Of the 14,000 artifacts recovered from the SS Republic, nearly 3,000 pieces were pottery table and toilet wares made of sturdy white ironstone china. Heavy, thick-bodied, utilitarian earthenware, ironstone was first introduced by Staffordshire potters in the early 19th century as an alternative to white porcelain. Also referred to as English porcelain, stone china, and white granite, it was much less costly than the finer porcelains and yet had the added advantage of greater strength and durability. The Staffordshire district in particular, offered an abundance of clay and proximity to the seaports of Liverpool, Bristol, London and Hull to ship finished wares. By the early 1840s, America received its first ironstone imports which were soon mass produced for the U.S. market. English potters had discovered that the inhabitants of the "colonies" greatly preferred this unfussy, plain and durable china to more exotic wares. It was an immediate success and public demand soared.
The Republic's shipment of ironstone china included the essentials of everyday life prior to the conveniences of indoor plumbing: chamber pots, water pitchers and wash basins, slop jars, soap dishes and tooth brush containers, the latter referred to in period documents as “brush boxes.” Also represented are wide, deep basins intended as foot baths, such as this example, undecorated save for its two molded handles. Pieces such as these were typically produced as matching sets.
Consistent with ship ware of the period, the ironstone foot baths found at the wreck site may have been serviceable shipboard items intended for use aboard the Republic. Yet, more likely, they represent a part of the larger ironstone consignment bound for New Orleans. Upon arrival at the docks, the shipment may have been received by wholesale agents established by the British pottery manufacturers, or perhaps commission merchants who played an important role in the city’s trade through their handling of incoming (and outgoing) goods.