A Newsletter for Lovers of Early Objects

JUNE 2018

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Average example: shorter beard, decorative medallion, iron glaze, mid-17th c.

The wild man of the woods. Courtesy V and A. 1525-1550

Witch bottle? Off-putting face, pseudo coat of arms and leans to one side -- a possible candidate for burial.

Bartmann or Bellarmine? Wild Man or Witch?

Salt-glazed stoneware jugs with the mask of a bearded man applied on their necks are familiar to most antiques collectors. But there is little agreement about what to call them. They were made in the Rhine Valley potteries in huge quantities for most of the 16th and 17th centuries. So much is undisputed. What is still unsettled though, is what to call them?

"Bartmann" is the German for "bearded man," so it is at least descriptively accurate and is now the name favored by scholars and curators.

More generally, "Bellarmine" is still a popular name. It refers to Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621), a devout Catholic who fiercely opposed the rise of Protestantism in northern Germany and the Netherlands. The bearded man may be a caricature of this unpopular churchman, not least because he preached against alcohol! But the association of the jug with the Cardinal is apocryphal at best, and in our opinion the name should be left to wither away.

Another possibility is that the bearded face may have originated in the mythical wild man of the woods, popular in northern European folklore from the 14th century. He was associated with fertility and danger, and he often appears as a decorative motif on stone carvings, metalware, and stained-glass windows. Some of the bearded faces on Bartmanns are certainly his, for they are accompanied with oak leaves, acorns and other foliage.

Occasionally, Bartmann jugs were "witch bottles" whose job was to keep the house safe from witches. A tightly corked Bartmann excavated in Greenwich in 2004 was found to contain pins, nails, hair, fingernail clippings and human urine. This meshes closely with a 1682 record of an apothecary's advice to a man who believed his wife was under the spell of a witch, "Take a quart of your Wive's urine, the paring of her Nails, some of her Hair, and such like, and boyl them well in a Pipkin." With this concoction safely corked inside, the Bartmann was buried in the hearth or under the threshold, the two points of entry for wandering witches. Cotton Mather tells us that witch bottles were also used in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he ought to know because he was one of the judges in the Salem witch trials. It appears, incidentally, that jugs with particularly malicious or feral looking faces were most likely to be chosen as witch bottles. Makes sense.

Of course, none of these names were used in the period: "stone" was the identifier, as in "stone pot tipt with silver" (1654), "stone jugg tipped with silver" (1662) or "3 dozen Gallon Stone jugs" 1683).

"Stone" seems a bit flat to use today, the name "Wildwoodsman" has more oomph -- and a lot of history! We'll have a "Wildwoodsman jug" in our inventory soon: keep an eye open for it.


The Mary Rose depicted in the Anthony Roll, c. 1540. The Anthony Roll was a record of ships in the Tudor navy.

The Mary Rose today: the side that survived because it was buried in mud.

Some of the cannons that caused the problem.

Pewter and treenware found on board.

Earthenware and stoneware

The ship's dog: rat-catcher in chief

Mary Sunk, Mary Rose

It was sheer bad seamanship that sunk Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose. And Henry himself watched it happen.

It was a fine calm day in 1545 when King Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose, sailed from Southampton after an extensive refit to engage the French navy in the Battle of the Solent. As she turned on a tack, she heeled. All quite normal, but someone had left the gun ports open. Water rushed in, making her heel even more. She'd been equipped with new and improved bronze cannons, and the extra weight destabilized her further. The heavy cannons slid to the starboard side: gravity did what gravity does, and in minutes the four-masted, 91-gun, 400-ton battleship rolled over and sank.

And King Henry VIII stood helpless on the bluffs, watching it all happen.

The ship, of course, was valuable, but what really concerned Henry's Treasurer for Marine Causes were the new guns. They were valued at £1723, about £2 million ($2,700,000) today. Far too much money to leave on the ocean floor.

A Southampton salvage specialist, Peter Paulo Corsi, assembled a team of eight to retrieve the guns. Three of the team were Africans: Jacques Francis, John Iko, and George Blacke. The 20-year-old Francis had lived in England for many years and was the senior of the three. He had been born on an island off the West African coast, where he had learned deep water diving for fish, developing the necessary lung capacity, mental strength and, most important, the ability to equalize the pressure in his ears with the pressure of the water. He could dive and work as deep as 90 feet.

Corsi provided his team with a diving bell (recently invented by Leonardo da Vinci) that could take a pocket of air deep enough so that the divers did not have to return all the way to the surface to recharge their lungs. The divers tied stones around their waists to help them work at depth and cut them free when they needed to return to the surface. They did retrieve a few of the guns, but had to leave most on the bed of the Solent.

There's an interesting post script to this story: the Africans were free wage earners, not slaves. Tudor England had a law banning slavery, and a number of Africans immigrated to earn their livings as weavers, musicians, laborers and servants. Some came to England with English merchants trading in West Africa to learn English so that they could become interpreters, and some were escaped slaves from Portugal and Spain (where slavery was legal).

PS: The Mary Rose was raised in 1982 and her remains can be seen at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, together with many of the 26,000 objects that were found inside her.

Images courtesy Mary Rose Trust






Teetotum was a gambling game based upon spinning tops, or dice, or, in more complex versions, faceted balls. It was popular from the late 17th century to at least the early 19th.

As dealers rather than gamblers (sometimes we do wish the two were more distinct), we are mainly interested in the objects used in the game -- spinning tops with faceted sides, die, or faceted balls.

Early spinning tops had four sides lettered T, H, N, and P, signifying (respectively): Take the pool, take Half the pool, take Nothing, and Put into the pool.

Teetotum balls, made of wood or ivory, were more elaborate and presumably were used in a more complex version of the game. Their surface was cut into 32 triangular facets, numbered from 1 to 31, with the final face bearing a crown or the initials of the reigning monarch to certify that the ball was "true."

We marvel at the skill involved in making each facet precisely the same so that each had an equal chance of turning up when the ball was spun. Laying out the design must have required even more skill -- imagine the number of circumferences crossing each other that had to be drawn on the surface of the ball before the cuts could be made!

Gambling was wildly popular, and Charles II cashed in on the craze by creating the Royal Oak Lottery to raise the money needed to pipe water into London. By 1688 he was renting the lottery for £4,200 per year, franchising "owners" to make as much as they could from Teetotum.

In Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), John Locke wrote, "What if an ivory ball were made like that of the Royal Oak Lottery, with 32 sides." A century later, Lord Mulgrave told how he delivered important news to King George III and discovered: "[T]heir majesties were ... playing at teetotum for the enormous stake of some pins. His majesty received his lordship with his accustomed affability, and said, 'You see I am at last turned gambler, but I hope I have too much sense to risk a crown upon the throw of a dice.'"

Thanks to Opus Antiques and to Steven S. Powers Antiques for illustrations and information.