As one would expect from any commemorative piece, our museum feature, the Copeland Spode Chicago Pitcher, released in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, is full of history. But the particulars of this piece’s release make it something truly special.
The Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, began as an observance of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Having outdone New York City and Washington, DC, to get the exposition, Chicago went all-out to make it spectacular. The exposition site covered 600 acres, and nearly 200 buildings, in classical style, were constructed. Man-made lagoons and canals accented the magnificent buildings. Often referred to as “The White City,” the exposition was designed in large part by Daniel Burnham (architect who designed the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, DC) and Frederick Law Olmstead (landscape designer of Central Park, New York City, and the grounds around the United States Capitol Building). The buildings and layout of the exhibition were to serve as prototypes for city design, following the Beaux Arts principles of symmetry and balance.
As fate would have it, a young English teacher from Wellesley College, MA, visited the exposition on her way to Colorado for a tour of the West. Katharine Lee Bates would later write the poem that would become the patriotic song, “America the Beautiful.” The “alabaster cities” in her lyrics are a reference to the white buildings of the Chicago World’s Fair.
Launched in a period of great optimism in industrial America, the exposition was visited by such luminaries as inventor Thomas Edison; activists Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, and Frederick Douglass; entertainers Scott Joplin and Annie Oakley; financiers J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie; aviator Octave Chanute; writers Henry Adams, Hamlin Garlin, William Dean Howells, and Helen Keller (with her teacher, Annie Sullivan); and President Grover Cleveland. In the six months that the exposition was open, more than 27 million people attended. This number represented about half the population of the United States in the period!
Noted on the backstamp of the Copeland Spode Chicago Pitcher as designer is the name, Frank E. Burley, whose business, Burley & Co., was located on State Street in Chicago. In the “Chicago Blue Book of Selected Names...” (1892), Burley’s firm ran this advertisement: “We bring to this city and offer for sale at reasonable prices, the choicest Table Wares, the richest Ornamental Pieces and the latest novelties in Ceramics secured by personal visit to the Art Centres of the Old World.” In all likelihood, Burley commissioned the production of the Chicago Pitcher on a business trip to England. A decade later, the “Annual Report 1903” of the Chicago Historical Society notes a gift “From Burley and Company...an historical pitcher designed by the late Frank E. Burley. The different groups of figures forming the decorations represent the history of Chicago from the first visit of Marquette, 1673, to the Columbian Exposition, 1893.”
Encircling the top panels of the Copeland Spode Chicago Pitcher is a depiction of the Great Fire of 1871 that destroyed four square miles of the city. You’ll see in the detail a rendering of Catherine O’Leary, who with her husband, Patrick, owned the small shed where the fire purportedly started, along with her famous cow. The legend (popularized in the song, “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow,” sometimes called “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”) continues, even though Michael Ahern, a reporter for the “Chicago Republican,” admitted in 1893 (the year of the Columbian Exhibition) that he had invented the story about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over her milking lantern. Other depictions include Potawatomi warriors pointing across a lake, probably at French explorers who were the first white men to arrive in the region. Also depicted are the area’s first trading post, built by Haitian Jean Baptiste Pont du Sable, the area’s first permanent settler; Fort Dearborn, destroyed during the War of 1812; and a depiction of Athena (goddess of wisdom and knowledge) with the Palace of Fine Arts, also known as the Fine Arts Building (built specifically for the 1893 Columbia Exhibition), which, years later, would evolve into the Field Museum of Natural History, a landmark on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.
While the Copeland Spode Chicago Pitcher in our Museum is not for sale, Replacements, Ltd. carries a wide variety of classic Spode patterns, among them, the most popular china pattern in our entire 13,000,000-piece inventory, Spode Christmas Tree . Be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities! Here you’ll find a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!