Sunday, October 09, 2005

Traditional and Revolutionary

No Stamp Act Teapot
Originally uploaded by notionnanny.
In the permanent collection of a museum at Colonial Williamsburg, one of the largest open-air museums in the States, there is a tea pot made by an English ceramicist during the 1760s that bears the phrase "No Stamp Act." Its maker had apparently followed the developing political crisis in the American colonies regarding parliamentary taxation without representation.

Was this a clever entrepeneurial invention, capitalizing on current American desires and sentiments? Or was it the creation of someone expressing sympathy with the colonists by providing them with a vehicle for protesting the British government? Maybe this enterprising maker had their own axe to grind.

In a colonial marketplace in which dependency on Britian was an issue, familiar imported goods such as cloth and tea had the potential to become symbols of imperial oppression, and private acts of consumption could be seen as public declarations of resistance.

In "The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence" (2004), T. H. Breen puts forward a new interpetation of the American Revolution in which ordinary people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds overcame vast differences in order to form an imagined national community based on their shared experience as consumers. This provided them with the cultural resources needed to develop a bold new form of political protest, the consumer boycott.

Yes, it's true. The U.S. is a country founded on consumerism. But what about this tea pot? It provides an example of how an everyday object can express political ideas, communicating across cultures in times of crisis, giving us something to discuss, over a cup of tea perhaps, or a protest.

In fitting irony, you can brew up your own Boston Tea Party using an authentic reproduction of this tea pot, available for purchase at, or in the U.K. from


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