10 January 2016

Spode and Vietnamese Limepots

Copeland & Garrett Vietnamese limepot, pattern B593 c1839
Sometimes pots confuse. Something is so far removed from the present, a use long forgotten; or strays from the usual, or has simply never been seen before, that it can only be described temporarily as a 'mystery pot'. **

So the title of this post is very specific. But then the object in question is very specific. For many years when these objects turned up (which they did rarely) no one knew what they were. And no research seems to have been done, but horror of horrors, just guesswork. I think it is fair to say that, even people who perhaps should have known better, began to invent uses for this mysterious object and, frustratingly, went into publication with bizarre ideas such as doorstop and wig warmer...!

In 2002, whilst I was working as curator at the Spode museum, Kerry Nguyen Long -  a specialist researcher from Australia - contacted me with an enquiry. She asked if I could date a limepot for her. I was sure I could from the pattern and marks on the pot. However I had absolutely no idea what a limepot. So began a satisfying swap of information between two enthusiastic researchers across the world.
Copeland & Garrett Vietnamese limepot, pattern B466 c1838
The limepot in question was made during the Copeland & Garrett ownership of the Spode company between 1833 and 1847. Using the pattern books in the Spode archive I eventually identified this limepot as decorated in pattern number B466 which was a design first recorded in about 1838. The border is known as Chevron border which is found in conjunction with other designs and in many colour versions. I found no reference to the limepot shape or name in the Spode archive. Nor were there any customer records for this period which could shed any light on such a specialist order.

Thanks to Kerry Nguyen-Long, expert on and researcher into limepots, her enquiry enabled me to quiz her in return about the definition of a limepot. This particular one she contacted me about was in a private collection and included in a special exhibition at the Museum of Vietnamese History in Ho Chi Minh City a few years ago.

Prompted by my curiosity, Kerry kindly described its use. The limepot is a container for slaked lime. Approximately 1/3 of crushed lime is put into the pot with 1/3 water. The remaining space at the top allows for effervescence. The lime is removed with a little spatula, when required, to make a 'quid'. Kerry told me that chewing a quid is part of social custom in Southeast Asia. The lime is one of several ingredients in the quid.

Searching the web I found the following:

'a quid consists of four materials: an areca leaf (sweet taste), betel bark (hot taste), a chay root (bitter taste), and hydrated lime (pungent taste). Old health books claim that 'chewing betel and areca nut makes the mouth fragrant, decreases bad tempers, and makes digesting food easy.

A quid of betel makes people become closer and more open-hearted. At any wedding ceremony, there must be a dish of betel and areca nut, which people can share as they joy the special occasion. During festival or Tet Holidays, betel and areca nut is used for inviting visitors and making acquaintances. Sharing a quid of betel with an old friend is like expressing the gratitude for the relationship. A quid of betel and areca nut makes people feel warm on cold winters days, and during funerals, it relieves the sadness. Betel and areca nuts are also used in offerings. When Vietnamese people worship their ancestors, betel and areca nut must be present at the altar. Nowadays, the custom of chewing betel remains popular in some Vietnamese village and among the old.'
'A betel kit' from VOV World Service. Can you spot the limepot?
Kerry told me that whilst each community had its own set of implements, only the Kinh Vietnamese had this type of closed pot. She also said that it was unusual to find Western limepots and emphasised that the design followed the Vietnamese shape. Vietnamese potters made them in all sizes and in all manner of variations but always incorporating the basic closed pot shape for many hundreds of years.

Some were also made in China for a short period, these were all blue and white, and some of these are in the same shape as the Copeland & Garrett limepot as are locally made ones. Some locally made pots were in bronze and rare ones are in silver.
Betel kit exhibit in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology - Hanoi, Vietnam.
Kerry wondered if the limepots were made after the East India Company trade mission of Crawfurd & Finlayson in 1821-1822. They had to wait for invitation to the Court and passed their time making daily excursions ashore. They '…seldom passed through a village without being invited into some house or another, and requested to partake of tobacco and betel'. Finlayson also makes references to the custom. (Finlayson accompanied Crawfurd, the leader of the East India Company mission to Siam and Vietnam as medical officer and naturalist.)

When I was Editor of the Spode Society's 'Review' in 2002, I published some of what is here. At the time Kerry commented: 'I know of very few of these British made pots. I only know of two Chevron design pots, but of course there may be more - I have been looking hard!' I wonder if she ever found any more.

Copeland & Garrett limepots are rare but you can find images and information about them on the web these days. Another researcher with whom I corresponded at a later date was Philippe Truong. His post HERE > has some great information and images.

All the limepots I have seen from the Spode factory are from the Copeland & Garrett period of ownership (1833-1847). They are decorated with B patterns which was a series of patterns where all the decoration - both printed outline and hand colouring - was executed underglaze.

Copeland & Garrett Vietnamese limepot, pattern B580 c1839
There are several articles and books, including the recently published  'Arts of Viet Nam 1009-1945', by Kerry on Vietnamese ceramics; and you can find a link to one of her articles on limepots here> from Arts of Asia. Also do a general web search on limepots (and lime pots) for interesting results.

**New information from my research in the Spode archive July 2016:

Whilst researching something else entirely, I was very excited to find an entry in a 'Fixings Book' for this item which is new information for researchers in the modern era. The 'Fixings Book' is a ledger with mainly handwritten entries giving details of the fixed decorating price for various items - some unusual, some quite ordinary.

NB These Fixings (later Fixing) Books are sometimes erroneously called 'special order books' which they definitely are  not.

Occasionally the written entry is annotated with a little sketch or cartoon. On 5th September 1839 I found an entry for a 'Cross Handled Pot' and an illustration of what I now know as a Vietnamese limepot. Annotations added to the details for the entry are a small list of pattern numbers in which these items were made.

It is really interesting to know what these were called at the Spode factory, then operating under the Copeland & Garrett partnership, and to have a date for the introduction of this unusual shape.
Acknowledgements and thanks to Kerry Nguyen-Long for solving the mystery and awakening my curiosity as well as being happy to share and swap information; and likewise to Philippe Truong who contacted me a few years later on the same subject. And to the Spode archive.