L.D. has a ewer and basin that she has known of for her 80 years. She’s writing her parents’ life stories, and she asked me if I would piece together the ownership of this ewer (the basin is in poor condition) because she assumes that because the Ewer is in perfect shape, someone must have loved it.
She calls the story of the ewer a mystery because it seems likely that, in the family tree she sent, a definite owner is not evident. One of her family members is helping L.D. put a family genealogy together and has sent me information on both L.D.’s sides of her family. So which side owned this Ewer? Her father’s side was Sicilian and her mother’s, German English. We will see that I have solved this mystery for L.D., it was owned by the English side!
But what fun along the way. I read that one of her family, Hans Devauld Van Der Berg (b. 1724 Solingen, Germany) led a charmed life. He was the grandson of Princess Elizabeth Ann of Berg (b 1680), whose son John and wife set sail to find his fortune in America with a huge family of 10. All but one member was lost at sea off the Carolinas. A 14 yr. old son, the aforementioned Hans, was found in the waters by another passing ship, was saved, and was subsequently sold as an indentured servant to a plantation owner in Orangeburg South Carolina probably around 1740; along the way he was rebranded Hans Funderberg (as that sounds like Van Der Berg). He escaped his indentured servitude and left for Lancaster Country, South Carolina in the mid-18th C. No, the ewer was not his, it is too “new.”
Now the other branch of .L.D’s family, the English McKnight’s, came to Philadelphia in 1762, renamed the “Knight “ family, and sons of the family did not leave Pennsylvania till one of them married an Illinois gal. I bet this Ewer belonged to that family, and here’s why:
A faint name in the base of the Ewer reads: Lebeau Porcelain. That brand began in France in 1879, but the ‘middle class porcelain’ that they made was not indeed porcelain, but stoneware finished over with a white glaze to resemble French porcelain. Thus, it was not sold to the high brows. It was popular with the Americans, however, and a branch of the business was opened in Sebring, Ohio, in the late 19th early 20th century. If L.D.’s Ewer were to have been imported from France, it would have been stamped Lebeau “France” because by 1892, the McKinley Tariff Act specified imported wares be stamped with country of origin. And by the style of the ewer, it is late 19th to early 20th century, around that time of the decree. Thus, L.D.’s Ewer, although having French pretensions, was in fact American ceramic, and not French porcelain at all.
Thus, we have solved another piece of the puzzle; income level: middle class American families around that time took advantage of the ceramic ware made locally, because the late 19th to early 20th century was a time of specialized objects for specialized “wants/desires” of the middle class. And ceramics were breakable and transported by hand. American middle class families tended to purchase factory seconds from factories that had sales close to home. L.D.’s Ewer was cheap and functional (used with the basin for washing oneself before indoor plumbing, another indication of the economic level of the owner, who, if wealthy, would have had indoor plumbing by 1890).
Remember I said that the branch of the Knight family did not leave Pennsylvania till around 1890? Specifically, that branch had formerly homesteaded in Rogersville PA which would have been two plus hours by train or one hour to Pittsburg, where I assume Lebeau factory outlet stores were located.
Thus, I can date the acquisition of the Ewer to right before the Knight branch of the family moved to marry in Illinois, accomplished by William Thomas Knight (born in 1859) who married Malina Elizabeth Nichols (born in 1856) in Carlyle, Ill., in around 1890.
Thus, family objects have a story to tell about families always; even though today we want to divest ourselves of such telling objects, they still do have a voice to those that listen. I hope L.D. finds my sleuthing good enough to have solved the mystery of why the Ewer was treasured. It was brought as a souvenir of the Pennsylvania area to the Midwest by D.P.’s great grandparents, a reminder of a time before plumbing.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press. Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.