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Opening the China Closet

With the vast majority of the silver in the Pavilion Collection cataloged, photographed, and rehoused, it was time to move on to a different category of objects: ceramics. By far the largest category, ceramics accounts for over 3,000 of the 8,000 objects in the collection. To prepare for such a monumental task, we began by examining the detailed inventory from 1994 as the contents of the Pavilion were packed up and removed from the building. Those records gave us some idea of what we were getting ourselves into when we began unpacking boxes by giving an overview of how many different patterns we could anticipate, the number of objects per pattern, and potential manufacturers to research.

The first group we chose to unpack is a set of Chinese export porcelain in a famille rose pattern and decorated with the Gibbs family coat of arms. Characterized by the dominance of pink glaze in the decorations, Chinese factories began producing porcelain decorated in the famille rose style in the 1720’s. Both the color and prolific use of flowers made this style of porcelain very popular on the European and American export market, and wealthy families frequently placed orders for sets customized with their coat of arms. This collection was probably ordered by George Gibbs II (1735-1803), museum co-founder Sarah Pell’s great grandfather, in the late 18th or early 19th century. He owned a shipping company specializing in cargo from China, bringing back blue and white Chinese export porcelain and lacquered furniture in addition to this customized set of famille rose with his coat of arms.

We began by unpacking every piece and comparing them against the inventory to make sure we located all 149 pieces. Each piece was then cataloged, photographed, and numbered before we began the rehousing process.

Delicate porcelain presents its own set of challenges to store in a museum setting. Stacking dishes on an open shelf is fine for the plates we use every day, but stacking antique porcelain should be kept to a minimum because the bottom of the stack is liable to crack over time. We tested different combinations and box sizes to developing layouts that would accommodate different sizes, shapes, heights, and weights. Customized trays with dividers keep objects from shifting around and provide support for the next layer, allowing us to store up to four trays of this size per box, housing twelve of each dish type.

As work on the Pavilion collection continues, stay tuned here and on Fort Ticonderoga’s Facebook page for updates on the restoration, new discoveries, and more from Fort Ticonderoga every week!