Ceramics in our collection consist mainly of Oriental, European and Southern African ceramics, including contemporary works by local potters. Chinese ceramics form the largest section, dating from as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). These early ceramics belong to the Judge R.P.B. Davis Collection, which was received as a bequest in 1948. Besides Han ceramics, the collection also includes wares from the Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. Articles on this collection have been published in the Bulletin of the South African Cultural History Museum. Chinese export ceramics are well represented and include a variety of wares made for the export market during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Blue and white ceramics as well as polychrome ceramics, including famille rose wares form part of the collection.
Eighteenth century armorial porcelain decorated with coats of arms is also represented. The coats of arms are those of mainly Dutch families who resided at the Cape. A paper on our Museum’s Chinese export ceramic collection has been published by the National Museum of History, Taipei, in International symposium on ancient Chinese trade ceramics: collected papers. The collection of Japanese porcelain includes export ware such as Imari and blue-and-white Arita ware from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
English ceramics are present, dating from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, including some fine examples of tea and coffee ware, as well as dinner and fruit services. Some German and French porcelain is also represented. Eighteenth century Delft is present in the form of tiles, garniture and tableware sets.
The South African ceramic collection includes the work of pioneering pottery studios such as ‘Ceramic Studio’ and ‘Linn Ware’ made during the early part of the twentieth century at Olifantsfontein. Potters and ceramic artists who have played an important role in the development of South African ceramics are represented in the collection, which includes works by Esias Bosch, Hyme Rabinowitz and Maarten Zaalberg, amongst others.
The collection is enhanced with the work of up-and-coming artists from all over the country and a concerted effort has been made to develop and acquire works of local African potters.
Many of the ceramic pieces are on display in all the Social History sites. There are also many items in storage.