“Beauties of America”, the True Creation, Publication, and Distribution of Historical Imagery of American Cities by Staffordshire Pottery Manufacturer John Ridgway gathered from his American Tour during the Fall of 1822

On September 11, 1822, Staffordshire Pottery owner John Ridgway left Liverpool, England, for passage to Boston, Massachusetts, where he began a two-month tour of the Eastern United States in order to procure views of major American cities and establish business relationships with American ceramic merchants.  What was unique about Ridgway’s American tour was the journal he kept beginning with his arrival in Boston on October 17, 1822, until his departure on December 7, 1822. 1 Along with gathering American views, Ridgway met with ceramic merchants and dealers in major American cities where he established business relationships and took orders for his pottery.  He was very diligent in his business dealings and found the process of establishing business relationships with ceramic merchants a challenge.  Worried about a cold he came down with in Boston, Ridgway recorded in his journal on “Friday, the 25th of October, …I must get rid of it [cold] by a little care & use of due means: after attending to the special business for which I came here, and which only advances step by step as I do attend to it.” 2 Ridgway visited many American cities including Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, and New York. While in each city, he took advantage of their cultural centers visiting the Boston Athenaeum, Charles Wilson Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia, the East India Museum in Salem, book-shops, public news rooms, and public buildings.  

Boston | click for image record

While ceramic historiography has tended to support the thesis that many of the American views transferred by Ridgway onto his pottery were based upon previously published views and works, this was not always true.  During his tour of the United States, John Ridgway hired artists to create views of American cities based upon his own progressive political and benevolent religious beliefs.  Finding the costs of published books “excessively dear” in Boston, John Ridgway hired an unnamed Boston artist with whom he strolled around Boston. He recorded this fact in his journal:  “Thursday, 24th Oct – rose with a slight cold, the effect of walking & heat on the previous day: And I blame myself this morning for strolling round the town for near 3 hours – in selecting the best objects for sketching to be applied to a set of American Scenery: however, my object was accomplished but with myself & the artist were thoroughly fatigued.” 3 Although Ridgway did not identify the artist, it probably was the artist Abel Bowen (1790-1850), as six of the eight Boston views including the Almshouse on Leverett St. (AAS #233), the Athenaeum on Pearl St. (AAS #18), the Johnson Hall Court House on School St. (AAS #20), the Insane Hospital (AAS #5), the Octagon Church or South Church (AAS #10), and St. Paul’s Church (AAS #22) on Tremont St. were either sketched or engraved by Bowen and later published by him in his book Bowen’s Picture of Boston, or The Citizen’s and Stranger’s Guide to the Metropolis of Massachusetts and Its Environs in 1829. John Ritto Penniman’s (1782-1841) drawing of the Massachusetts General Hospital (AAS #27) was engraved and copyrighted by Abel Bowen and published in Caleb Snow’s A History of Boston, the Metropolis of Massachusetts in 1825. Ridgway chose to transfer Penniman’s view of the Boston Hospital onto the surface of a medium-sized platter (12.5” x 9”) as part of his dinner service. The earliest Boston view used by Ridgway for his Beauties of America series was Nathaniel Dearborn’s (1786-1852) drawing of the Boston State House (AAS #15 and AAS #206) which was printed by Oliver Spear in Boston in 1817. It is interesting to note that Abel Bowen’s trade card, dating from 1818 to 1820 found in the American Antiquarian Society's ephemera collection, depicts a female figure leaning on a rock in a landscape setting holding a banner with the words “Encourage the Arts” and a distant view of Boston showing bridges, the dome of the State House, and church steeples. 4 Abel Bowen also was listed in Stimson and Frost’s 1822 Boston city directory as an “Engraver” and by William Dunlap as an artist who “introduced wood engraving into Boston in 1812, and continued the pursuit successfully.” 5

A. Bowen, Engraver. Trade Card. click to enlarge | click for image record

On Monday, October 28th, 1822, Ridgway took the “Albany Stage to Springfield at 2 o’clock a.m…an unseasonable time for commencing a journey.” 6The Albany Stage, according to Ridgway’s Journal, drove through Cambridge, Marlboro, Northborough, Shrewsbury, Worcester, Leicester, West Brookfield, where he dined, Weston, Wilbraham & Springfield, a total distance of 95 miles in 18 hours.  Ridgway made no mention of Harvard University in his journal as he passed through Cambridge, but did later choose Alexander Jackson Davis’ (1803-1892) 1827 drawing of “Cambridge University” engraved by Denison Kimberly (1814-1863) for transfer to the cover of the soup tureen (AAS #233) which features the Boston Almshouse on the body of the tureen. 7 The engraving was later published in I.T. Hinton’s History and Topography of the United States of America published in London in 1830 by Hinton, Simpkin & Marshall.     

