Monday, May 18, 2015

Arcane Dining Oddities: The Slop Bowl

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


It has been sometime since I last published a post on Arcane Dining Oddities, so today I'd like to remedy this by introducing you to the lowly slop bowl.

With such an unappetizing name, you might well be asking yourself  what, in heaven's name, is a slop bowl?  Is it, perhaps, a bowl from which to serve thin gruel? Might its purpose be to hold a dog's dinner?  A slop bowl would certainly make an exceedingly stylish kibble bowl, particularly if one were the owner of a pampered pooch.  This all sounds like fodder for one of my Relics Reimagined posts, come to think of it.

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"No, the silver slop bowl does not contain your dinner you naughty little dog!"

Made of metal or ceramic, a slop bowl's sole purpose was for the collection of dregs from the bottom of one's tea cup.  Leftover tea, along with any tea leaves, would be placed into the bowl in preparation for pouring another round of tea.  Once considered an essential piece of tea time equipage, the slop bowl, alas, is no longer to be found as part of a modern day tea service.

Its demise may have had something to do with the popularity of the dreaded tea bag, convenient in a pinch to be sure, but please loose tea, always!  The invention of strainers, held over tea cups to catch errant tea leaves as they escape from a pot's spout, has also rendered the slop bowl inessential.

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Obviously these rakish dandies have misplaced their slop bowl, along with the host's saucer - the horror of it all!


Of course none of this obsolescence matters to me as I take pleasure in using my slop bowls and have no trouble setting them to good purpose.  It only dawned on me when taking the photographs to accompany this post that I've somehow amassed an embarrassing number of these rather handy little bowls over the years.  Several of them were found with their accompanying tea or coffee pots, milk jugs, and sugar basins.  Others were purchased individually, having long become separated from their tea mates.

The examples I show from my collection mostly date from the first half of the nineteenth century, with a few that were possibly manufactured as early as the 1790's. All are of English origin and decorated with bat prints or restrained bands of color and wisps of gilding.  The bowls vary in size but most are about five inches across and three to four inches in height.

One of my favorite slop bowls is the one shown in the photograph below.  I am partial to its delicate grisaille toned vignettes, known as bat prints, a popular form of decoration employed by Josiah Spode and his contemporaries, during the early nineteenth century.  I date the bowl to around 1805 and I feel most fortunate to have it in my collection, together with a number of tea cups and saucers showing similar landscape prints.  I cannot tell you how delicious and flavorful tea tastes when sipped from one of these delicate bone china cups, an altogether different experience from the thicker-walled tea cups or mugs of today.  

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An English Regency era slop bowl manufactured by Spode in 1805
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A view of the other side showing a charming scene of two ramblers traversing an idyllic landscape
Photo: Chronica Domus


The much squatter bowl seen below exhibits yet another bat print, this time showing what appears to be a church-like building set among trees and hills.  I am uncertain as to which of the British ceramic factories made this bowl, but if I were to guess, I'd say New Hall.

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A detailed view of my New Hall(?) slop bowl
Photo: Chronica Domus


Several years ago, on a summer's walk through the town of St. Albans, located in Hertfordshire, I spied the bowl seen below, through the shop window of an antiques dealer.

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A Barr Flight slop bowl circa 1792 to 1807 appearing a little more vivid in color than in the flesh
Photo: Chronica Domus


I instantly fell in love with the burnt orange ground and delicate gilt foliate decoration. To my dismay, the shop was closed.  It was, after all, a Sunday afternoon, a time when not much is open for business in the smaller towns of England. I telephoned the shop the following morning inquiring about the bowl and was informed by the very knowledgeable and chatty owner that it formed part of a tea service of half a dozen cups and saucers, a sugar basin, milk jug, and a teapot stand. Sadly, the teapot had most likely met a gruesome death at some point in its history. My heart raced as I sheepishly asked the price for all sixteen pieces.  I almost fainted upon hearing it. Really, it was very reasonable for such things.  In a fit of extravagance (it wasn't as though I actually needed yet more tea wares), I committed to purchasing the lot and asked my very nice father if he could drive me back to St. Albans from my parents' house in London to pick up my loot.  If any one knows where a teapot of this design lurks, I'd love to hear from you.

