Cuspidor, 1883
Glazed clay Rookwood Pottery, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1880–1967
Decorator: Nicholas Joseph Hirschfeld, 1860–1927
H. 7 1/2 in. (PO-007-66)

This 1883 cuspidor from Rookwood Pottery, 7 1/12 inches tall, is a wonderful example of the flora, fauna, and compositions prominent in the Asian art that fascinated Western painters and designers in the second half of the 19th century. A cuspidor is a spittoon, or a receptacle for spit, widely utilized by those who chewed tobacco, and an object intended to curb the less hygienic practice of spitting on floors, streets, and sidewalks. The name “cuspidor” comes from the Portuguese word cuspir—meaning “to spit”—and was a common term for such receptacles around the turn of the 20th century. Spittoons also have a long history of use in China; one of the earliest examples was a porcelain spittoon found in the tomb of a Chinese emperor who ruled from the years 805 to 820, during the Tang Dynasty.

The design of this cuspidor not only draws on the principles of Asian art, but it also follows William Morris’s (1834–96) Arts and Crafts principle: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” The bat-like figures and leaf-like shapes, common motifs in Asian art, applied to a vessel already designed to be purposeful, eloquently presents the inseparability of beauty and utility.