Oyster Jar (from the oyster house of Thomas Downing)


Cylindrical oyster jar with a narrow neck, made of grey glazed ceramic. It stands 6-8 in tall and has writing stamped on it, highlighted with cobalt blue glaze. "T. Downings Pickeld Oysters, No. 5 Broad St. New York"
Oyster Jar, ca. 1840 (United States). Stoneware with Albany-slipglaze interior and cobalt decoration. Museum purchase through the Theresa E. and Harlan E. Moore Charitable Trust Fund. 2020-10-1.

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Image of a museum label with biographical details and a portrait photograph of Thomas Downing, prominent Black businessman who was involved in the Abolitionist movement.
Label for the 1840s Oyster Jar newly acquired by Krannert Art Museum. It is associated with Thomas Downing, Black entrepreneur who with his son, George T. Downing, ran a prominent oyster house in New York City and was involved in the Abolitionist Movement.
Unknown artist
ca. 1840

This jar was produced for the oyster house of Thomas Downing (1791-1866), at that time the most famous oyster house in New York City. Thomas was a free Black man who had come north to New York from Virginia in 1819.

Oystering was an important trade for Black entrepreneurs in the early United States. Downing's oysters were shipped as far as London and Paris, and he was even given a gold chronometer from Queen Victoria as a thank you for his oysters. 

Downing was also involved in the Abolitionist movement, using the oyster house cellar to hide enslaved people running away on the Underground Railroad.


Author: Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American Art.