University Collections of Art and History

Object Record

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Catalog Number R1992.6.1
Object Name Saucer
Description Saucer having a molded rim, decorated in overglaze famille rose enamels with a pink scale border along the outside rim, a flower on either side of the handle, and a coat of arms on the front opposite the handle consisting mainly of an interwoven gold design.

This coffee cup is decorated with a cipher of the letters W W, probably for William Woodley. Ciphers are an intertexture (interwoven to the point of inseparability) of initials. Initials in a cipher are often doubled or mirrored. Cipher designs privileged symmetrically over legibility and often are very difficult to read. An alternate, earlier, definition of the word "cipher" is a synonym of cryptograph or code. The expansion of the use of the word in the eighteenth century to describe this complex initialing practice is telling of how cryptic these ciphers likely were even to their original audience.

The design for this cipher was copied from Samuel Sympson's A New Book of Cyphers, a pattern book which was first published in 1726. This book was used as a source of cipher design for several armorial services made for the British market in the second half of the eighteenth century.

William Woodley (1722-1793) was a West Indies plantation owner and was married to Frances Payne. He was also captain-general and twice governor of the Leeward Islands. The family was originally from Beccles, Suffolk England.

The service that this cup comes from enjoys a rather notable place in the history of armorial porcelain. By 1872 it had entered the possession of John Owles, who probably acquired it because of the owl crest. Owles lived in Lowestoft, England, and the presence of this service in Lowestoft led ceramics scholars to assume that it had been made at hard-paste porcelain factory located there. Though it was quickly realized that this conclusion was incorrect, the term "Lowestoft" and "Chinese Lowestoft" was used by some collectors, curators, and scholars to describe export porcelain well into the twentieth century.
Year Range from 1775
Year Range to 1785
Material Hard-Paste Porcelain
Place of Origin Made in Jingdezhen, Probably Decorated in Guangzhou (Canton), China
Collection The Reeves Center
Credit line Gift of Herbert G. McKay
On View No