Pottery specialised in mocha ware

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by Jeannie Swales

This pretty container with its delicate coffee-coloured base and soft blue tree or feather-like patterns is one of a small group of objects held in the Scarborough Collections made by Falsgrave Pottery in Scarborough.

Little is known about this pottery except that it was in Gallows Close, and operated during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. From 1902 the site was occupied by a British Railway Goods Depot, and it’s now, of course, home to Sainsbury’s supermarket.

Judging by the pieces in the Collections, it seems that the pottery, which used local clay, specialised in mocha ware, whereby a special glazing technique is used to give complex patterns which look like trees or geological patterns. The technique dates from the 1780s and was invented in 
Staffordshire. The first dated piece known is 1799 from Ipswich.

The mocha ware process uses tobacco, which is boiled in water and coloured with, for example, iron oxide (other colour agents included turpentine, hops and urine). It is then touched onto a wet slip (liquid clay) surface. The acidic tobacco mixture reacts with the 
alkaline slip and the dendritic, or tree-like, pattern 
quickly spreads.

The term ‘mocha’ comes from the Red Sea port of Mocha from which moss agate (mocha stone), which has similar patterning, was exported. Coffee was also exported from there.

Mocha was one of the cheapest types of decorated pottery and was generally made for practical, rather than purely decorative, use, often in places like pubs. However, the method of making it means that each piece is unique, so each object has a vibrancy of its own.

Interestingly, given the use of it in its decoration, this little pot is believed to be a storage jar for tobacco.

If you’d like to see this beautiful local object, you can join the next of the regular store tours run by Scarborough Museums Trust, which takes care of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects acquired by the Borough of Scarborough.

The tour, on Tuesday November 26, will be led by the Trust’s Chief Executive, Debbie Seymour, and will look specifically at the ceramics collection. Tours start at Scarborough Art Gallery at 2pm, and last around an hour. Numbers are limited, so booking is highly recommended: visit http://scarboroughmuseumstrust.org.uk/our-venues/art-gallery/events/112-store-tours.html, or call (01723) 374753 for further information.