Monday, February 11, 2013

Jamestown Exposition Plates of Pocahontas

The organizers of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition had one primary goal in mind: to make money. A sure way to make money for any tourist attraction is to sell souvenirs, allowing visitors to take their experience home. Unlike modern attractions, the Jamestown Exposition Company outsourced much of the production and marketing of souvenirs to outside vendors, with the Exposition receiving a portion of the profits. Among the items visitors could have purchased were commemorative plates. The Naval Museum has two such plates in the Jamestown Exposition gallery, both of which feature Pocahontas.  

The first plate is a "Vienna Art Plate" design, depicting the legendary scene in which Pocahontas saved Captain John Smith from the executioner. On the left and right are portraits of John Smith and Pocahontas, which are accompanied by illustrations of one of the Virginia Company's ships (on the left) and a 1907 view of the remnants of the Jamestown Colony's church.  This particular plate comes from W.H. Owens & Company of Manchester, Virginia.

Usually made from tin and hand painted, Vienna Art Plates were a popular style of commemorative plates in the early 20th century.  They were often used for advertising or as a promotion.  For example, the Anheuser-Bush company used to send one of their Vienna Art Plates for free if the drinker returned twelve bottle caps and fifteen cents. The name "Vienna" comes from the fact that designers of the American plates were attempting to copy the dinnerware pattern of the royal family of Austria.

The second plate in the museum's collection was produced by Royal Staffordshire Pottery in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, England.  The J. Seaum Book and Art Company in Norfolk, Virginia, imported this plate and sold it at the Exposition. In the center of the plate is Pocahontas as originally drawn by Simon Van de Passe in 1617. Here she is shown as "Lady Rebbeka," after she had converted to Christianity in Virginia.  Surrounding the portrait is the lengthy title given to her: "Princ Powhatan IMP Virginaiae Matoaka Ats Rebecka Filia Potentiss."  As one of Chief Powhatan's daughter, technically she was royalty and the Virginia Company investors introduced her to King James I as "Princess Rebbeka."

Additional writing at the bottom of the plate gives a short biography of the Princess, specifically who her father was (the "mighty Powhatan") and to whom she was married (John Rolfe).  On the outer edges of the portrait are scenes from early-twentieth century Hampton Roads, including Newport News Shipbuilding, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the Commerce Building in downtown Norfolk, and noted beachfront hotels in the region. The J. Seaum Book and Art Company imported several other plates of similar designs, as well. Each plate has a historic scene from the Jamestown Colony, surrounded by modern day scenes of Hampton Roads. 

Neither J. Seaum Book and Art nor W.H. Owens seemed to have their own vendor stand at the fair, as they were not listed in the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition's Department of Concessions' list.  However, several other companies sold souvenirs such as these plates.

No comments: