We recently came upon a rare collection of “Canadian Sports” pottery carefully assembled over a 45+ year period by Dr. Peter Bell. Much of Peter’s collection is displayed in a green painted cabinet of the period, giving the impression that one has just stepped back in time to the late 19th century when such a set could be easily obtained.
If you have ever had the pleasure of coming across the “Canadian Sports” pattern you will not forget it. The images conjure up romantic scenes that are synonymous with Canadian winters. Images of people playing and taking part in outdoor activities make this china appealing to both Canadiana and antique pottery collectors alike.
Most 19th century transferware for the Canadian market tends to be dominated by formal scenes of views drawn by the English adventurer W.H. Bartlett – views of sites like the Rideau Canal, and the St. Lawrence River. Portneuf pottery, which shows colourful and primitive depictions of flowers or animals, is also a common 19th century form. By contrast, the “Canadian Sports” scenes have a naïve, folk art appeal that catches its subjects in the midst of an activity. They are either tobogganing down a hill with a dog, untangling a snowshoe caught in barbed-wire, or skating as part of a fancy quartette.
Peter pointed out an image of a skater in the background in scene #9 shown below who is taking a quick glance over his shoulder at the woman skater. It is an image which is typical of the combination of romance and humor in these scenes.
Not uncommon for its time, it was a pattern made in the British Isles specifically for the Canadian market. As Elizabeth Collard points out in one of her essays on the subject of 19th Century Pottery in Canada:
“The “Canadian Sports” pattern was made in Bo’ness Scotland by J. Marshall & Co. The scenes on it were copied in every detail from a set of Christmas and New Year greeting cards published in Montreal at the beginning of the 1880’s. The earthenware can be dated just slightly later”.* (1)
There are twelve scenes in the series listed in the image gallery below.* (2)
Although many “Canadian Sports” pieces are not marked, a few of them carry the maker’s initials or name printed or impressed.
Elizabeth Collard describes the characteristics of this pattern in her book, The Potter’s View of Canada:
The earthenware body used by J.Marshall & Co. for “Canadian Sports” was most often of the cream or ivory tone popular in the mid-1880’s, and occasionally on a body distinctly white. The underglaze transfer printing was generally in black, sometimes in brown, or (rarest in blue). The pattern with floral border, was offered with added colour (pink, blue, green, yellow) over black printing. Gilding was occasionally used on rims and handles. Dinner, tea, toilet sets were made in this pattern. As in all multi-scene patterns, different views appeared on different articles. On large articles, such as ewers and basins or meat dishes, as many as five or six views (reduced in size) might appear.* (3)
There are very few pieces of the “Canadian Sports” pattern in circulation today. They sometimes turn up at auction or can be obtained through specialized dealers. Even damaged items are highly sought after and can go for large sums of money.
If you happen to find a “Canadian Sports” item in your attic or basement don’t throw it out. Cherish it, take pride in our 19th century pottery and enjoy the wonderful depictions of our early settlers at play.
Photos courtesy of Peter Bell and Rogues’ Hollow Antiques. All rights reserved.
1. The Canadiana Connection, 19th Century Pottery, (Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery – Focus Two) essay by Elizabeth Collard, published by Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1988
2. Portneuf Pottery and other early wares (Part IV, Canadian Sports Series) by R.W. Finlayson, published by Longman Canada Limited, 1972
3. The Potters’ View of Canada, Canadian Scenes on Nineteenth Century Earthenware (Chapter 10, Canadian Sports) by Elizabeth Collard, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, Kingston and Montreal, 1983
Rogues’ Hollow Antiques would like to thank Dr. Peter Bell for generously sharing his collection of “Canadian Sports” pattern with our readers.