Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Transfer-printed earthenware ewer

c. 1836-1841
Recovered from Edwards Place privy
Collection of the Illinois State Museum

“The Giraffes with the Arabs Who
Brought them Over to this Country”

George Scharf the Elder (1788-1860)

At a time when imagery in the home was novel if not rare, sale of transfer-printed ceramics was one of the earliest and most effective means of distributing imagery in antebellum America. Popular prints were engraved onto a copper plate, inked, and transferred to the ceramic body using tissue paper. These transfer -printed wares were extremely fashionable in the United States following the War of 1812, when a drop in prices made them accessible to all economic levels.

The gift of giraffes to England, France, and Austria from the Viceroy of Egypt in 1827 set off a period of “giraffeomania” in Europe, and giraffe influence was soon seen in art, fashion, and interior design. The imagery on this ewer was inspired by the arrival of four new giraffes to the London Zoological Gardens in 1836. George Scharf the Elder created an engraving of the scene, which was sold as a print before it found its way onto all manner of ceramic vessels, including plates, platters, teapots, teacups. This giraffe ewer was recovered from the Edwards Place privy.