After winning its independence from Great Britain in 1783 following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the new nation of the United States ventured almost immediately into the lucrative and dangerous world of maritime trade. The distant lands of China became one of the most desirable destinations because of the exotic goods it offered, such as tea, spices, silk, and porcelain.

Captain Stewart Dean of Albany entered the China trade with his sixty-foot-long sloop named the Experiment. The sloop was built in Albany in 1784 and Dean sailed it on several merchant voyages before deciding in 1785 to take it to China. With a tiny crew of seven men and two boys, Dean sailed the Experiment to China and successfully returned to Albany eighteen months later in the summer of 1787, a voyage of 14,000 nautical miles. The cargo he carried back to New York made a sizable profit for Dean, his partner Teunis Van Vechten of Albany, and the voyage’s New York City investors. The Experiment was only the second U.S. merchant ship to make the arduous round trip voyage to China.

Dean’s cargo from the Experiment included the porcelain teacup and saucer shown here. It belonged to a larger tea set that its original owners would have valued as an exotic luxury item.

 

Magnifying Glass
Teacup and Saucer Transported aboard the Experiment
Probably Jingdezhen, China
c. 1785
Porcelain
Albany Institute of History & Art, gift of Peter Gansevoort Ten Eyck, x1940.700.562
Magnifying Glass
The Return of the Experiment
Len Tantillo
1994
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Len Tantillo