The Waverly Manson Cole Collection of 19th-Century Decorative Arts
The Cole Collection is on view in the Cole Gallery located between Ruffner and Blackwell Halls on the Longwood University campus.
In 2004, Longwood University received a gift of more than 500 pieces of beautiful 19th-century Bohemian and European glass, English pottery, and Meissen porcelain from Dr. Waverly Manson Cole of Richmond, who passed away in August 2009.
Highlights from the collection are permanently exhibited in specially designed cases in the Cole Gallery located between Ruffner and Blackwell Halls on the Longwood University campus.
Bohemian glass is a broad term which describes glass made in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) since the 13th century. Bohemian glass is characterized by fine quality and remarkable color. Usually silica, lime, and potash (no lead and rarely soda) are used in its production. The glass in the Cole Collection is more precisely Bohemian and European ‘ruby’ glass from the 19th century. U.S. manufacturers also produced a red-colored glass called ‘cranberry’ glass. A vast array of possible color variations from pink to an orange red to a claret red with many techniques such as etching, staining, engraving, encasing, and cutting are represented. The collection also illustrates the importance (and complexity) of 19th-century social ceremony through specialized wares such as decanters and drinking vessels.
The majority of pottery jugs in the Cole Collection are by two well-known English pottery manufactures Samuel Alcock & Co. (c. 1828-1859) and Charles Meigh & Son (c. 1851-1861). Samuel Alcock & Co.'s work depicts both Biblical and secular scenes. Titles of the works include “Naomi and Her Daughters-in-Law,” “Cain and Abel,” “Arabian Nights,” “Babes in the Woods,” “Gipsey (sic),” and “Lily.” The cream-colored and tan jugs with depicting apostles were created by Charles Meigh & Son.
Though the Chinese and Japanese had produced porcelain for hundreds of years, Europeans were keen to develop their own manufacture of porcelain in the 15th and 16th centuries. The popularity and cost of Chinese export ware was extremely high and Europeans knew great sums of money could be made from porcelain production. European porcelain was first made in Germany in 1710 when Prince-Elector of Saxony, Friedrich August I ordered its manufacture shortly after Johann Friedrich Böttger successfully created a recipe for hard-paste porcelain from clay and alabaster. The manufacture has operated since that time and is known as Meissen (named for the town in which it is produced). The dinnerware, serving pieces, and figurines displayed here are Meissen porcelain produced in the 19th century and early 20th century. These pieces are prized for their exquisite quality and exacting hand-painted designs. When these objects were produced, only the wealthy, such as the nobility, could have afforded such luxuries. Even today, a Meissen coffee set for six is sold for upward of $4,000.
The late Dr. Cole was delighted to make the collection available for others to enjoy. His appreciation for 19th-century decorative art began at an early age when he admired the Bohemian glassware his mother collected. Years later she passed her treasured glassware down to him, and some of those pieces are in the present collection. Additional works were collected over the last 45 years in the United States and in Europe.
Dr. Cole’s collecting began in earnest when he was a young man in the Army stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, where he frequented antique shops. Later he acquired his first English pottery jugs from a friend. Dr. Cole recalled, “The classical motifs are just beautiful. I was so taken with them. After that I acquired additional pieces as I came upon them.” As for the Meissen, his collecting was sparked by chance when, on a trip to Germany, a friend suggested they visit a collector in Baden-Baden. Though his knowledge of Meissen was at an early stage of development, Dr. Cole was inspired to purchase the figure group of the boy and girl. This experience led him to make purchases of Meissen nearly every year afterward, mostly from dealers in New York.
When asked which are among his favorites, Dr. Cole had difficulty choosing from the vast number of exquisite objects. His voice revealed enthusiasm as he described the large boar’s head compote with its magnificent candy cane-like stem, the elegant serpent decanter service, the tiny Alcock pitchers, and the lovely gold tiered dessert plate. As visitors over the years to come view the Cole Collection, no doubt each person will find his or her own favorite. It was Dr. Cole’s hope that each viewer’s attentive search for the most lovely, the most unusual, the most reminiscent of a beloved relative’s parlor shelf, would inspire a love of beauty, history, and learning just as the objects inspired him throughout his life.