This unusual form with an even odder name begs the question: what is a posset pot?
Posset pots were specially designed for the consumption of a warm, spiced drink popular from the Medieval period into the 19th century. The nourishing beverage, posset, was used to strengthen new mothers, the sick, or the elderly. Though it turns my stomach slightly to think of it, a good posset recipe should result in several layers caused by curdling. The drink is made from milk beaten with eggs, sugar, and spices and curdled with ale or wine, but bread could be added to thicken it. The curdled milk rises to the top, the eggs create a custard mid-layer, and at the bottom is a warm spicy alcoholic drink, accessible only through the straw-like spout of a posset pot’s distinctive shape.
Of course, from an art historical perspective, posset pots seem to have been used ceremonially and decoratively, since so many survive. (If the pots had been purely utilitarian, we would not find nearly so many, and the ones we do find would show more wear and tear, and wouldn’t be so highly ornamented.) The complicated form lends itself to showcase the ceramists’ skill; it has a spout, two handles, a lid, and plenty of surface area for decoration. Like the phenomenal tin-glazed earthenware version in the Museum’s Collection (with bird finials, scrolled handles, and wonderful peacocks painted into the glaze), many posset pots are decorated far beyond the necessity of the bedside.
The bird finial and peacock posset pot is on view in the Museum’s Lower Level. You’ll find it within the “Rooms of Wonder” installation, in a section that calls out rare types of objects that we no longer use—like posset pots and chamber pots!
Nearby in the cabinets showing ceramics are several more posset pots from the Chipstone Foundation Collection. Two are pictured here in detail with delicate coiled and twisted snakes adorning their domed lids. Explore the drawers below these pots and you’ll see several posset recipes ripe for home cooking experimentation (if you dare!). Most are taken from John Nott’s Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary; or The Housewife’s Companion. (London, 1732)
Mel Buchanan is the Assistant Curator of 20th-century Design. Mel’s curatorial responsibility includes interpreting, displaying, and building the Museum’s collection of craft, design, and decorative objects.