Most commonly found in Philadelphia and elsewhere in eastern Pennsylvania, pierced double-walled pieces were intended to be both useful and spectacular. They take humble redware clay beyond the mundane world of simple mugs and bowls for the table, into the realm of the highly decorative showpiece.
Essentially these pieces are “a pot within a pot” The potter pulls up two separate, parallel walls of clay from the lump on the wheel, first an inner wall and then an outer wall of a slightly larger diameter. The walls are joined at the lip (as they are at the base) and allowed to dry to the leather-hard stage, when they are stiff but still somewhat moist. The pot’s lid is often constructed in the same way.
At this stage, the potter draws a design in pencil on the outer wall. It may be a freeform design, or he may use a compass and ruler to plot a tightly-organized geometric design over the entire piece. Using a sharp knife, he then painstakingly cuts our sections of the design, leaving openings which reveal the inner clay wall. This part of the process requires a steady hand, patience and precision, and is, as you might guess, quite time-consuming. The piece is then allowed to dry completely before being glazed and fire as usual, although with more care in handling as the design is quite fragile until the fire of the kiln bestows its permanence.
Pierced double-walled pots are “top of the line” pieces, both in the 18th century and today. A potter might make such a pot as a presentation piece for a special occasion, such as a wedding, or as a masterpiece, to prove his prowess as a potter. Although they were meant primarily “for show” in the households where they were prized possessions, they still retain their functionality as containers for dry items such as candy, nuts or tobacco.