According to his journal, Ridgway rose at 3:00 a.m. on Wed., October 30th “for hastening on to Albany” and crossed the Connecticut River over a covered bridge, but made no reference to Hartford, Conn. in his journal.  True to his benevolent beliefs, however, Ridgway chose John Warner Barber’s  (1798-1885) simple view of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum of Hartford, which opened in 1820, for transfer to a platter (AAS #40) in his Beauties of America series.  Barber did not publish his engraving of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum until 1836 in his Connecticut Historical Collections…illustrated by 180 Engravings.  How Ridgway came by Barber’s drawing of the Hartford Deaf and Dumb Asylum fourteen years before its publication in 1836 and six years after the Ridgway brothers dissolved their pottery business, is a question to be resolved.   

Hudson River - Highlands from West Point | click for image record

Continuing on his journey to Philadelphia, Ridgway arrived in Albany on October 31st, 1822 and with 100 other passengers embarked on the Richmond Steam Packet down the Hudson River, a journey he found “delightful – the scenery bold and far superior to any I have seen here or elsewhere.” 8 Arriving in Philadelphia, Ridgway was all business calling on ceramic merchants and to his dismay discovered that the ceramic merchant he had conducted trans-Atlantic business with in Philadelphia had closed up shop.  Ridgway then visited Charles Wilson Peale’s Museum for 25 cents and recorded his impression in his journal: the “Museum – a national Establishment over the State House where is kept a fine collection of natural curiosities… some paintings & especially favorite American portraits:” 9 In Philadelphia, Ridgway again chose public buildings for inclusion in his American Scenery pottery which reflected his benevolent religious and progressive political beliefs.  However, he made no mention of hiring local artists, but only of visiting “A Booksellers with my little order of books.” 10 During his stay in Philadelphia, Ridgway visited the Pennsylvania Hospital (AAS #57) which took up the entire square between Eighth, Ninth, Spruce and Pine Streets.  He later chose a drawing of the hospital by George Isham Parkyns for transfer to his American Scenery pottery which was engraved by W. Cooke in London after 1801 for use on the hospital’s Medical Certificates. 11 After visiting the Pennsylvania Hospital and State Prison, Ridgway continued on his journey to Baltimore, returning the next week to Philadelphia to conclude his business with pottery merchants.

The Capitol Washington | click for image record

Leaving Philadelphia on November 7, Ridgway awoke to find himself “alongside the wharf at Baltimore, and immediately repaired to the coach office and set off for Washington, determining to pursue my route to its intent and then to take Baltimore &c on my return.” 12 Unimpressed with the nation’s center of government, Ridgway described Washington, D.C. as a “city in embryo – of which little is to be seen save the plan….” 13 However, after touring the Capitol and White House, the pottery owner later chose the artist H. Brown’s drawing  of the Capitol Building (AAS #70) for transfer to the largest (20.5” x 15.5”) platter in his Beauties of America dinner service.  Brown’s drawing was engraved by Joseph Andrews and later published in Hinton’s The History and Topography of the United States of North America  published by Simpkin & Marshall in London in 1830.  It is interesting to note that Ridgway’s copperplate engraver added trees and riders on horses to Brown’s stark view.  The artist William Russell Birch’s (1755-1834) beautiful aquatint of Mount Vernon which was drawn, engraved and published by the artist in The Country Seats of the United States of North America, ( Bristol, Pennsylvania, 1808) was the source for Ridgway’s vegetable dish with cover (AAS #227 & AAS #228).  The view of George Washington’s home was a tribute to the young nation’s first president with a ship at full sail in the Potomoc and a riderless white horse in the foreground.

Baltimore distant view | click for image record

As he earlier suggested in his journal, Ridgway returned to Baltimore, Maryland, and was very impressed with the buildings in the city:  “Monday, November 11 – The people here [he subjectively wrote] are proud of their public buildings and not without cause.  The Exchange, the Court House, several Banks, churches, chapels, Masonic Hall, Theatre, Assembly Room, Monuments, Foundations, Medical College, Jail, Penitentiary and Poor House &c are all places that do credit to the spirit of the town.” 14 The next day, Ridgway took “another survey of the Public Buildings and after fixing upon those which were suitable went to a Distance after an artist – but he was unfortunately absent – however I directed for him to call on me the following morning.  And after filling up my journal began to prepare for my departure by the steam boat tomorrow for Philadelphia.” 15 Unfortunately, the artist Ridgway called upon to sketch Baltimore’s public buildings was still absent the next morning and only one view of Baltimore , the Exchange Building (not in AAS collection) drawn by Joshua Shaw was included in Ridgway’s Beauties of America dinner service. However, Ridgway was successful in taking orders for his pottery in Baltimore and wrote happily that he “took the three first orders which I received during the journey – I trust this is the beginning of better success.  I am sure I shall be in better spirits and ought to be more thankful today.” 16

