Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia:
Collections in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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Bottle with combed decoration used as a lime-paste pot

  • Stoneware with iron glaze
  • 9.5 x 9 cm
  • Quang Duc ware
  • 18th-mid 20th century, Restored Later Le, Tay Son, or Nguyen dynasty
  • Origin: Phu Yen province, Central Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.165


Small globuar bottle with shell scars on the body; full of lime.
Clay: dark grey stoneware.
Glaze: brown iron glaze.
Decoration: rows of incised rings on the shoulder.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Candy Chan, Research Assistant, April 29, 2003) David Rehfuss (a collector of Vietnamese ceramics and president of the Washington Oriental Ceramic Group, WOCG) showed me a photograph that he took from a two-weeks study tour to Vietnam in October and November 1999, organized by the Asian Ceramics Research Organization, ACRO. The photograph has a gourd shaped bottle and a lime pot with a broken handle that coated with plenty of sea shells. They show similar glazing technique as this vessel. These "sea-shell glazed wares" were products of Tuy Hoa, capital township of Phu Yen province in Central Vietnam.

I quote below David's notes:

"Phu Yen Province in Central Vietnam has made ceramics with sea shells from the 18th century until 1945. The addition of calcium makes a very fine shiny glaze, a Chinese technique imported from South China. Phu Yen province is on the coast, south of Binh Dinh province. Kiln was found along a river (possibly *Da Rang River). The kiln site is well known. Professor Trinh Cao Truong (a practicing archaeologist working for the Institute of Archaeology in Hanoi, North Vietnam) said that shells were put in kiln chamber for glaze-making. Quang Nam province and Phu Yen province are two centers making 'sea-shell' glazed large jars, yet it is the most common product in Phu Yen province. Professor Truong says that there are many examples in the Phu Yen Provincial Museum in Tuy Hoa (the capital township of Phu Yen province)."

* Remarks: Tuy Hoa Town is situated on the banks of the mouth of the Da Rang River.

2. (Louise Cort, 12 June 2003) The collector Jochen May owns an "Oc Eo" bowl with impressed shell marks, which I saw on a visit to his home in Neustadt, Germany, in September 1998.

3. (Louise Cort, 29 May 2007) The storeroom of the Binh Thuan Museum, Phan Thiet, holds a small bottle of this type, full of hardened lime paste. It was collected from a community in Ham Thang district.

4. (Louise Cort, 2 June 2007) The Phu Yen Museum, Tuy Hoa, owns a lime paste pot with a brownish surface and shells adhering to its slightly concave base, a small gourd shaped bottle with greenish glaze and overall shell scars, and a round bottle with shiny black surface and shell scars (diam. base 9.5 cm; acc. no. 1066).

At this museum, all unglazed stoneware was attributed to the Quang Duc kiln site in Tuy An district, 30 kilometers north of Tuy Hoa. During a visit to the kiln on 3 June, we were told by an elderly potter (age 83), that Cham potters had worked there 500 years ago; Chinese potters from Chaozhou, Guangdong province, were here in the 17th–18th century, for three generations only; ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) potters came three hundred years ago, in the 18th century, from Binh Dinh. Two workshops still operate. According to museum staff, the products used to be shipped by coastal boat south to Nha Trang and north to Binh Dinh province. The elderly potter also spoke of making flower pots to send by boat to Hue.

The kilns also made jars; they were fired in the front of the kiln, where they would become hard, while roof tiles and other products were fired at the back. Jars were made from a green clay, to which no sand was added, while tiles and other soft wares were made from black clay. Both men and women made jars, but in the case of very large ones, women shaped while men turned the wheel. The jars were fired in huge kilns four times the size of the ones presently in use, about 2 meters high at the tallest point within the chamber. The kilns had two fireboxes and two low chimneys about 50 cm tall. Those kilns were in use until the American war (when they were damaged or destroyed by bombing). The various sizes of jars were also understood as standard measures. People came from the mountains to buy then, and local Kinh people took jars into the mountains to trade.

The potter told us he used to use shells in the kiln firing, scattering them between unglazed vessels so they would not stick. Any kind of sea shell (from the beach 4–5 kilometers away) could be used. The shells "became water" and added color to the ceramics.

Meanwhile, south of Tuy Hoa, in Hoa Vinh commune, Tuy Dong district, ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) potters make earthenware. The potters are women. They have been here seven generations (roughly 140–150 years). The vessel forms include bowls and small jars. Round-bottom cooking pots are shaped on a turntable-like wheel, by a process of coiling onto a flat base, throwing, then scraping inside and outside with a ring-shaped bamboo tool. These pots resemble the pots recovered from a shipwreck site off Vung Tau, together with cylindrical stoneware jars with rounded walls (note above).

5. (Louise Cort, 5 June 2007)  The Quang Ngai Provincial Museum, Quang Ngai, owns a wide-based, bottle-shaped lime pot (h 10 cm, diam. 9 cm) closely resembling this one in shape but made at the My Cang kiln in Tinh Thien village, Son Tinh district, across the river to the north of Quang Ngai city. It also owns five unglazed dark brown wide-based lime bottles (h 10.2 cm, diam. of base 7.5 cm) made at the Chau O kiln, further north.

6. (Louise Cort, 18 July 2016) A jar from this kiln is in the collection of the National Museum of Natural History, Anthropology Collection, E404544. It has two rows of bosses circling the shoulder beneath an uneven dark green translucent glaze similar to that on the bottle S2005.156. Shell scars appear on the flat base. The jar was part of a large group of Asian objects given to the NMNH by the Philadelphia Trade and Convention Center. Pending further research in the NMNH archives, it is possible that this jar and the rest of the collection could have come from the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, a component of the Center, established through purchase of items remaining from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, opened in a permanent building in 1899, and closed in 1994.

According to the Thanh Nien News, 23 March 2015 (accessed online), the potter with whom we had spoken, Nguyen Trinh (see Note 7), died in early 2014.

Changed Origin from Tuy Hoa to Quang Duc village; to Ware added Quang Duc ware.

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