A rarity in my collection is a slop bowl that posed quite a mystery for Geoffrey Godden, one of the most distinguished experts in the field of nineteenth century English ceramics.

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The mystery orange and gilt slop bowl now in my collection
Photo: Chronica Domus


The indefatigable Mr. Godden has written numerous books on the subject and as you can imagine, has assembled many pieces for his reference collection.  Every now and then, Mr. Godden releases a number of those pieces for sale at auction.  I happened to take rather a fancy to the bowl in the preceding photograph, adoring its spare orange and gilt decoration.  I ended up as the successful bidder on both the bowl and a plate of the same design.

I was delighted to have discovered a paper label attached to the underside of the bowl. It reads "GODDEN REFERENCE COLLECTION rare pattern book class?", with pattern number "116" written in gilt paint.

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The provenance of the mystery slop bowl has stumped even the experts
Photo: Chronica Domus


I am certainly no expert in these matters, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I do see a resemblance in form to the orange colored Barr Flight bowl I show earlier in this post.  I love a good mystery and wonder if Mr. Godden also considered this fact in his examination of the unidentified slop bowl.

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Notice how the shape of this slop bowl closely resembles that of the Barr Flight example
Photo: Chronica Domus 


Another star of my collection is one that Reggie Darling would instantly recognize, being that he too is a fan of this classically inspired motif and a fellow ceramics collector.  He wrote a wonderful post several years ago about his urn saucer which is adorned with the same exquisite classical urn found on my slop bowl.  I located this elegant example in England, along with two companion pieces, and it takes my breath away each time I lay eyes on it.  It is sublime.

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A Factory Z Thomas Wolfe slop bowl circa 1800
Photo: Chronica Domus


In researching this post, I discovered that this particular pattern was a mystery piece for a number of years and fell into the "Factory Z" category of British ceramics, a catch-all place for unidentified patterns.  Following extensive research, the ceramic experts have since identified the decoration as "Pattern Number 24", manufactured by Thomas Wolfe at The Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, England.

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A Davenport black basalt slop bowl circa 1800 to 1810
Photo: Chronica Domus


Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be aware of my black basalt bent, so it will come as no surprise that a basalt slop bowl forms part of my collection.  This one was made by Davenport and is adorned with a graphic engine-turned decoration that would not look so out of place in today's modern world. Michelin tire treads spring to mind, wouldn't you agree?

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


I find slop bowls are not only a pleasure to look at, they are also very useful items to employ for entertaining. I've used mine to hold dips and spreads when serving hors d'oeuvres, and for lashings of whipped cream when serving dessert at the conclusion of a dinner party.  They make excellent receptacles for nuts at cocktail hour, and I've even pressed my basalt bowl into service for hyacinth forcing.

I hope you've enjoyed this introduction to the obsolete and arcane slop bowl, and would consider seeking one or two of these serviceable bowls for use in your own home.  You might very well find them mislabeled as sugar basins, which were typically much narrower and taller and often designed with handles and a lid, but now you know better.

28 comments:

  1. I too have a few, although they were found as 'separates'. I use them often for serving little nuts and things during cocktail hour. I too dread the tea bag and use loose leaf but the invention of the strainer (of which I have several to chose) ranks up there with the toilet and elevator!

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    1. I have to agree with you AD, the tea strainer is a marvel. I would add the washing machine to the privy and the "lift".

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  2. CD,
    What an interesting and informative post. You have a beautiful collection of slop bowls. I like the Spode pattern best. The size of these bowls remind me of some bowls I purchased from an Emma Bridgewater shop in England years ago. I believe she now has a factory in the U.S.A. Her pieces are pottery, not beautiful porcelain, but the shape of a bowl I purchased is very similar.
    Thank you for always entertaining us.
    Karen

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    1. Hello Karen,

      Why, thank you. Until I wrote this post, it had not dawned on me that all these bowls do indeed form a collection of sorts.

      I would posit that your Emma Bridgewater bowls were made to consume breakfast cereal, or even coffee/hot chocolate (if one were to imitate the French).