Upon returning to Philadelphia on November 14, Ridgway found the “Philadelphia market exceedingly bad, even while I form a connexion [sic] I am not pleased with it… The week is now at a close – and I am well nigh weary.” 17 Ridgway’s weariness and discouragement with his business dealings with Philadelphia pottery merchants may have led to his decision to purchase published views, rather than hire an artist in Philadelphia.   Ridgway may have purchased William Birch & Son’s beautifully drawn, engraved views of Philadelphia published by R. Campbell & Co. in 1799.  Included in Birch’s book was a view of the Philadelphia Library and Surgeon’s Hal (AAS #44) built in 1799 on Fifth Street which Ridgway later transferred onto dinner plates for his Beauties of America dinner service.  Another of William Birch’s views of Philadelphia’s Masonic Hall,  (this piece is not in AAS collection) located on the north side of Chesnut Street, burned down in 1818; but was rebuilt the same year and chosen by Ridgway for inclusion in his American scenery dinner service.   Ridgway chose the Sansom Street Baptist Church (AAS #42) known as Staughton’s Church, named for the Reverend William Staughton, the Church’s popular pastor.  The church building was defined by its striking and novel architectural style, which may have contributed to Ridgway’s decision to include it in his dinner service.  The source of the view of Staughton’s Church is not known and Ridgway made no reference to the church in his journal while in Philadelphia.  

Philadelphia from the Elm Tree Kensington | click for image record

Ridgway also chose to copy for transfer to his Beauties of America dinner service a number of views by the English-born artist Joshua Shaw (1777-1860) who worked in Philadelphia after 1817.  Four of Shaw’s drawings included the Custom House, Philadelphia (AAS #56); the Baltimore Exchange (not in AAS collection), the Charleston Exchange (AAS #88) and the United States Bank of Savannah, Georgia (AAS #92) were engraved by William G. Mason (fl. 1822-1845) and later published in J.C. Kayser’s Commercial Directory: Containing a Topographical Description, Extent and Production of Different Sections of the Union published by the author in Philadelphia in 1823, the year after John Ridgway visited the City of Philadelphia.   Although Joshua Shaw worked in Philadelphia after 1817, he also traveled in the Southern States, including Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Maryland where he sketched public buildings and landscapes. 18 Of these four southern states, John Ridgway visited only one, Baltimore, Maryland.  Ridgway continued to labor among Philadelphia’s pottery merchants for four more days conducting business with “Cresson & Rhead & Guy, but nothing decisive: Shufflebotham, Cook & Snowdon: Tyndale – all promises, but postponed until Monday” 19 before he continued on his journey to New York City.

City Hall New York | click for image record

On Wednesday, November 20, Ridgway landed in New York City and his immediate impression was of a “City full of inhabitants or visitors – all is activity and bustle.” 20 He called on leading ceramic houses and was surprised to find the market, very, very low  and was half-inclined to leave the City.  The next day, Ridgway met with William Adams of Stoke-Upon-Trent, who, at 23 years of age, went to the Southern States of American for about two years on business. 21 Adams, the eldest son of William Adams, the very successful pottery manufacturer who owned six factories in Stoke-on-Trent, was taken into the family business in 1819.  After meeting with the young Mr. Adams in New York, Ridgway walked around town and called on other dealers and was pleased to learn that New York City was a “wonderful place for business.  35,000 crates per year & on the increase." 22 After a week of laboring among the pottery dealers, Ridgway was successful in selling “20 crates being the residue of our stock and then took his orders for upwards of 120 more.” 23

Perhaps more focused on business rather than selecting drawings for transfer onto his American Scenery pottery, Ridgway chose only two New York views: The New York Almshouse (AAS #102) and New York’s City Hall (AAS #104).  Both views were engraved by William Hooker after drawings by the artist Charles Augustin Busby (1786-1834) and published in Blunt’s Stranger’s Guoide to the City of New York, published by Edmund M. Blunt, 1817.  The engravings were simple architectural renderings of the buildings.  Ceramic historians believed that Ridgway used W.G. Wall’s drawing of New York’s City Hall aquatinted and engraved by John Hill as the source print for Ridgway’s American Scenery dinner service.  However, since Hill’s engraving was not published until 1829 and the Ridgway brothers dissolved their partnership in 1830, it is not probable that Ridgway based his pottery’s view on Hill’s engraving.

