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"Keep Within Compass" Bowl

     

  
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Susan Swan, author of "Plain & Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1700-1850" chose a print for the inside cover of her book entitled "Keep Within Compass." It depicted a woman framed by an open compass encircled with these words: "Keep within compass and you shall be shure to avoid many troubles which others endure."
This small (5" diameter) bowl has the same print on one side, and the corresponding print for men on the other. The bowl was formerly in the collection of Susan Swan, and we have had it in our personal collection for many years.
The details of the bowl are best explained with the following description from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library Blog describing a creamware teapot with similar transfers: This transfer-printed teapot from the late 1700s is not only charming, it also communicates an important social message. Through slogans and illustrations, it reminds both husbands and wives to abide by a moral code of self-restraint and to “keep within compass.” The prints on each side of the teapot—one featuring a man; the other, a woman—depict the rewards of proper behavior versus the dangers of temptation. A large central image, contained within a compass’s legs (“within compass”), presents an idealized view of the perfect life in the late 1700s. Around each of these main illustrations, four vignettes provide cautionary tales of the ruin that awaits those who eschew a virtuous life.

In the large vignette on one side, the well-dressed gentleman, bags of money at his feet, is surrounded by bountiful fields, a large mill, and men working on his farm. On the other side, the fashionable lady is similarly surrounded by her elegant home, a trunk of pretty things and her loyal dog. Both sides also feature the proverb, “Keep within compass and you shall be shure to avoid many troubles which others endure,” as well as the brief admonitions, “Fear God. Know thyself. Bridle thy will. Remember thy end.” The vignettes around these central images show dangers that an imprudent person could easily fall into, including ruined reputation, prison, and shipwreck—a metaphor for lost fortune. Biblical sayings—“The end of the upright man is peace” and “The virtuous woman is a crown to her husband,” respectively—appear below each image.

98_007T198_007T2A large percentage of the Museum's collection relates to Freemasonry and other fraternal organizations, so we found the iconography on this teapot familiar. The compass is a central Masonic symbol, representing restraint, but this teapot’s manufacturers may have selected it because its meaning of self-control was familiar to society at the time. The images on this teapot appear to be inspired by, though not directly copied from, a pair of prints made in 1786 by London printmaker Carington Bowles (1724-1793), also in the Museum’s collection, reproduced here. These prints may in turn have been inspired by two series of prints by William Hogarth, “A Harlot’s Progress” (1732) and “A Rake’s Progress” (1735), which depict the downfall of a formerly innocent woman and man through drink and seduction.
$375.00  
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Lee Hanes & Joy Ruskin Hanes
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HANES & RUSKIN
P.O. Box 212
Old Lyme, CT 06371
860-434-1800