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"Dutch Tyles for Chimneys"

Jonathan Dickinson's 1715 letter to Col. Robert Lurting, Vendue Master of New York, ordering "about 900 or 1000 Dutch Tyles for Chimneys" indicates the importance of ceramic tiles as fireplace ornament in 18th-century gentleman's houses. James Logan owned a copy of Richard Neve's The City and Country Purchaser and Builder's Dictionary, which he certainly referenced in finishing Stenton. The 1726 edition of the book explains that there are two kinds of Dutch tiles, "ancient and modern." The modern ones "seem to be better glazed, and those that are painted (for some are only white,) are done with more curious Figures, and more lively Colours than the ancient ones....The modern ones are commonly painted with Birds, Flowers, &c and sometimes with Histories out of the New Testament." The blue-and-white Biblical "modern" tin-glazed earthenware tiles in Stenton's Yellow Lodging Room include old and new testament stories.

Image above: The Yellow Lodging Room fireplace chimney tiles are the most intact of the decorative blue-and-white tiles in the house, depicting scenes from the old and new testaments. At the right corner, just above the fireplace opening, one can see the Tower of Babel, with the bottom cut to accommodate the curve of the opening. Probably because shovel and tongs frequently collided with the bottom tiles, they were broken and later replaced with unmatched infill.

Image captions: 1) The same fireplace in the early 20th century, prior to the staining of the floors and when the whole house was painted white, shows missing tiles at the bottom right and top left. Lantern slide by W.C. Stevenson, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, found by Oscar Beisert. 2) Close-up of the Annunciation. 3) The "only white" or plain tin-glazed earthenware tiles around the Blue Lodging Room fireplace indicate the slightly lower rank of the Blue Room in the spatial hierarchy of Stenton rooms. 4) The blue of the tiles and the yellow of the ochre paint complement each other well in the restored Yellow Lodging Room. Catherine Myers’ recent finishes study concluded that the baseboards were not black as depicted in the first image, showing a 1980s ochre paint scheme. All the architectural wood in the room is now ochre in line with Myers’ findings. 5) Jonathan Dickinson, a Philadelphia Quaker merchant from Jamaica who was famously shipwrecked off the coast of Florida, copybook letter to Col. Robert Lurting of New York. May 26, 1715. Logan Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. James Logan served as an Executor for Dickinson’s estate at his death in 1722.


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