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China Pitcher

Date: c. 1904


Description: This Royal Ironstone China pitcher, manufactured by the Johnson Brothers of England, was part of one of the biggest disasters in Sioux City history. It once sat on the shelves of J. K. Purgh’s wholesale crockery company, which sat on 4th and Nebraska Street, in what was called the Brown Block. On December 23 of 1904, in the nearby Pelletier Department Store, the holidays were in full swing. A salesman prepared to show his new design: mechanical toys powered by a steam engine. He struck a match to light the steam engine and watched as the flaming head flew off the match and into a pile of cotton decorations, which instantly caught fire. The fire spread until the whole six story building was an inferno.


The fire department arrived quickly but the fire was moving too fast. It jumped across the street to the Toy Building, and from there westward until over two and a half blocks were aflame, including the Brown Block and J. K. Purgh’s crockery company. When the fire eventually abated, the two and a half blocks were completely destroyed. It was the costliest fire in Sioux City history; over $1.7 million in property damages (about $30 million today).


That Christmas Eve, downtown was a ghastly sight of burned and ruined buildings. Foster J. Iddings, whose law firm was destroyed in the fire, was surveying the rubble of the Brown Block when he came across this pitcher. Originally, it was probably the pale pink and white seen on one side of the lip, and the leaf and floral pattern that would have decorated the pitcher is just visible near the neck. But the heat, fire, and water cracked the glaze and discolored it, turning it a grey-blue color. Much like this pitcher the spirit of Sioux City stayed alive despite this disaster. By the Christmas of next year, 1905, the rubble and scars were gone and new buildings rose from the ruins.


Donor: Lynne Erickson Boulden



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