working in English manufactories. While the trend petered out in Holland before 1700, motto plate sets continued to be produced in England for middle-class English houses for a further half-century, their design hardly varying. Surviving English Merry Man plates, usefully inscribed with the dates they were made, cover a period from 1682 to 1752. The survival of single plates is not uncommon, attesting to their reasonably plentiful production over some seventy years. Much rarer are complete extant matched English sets.

Physical description

Tin-glazed earthenware plate painted in blue in its well with an inscription (number in brackets, fourth line of Merry Man verse, date in brackets with flourish beneath), the whole contained within a wreath.

Place of Origin

London (possibly, made)
Bristol (possibly, made)

Date

1727 (made)

Materials and Techniques

Tin-glazed earthenware painted in cobalt blue

Marks and inscriptions

'(4) With · wine & / Merry · Jests + / (1727)', painted in blue
In well of plate

Dimensions

Diameter: 20 cm approximately

Object history note

This matched set of plates was purchased from a descendant of a Cumbrian family which was said to have owned them for several generations. It is not presently known whether this family were the first owners of the plates.

Motto plates effectively continued the Tudor tradition of inscribed round wooden trenchers made in sets of twelve or six. The Dutch started the fashion for Delftware motto plates in the 1650s and the first English versions copied Dutch imports or were painted by Dutch immigrants working in English manufactories. While the trend petered out in Holland before 1700, ceramic motto plate sets continued to be produced in England for display (and perhaps use) in middle-class English houses for a further half-century, their design hardly varying. Surviving English Merry Man plates, usefully inscribed with the dates they were made, cover a period from 1682 to 1752. While single plates are not uncommon, complete matched English sets in public collections are rare. In the USA there are matched English sets in the Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina (dated 1693), The Winterthur Museum, Wilmington, Delaware (dated 1717) and Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia (dated 1739) while the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto has a set with a powder ground (dated 1739). In the UK, in addition to the V&A's set dated 1727, there are matched English sets at the Museum of London (dated 1734), the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (dated 1738) while the British Museum holds an incomplete set of five (dated 1742).

Historical context note

Largely for display but perhaps occasional use.

Descriptive line

English delftware 'Merry Man' plate numbered four and bearing fourth line from the verse which begins 'What is A Merry man', dated 1727

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Dated English delftware: tin-glazed earthenware, 1600-1800 / Louis L. Lipski ; edited and augmented by Michael Archer ; with contributions by Robert J. Charleston, M.K. Stammers, and Douglas C. Harrod. London, 1984
The Longridge Collection of English slipware and delftware / by Leslie B. Grigsby; with contributions by Michael Archer, Margaret Macfarlane, Jonathan Horne. London, 2000
Gedateerd Delfts aardewerk (Dated Dutch Delftware), Jan Daniël van Dam, Amsterdam, 1991
Dawson, Aileen: English and Irish delftware 1570-1840, London, 2010
Richards, Sarah: Eighteenth-century ceramics: products for a civilised society, Manchester, 1999
John C. Austin, British delft at Williamsburg, London, 1994
Anthony Ray: English Delftware pottery in the Robert Hall Warren Collection, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. London, 1968
English Delftware in the Bristol collection / Frank Britton; foreword by Arnold Wilson; preface by Michael Archer. London, 1982
Frank Britton: London delftware. London, 1986.
'Elegant eating: four hundred years of dining in style', ed. Philippa Glanville and Hilary Young, London: V&A, 2002
Crouch, Judith: 'Making merry at the dinner table' in V&A Magazine, Issue 41, Autumn/Winter 2016
Emmerson, Robin: 'What is a Merry Man?' in The Northern Ceramic Society Newsletter no.187, September 2017

Production Note

Most likely made in either London or Bristol

Materials

Tin-glazed earthenware

Techniques

Painted

Categories

Ceramics; Delftware

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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