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  3. Hello CD, It's hard to pick a favorite in your enviable collection. The elegance of the Spode bowl attracts me, yet my liking for all things architectural makes me also incline to the 'New Hall' example.

    In Taiwan, where tea is drunk continuously, the tea tray itself has taken over the functions of the slop bowl. The trays are made with a pierced upper lid, so extra tea and water drain into a lower compartment which can be emptied later, or have a hose attached to a bucket waiting under the table.

    A lot of liquid is spilled, because in addition to heating the teapot, the cups are lined up and doused with hot water. Furthermore, the first pot of tea from one set of leaves is usually spilled out instead of being drunk. Finally, hot water or tea is often poured over the teapot while the tea is brewing. Sometimes a slop bowl is used for spent leaves, but they are often discarded directly. Of course, there is much variation as tea brewers all have their own equipment and traditions.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim,

      Yes, I too find it hard to pick a favorite - each offers something special to my eye.

      I was unaware of the tea trays you describe, and what a palaver just to brew a cup of tea! I think galoshes are in order. Seriously, this all sounds very theatrical and I for one would enjoy viewing such a performance.

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    2. Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown, here in Washington, DC, serves their tea in exactly the manner described by Parnassus. I must admit it was the first and only time I'd experienced tea served that way. Very entertaining.

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    3. Hello slf,

      Did you bring your rain gear with you? It must have been quite the show!

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    5. Hahaha!!! I think you would enjoy it!

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  4. I'll be honest anI wouldn't know how to identify a proper slop bowl but it looks multifunctional which gets my vote! I love that black basalt one and of course like all things the chevron was all the rage back then too!! I must say that the shape would be perfect for a rice bowl and wonder if they got this idea from asian rice bowls?

    But I have a weakness for porcelain and enjoyed looking at your collection.

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    1. Naomi,

      I too think they resemble little rice bowls. Remember, tea drinking originated in China, where the tea bowl was invented. I have a set of Regency era handleless cups (and saucers), or "tea bowls" as they are called, and they look like diminutive versions of slop bowls. I'm sure these were all influenced from Chinese porcelains and forms.

      I think it is time you found some slop bowls of your own. Perhaps the next time you order a Chinese takeout you could decant the contents into these elegant slop bowls. Beats little paper boxes any day!

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  5. You have a beautiful collection - you do have to wonder about the history behind these pieces don't you. Who did they belong to - can you imagine a Georgian household sitting round a table for afternoon tea - all very gentile - for what would a tea table be without a slop bowl - for us it would be probably be somewhere for used tea bags.

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    1. Hello elaine,

      I do wonder about the antiques in my house, and who owned them, and how they were used, especially the dining implements and even the dining table. I can only imagine the dinner parties and afternoon teas enjoyed by the elegant Regency bucks and ladies. Perhaps they'll all be horrified if they could see their beautiful slop bowls being used in the manner in which I use them today.

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  6. I wonder how many of them I have, as you mention it is easy to do, thought of as sugar bowls and walked right on by. My grandfather, a Victorian from the wilds of Lancashire, frequently drank his tea from a saucer if too hot – a habit I thought odd when a child but surely a hangover from the early days of tea drinking in the West. Some customs last a long time in rural areas – for example, the use of "tha" when my nephews forget I'm around and revert to dialect (they forget I spoke it as a child).

    I digress a long way from slop bowls but that word "slop" belongs again to my childhood – my grandfather called a kitchen sink a "slopstone". I was charmed to learn when I lived in Holland that the Dutch call a kitchen sink a "gootsteen" - literally the same as my grandfather's name for it. Oh well … I do enjoy your blog.

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    1. Hello Blue,

      You must go on an expedition of your place and seek out your slop bowls and report back as to the number you were able to find.

      I must confess, I recall my own father doing much the same as yours with his saucer. He must have stopped doing it long ago as I've not seen him do that since my childhood years. He does still heat the teapot with freshly boiled water though, a handy habit in cooler climes.

      I adore the word "slop". It is fun to say and not said enough nowadays. I had not heard of a sink being called a "slopstone" - love that!