Beacon Street Boston | click for image record

Ridgway left New York on November 26 by the Accomodation coach for Boston.  He called on the ceramic merchant Wilby the next day who had sent 1,000 pounds to his brother William Ridgway of Caldon Place Works in Hanley, England, for an order.  He walked with Wilby to see the Boston Ceramic Dealers and made arrangements to visit them the next day for both business and as Ridgway wrote “a little convivial acquaintance.” 24 While in Boston, Ridgway called on an artist by the name of Jones and paid him 20 dollars for a drawing.  He also called on his bookseller and closed his account.  Over the next week, Ridgway visited the East India Museum in Salem and found it both “scientific and benevolent”.  The Pottery owner spent the remainder of his time in Boston closing his transactions with many firms for sales of his pottery in the Spring.  On Saturday, December 7, 1822, Ridgway took leave of Wilby and his family and prepared for his departure to England.  After touring many of American’s major cities, Ridgway’s final assessment was a tribute to New York:  “And were I to live elsewhere than in England, I think it should be in New York.” 25

John Ridgway returned to Hanley and his pottery business with his brother William in January of 1823 and began the process of creating his Beauties of America dinner service, a multi-step process first developed in 1790 in Cobridge by William Davis for the potter William Adams.  Patents were applied for, copperplates engraved of the American views in an English landscape style, molds made for the pottery, and colors and slip mixed for application to the ceramic body.  The dinner service was produced between the years 1825 and 1829, as it usually took two years to receive a patent and the Ridgway brothers dissolved their partnership in 1830.  With repetitive medallions of roses as their border design, Ridgway transferred twenty-two views of American scenery onto platters, tureens, vegetable dishes, gravy boats, 12 dinner and lunch plates, soup bowls, cups and cup plates. In the Morse collection are twenty views with the Philadelphia Masonic Hall and Baltimore Exchange views uncollected by donor Emma deforest Morse. 

New York Daily Advertiser classified for Ridgway pottery Sept. 1, 1825 | click for record

Because many of the views Ridgway chose for his Beauties of America dinner service were published after the dissolution of the brothers John and William’s partnership in 1830, Ridgway’s journal offers a plausible explanation for this puzzle.  The potter purchased the drawings and engravings while on his journey to procure images of American scenery and returned to Cauldon Place Works with them.  John Ridgway, the pottery owner, established business relationships with American merchants and dealers in an effort to ship his dinner service directly to them for sale to American consumers.  Was Ridgway’s journey the norm for the production of American view transferware in Staffordshire?  Probably not, but as a result of Ridgway’s journey, views of many American buildings were preserved on the surfaces of ceramic dinner service named the Beauties of America and purchased with pride by American consumers with the rise of nationalism in the early nineteenth century.  

Ruth Ann Penka
January 2012


1. Ridgway, John. 1822-1823. Manuscript Journal dated September 1822-January 1823.  Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, UK.

2. Ibid, October 25, 1822.

3. Ibid, October 24, 1822.

4. American Antiquarian Society Ephemera Trade Card 0082, Bib 379204.

5. Dunlap, William.  History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States.New York:1834. Vol. II, p. 9.

6. Ridgway Journal, October 28, 1822.

7. Dunlap, v II, pp. 408-410.

8. Ibid, October 31, 1822.

9. Ibid, November 5, 1822.

10. Ibid.

11. Francis R. Packard, M.D.  Some Account of the Pennsylvania Hospital from its First Rise to the Beginning of the Year 1938.Philadelphia: Engle Press, 1938.  Iconography 1802, pp. 131-132.

12. Ridgway Journal, November 8, 1822.

13. Ibid.

14. John Ridgway Journal, November 11, 1822.

15. John Ridgway Journal, Tuesday, November 12, 1822.

16. Ibid.

17. Ridgway Journal, November 16, 1822.

18. Dunlap, vol. II, p. 320.

19. Ridgway Journal, Saturday October 16, 1822.

20. Ibid, Wed. November 20, 1822.

21. William Turner, F.S.S., Editor. William Adams An Old English Potter. London: Chapman and Hall Ltd. New York: The Keramic Studio Publishing Co., Syracuse, New York, 1904.  P.  111.

22. Ridgway Journal, Friday November 22, 1822.

23. Ibid, Monday, November 25, 1822.

24. Ridgway Journal, Thursday, November 28, 1822.

25. Ibid, Saturday, December 7, 1822.

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