University Museums

Title: Fern pattern
Name: Jug
Date: 1859
Medium: Earthenware
Country/Culture: English
Dimensions: 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm)
Marks: Stamped and dated on the bottom of the pitcher by the maker, William Brownfield of Staffordshire. It has the trademark raised knot with the initials W B and the registration diamond and "12868" is painted below the raised knot. Made in 1859.
Classification: Decorative Arts, Ceramics
Credit Line: From the collection of Eula V. and Lloyd E. Arnold, donated in loving memory by their daughter, Donna Lea Arnold Howard. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Object Number: UM90.158
More Information
The Victorians had a great passion for ferns and this passion was expressed, among other ways, through the production of a wide range of 'ferny' decorative objects made in pottery, glass, metals, textiles, wood, printed paper, stone and other materials. Ferns could be used for decoration in ways that most other plants could not. Many species have fronds that adapt particularly well to representation on flat or curved surfaces in a variety of materials. Indeed, the fronds themselves could be pressed and dried to be used as 'stencils' for 'spatter-work', inked for 'nature-printing, applied directly to paper as a specimen in an album or glued to two and three-dimensional objects to create a decorative effect. Even when the representation was stylized such as was common on engraved glass and metal; the effect was still recognizably 'ferny'.

Some of the decorative objects that were made are undated so it is difficult to fully document the development of the use of the fern motif. The initiation of quantity production of manufactured ferny objects in the late 1850s commenced only after the botanical and fern cultivation aspect of the craze had already been active for some years. Fern designs on pottery, glass, cast-iron and other materials first became conspicuous at The London International Exhibition of 1862. However, a whole generation had already been affected by botanical and horticultural Pteridomania, which continued during the 1860s, and the fern motif was to remain popular, as a fond symbol of pleasurable pursuits, for the following forty years or so.

Most of the ferny items that might be suspected to have been made much earlier than the 1862 Exhibition are unmarked. There are unmarked relief-moulded and transfer-decorated pottery jugs with fern decoration that, because of their shape, are suspected to be 1850s in origin but one of the exhibitors at the 1862 Exhibition provides one of the first well-dated patterns. This was the potter William Brownfield of Cobridge, Staffordshire who included a relief-moulded jug with 'Fern' design that had been registered in November 1859. This was a popular design with erect fern fronds, below dangling ears of wheat and acanthus leaves.