      I am most pleased that you enjoy my blog, which is high praise indeed coming from such an esteemed blogger as yourself. I too enjoy yours, but you already knew that.

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  7. Such a splendid collection, CD. I think the black basalt is beautiful and reminiscent of Native American pottery. I've seen them called as waste bowls which is a marginally more appealing label. My grandmother gave me two silver slop bowls (Chinese Export) regrettably separated from their original tea sets. Like you, I use them for nuts, chocolates or other sweetmeats. Thank you for sharing!
    KL Gaylin

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    1. Why, thank you, KL Gaylin. As I commented to Karen, I did not even know I had a "collection" of slop bowls until I gathered them together to illustrate this posting (I have several more, but enough is enough!).

      I always believed a waste bowl was a receptacle for scraps of food when clearing one's plate, but I suppose it could also be a slop bowl. I like the word "slop" but I could see how it might sound a little unpalatable to some.

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  8. Yet again, another example of why I believe you and I were separated at birth! We, too, have numerous examples of these bowls in our cupboards at Darlington House, which we have heretofore called "Waste Bowls" but forever now shall be known as "Slop Bowls" (so vigorous and colorful!). We use them at table regularly to dispose of such things as bones and the like when eating roasted chicken, etc. Very useful, indeed, I find. I am mad for yours! Reggie

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    1. Dearest Reggie,

      I'm thrilled to bits and delighted to have introduced you to the more colorful "slop" vs. "waste" bowl, and yes, I too find it quite uncanny at how alike our outlook on things are - kindred spirits indeed!

      I'm sure I'd be as mad about your slop bowls as you are about mine. Perhaps you'd consider rummaging around the cupboards of Darlington and gathering up your bowls for a future posting?

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  9. These bowls are just gorgeous. Lovely post.

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    1. Thank you, LPC. I do so adore a pretty thing or two.

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  10. Once again your blog proves an education in beauty. These slop bowls are stunning, and their unusual name makes them that much more interesting.
    I'm definitely going to look for some as they would be perfect for little cocktail snacks. Thanks so much for the lovely post!

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    1. Hello DaniBP,

      How nice of you to say so, thank you. I'm sure you'll enjoy reaching for those cocktail nuts and nibbles from your own slop bowls. Their name alone is a wonderful point of conversation.

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  11. Hi CD, thank you for your lovely email response. I am pleased to have prompted you to look again at the base of your Spode Slop Bowl. As you have discovered from inspecting it again is the fact that it was actually hand-painted in sepia enamel circa 1802-3 rather than being bat printed. Bat printing did not come into use at Spode until pattern number 557 possibly a year or so later than yours.

    Now you can enjoy it all the more knowing the lavish time & detail employed in its creation.

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    1. Hello Fiona,

      I'm thrilled you contacted me via email to set the record straight on my favorite slop bowl, depicted in the first two photographs of this post. Had you not, I would have overlooked the fact that it is exquisitely hand painted and not, as I had suspected, bat printed. Obviously, a future post is in order to illustrate the differences in decoration.

      I do hope you come back and visit the blog often, and join in with the comments, a favorite aspect of blogging for me. Thank you again for being so generous with your extensive knowledge of Spode. Your collection, I'm certain, would turn this author emerald green!

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  12. Hi again CD, I forgot to let your followers know that your Spode Slop Bowl is pattern number 382 which was revealed on its base & a similar item is illustrated in Godden's reference book, 'An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of British Pottery & Porcelain' page 300 as mentioned.

    Regarding your bute cups & coffee cans these items are sometimes marked with pattern numbers but very often they are not. It was a habit to generally only mark the main items of a service which would include the Tea Pot, Sugar Box, Creamer & 2 Bread & Butter Plates in the early years of production. Marking items with the pattern number & 'Spode' in red script increased as it became a mark of quality which customers would look for & recognise which the more astute porcelain manufacturers realised & adopted.

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    1. Once again Fiona, you have proved to be a fountain of knowledge and I thank you again for adding your valuable insight to the discussion. No doubt my readers will find this as interesting as I do.

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Please do leave a comment as I enjoy the dialogue with my readership, thank you.

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