October 2022 Treasure of the Month

Our Treasure of the Month for October stands out as one of the most unusual items that we have ever featured: an intact piece of Tonala Ware recovered from the Winter Beach salvage camp, located about 2.6 miles south of Wabasso Beach Park, about seven miles north of Vero Beach.

In his book The Winter Beach Salvage Camp, Douglas R. Armstrong reports that the Winter Beach site is one of only two associated salvage camps that have been archaeologically excavated in modern times. The other camp, the Higgs Site, is located to the north across from the San Roman, which is also referred to as the “Cabin Wreck.” All of the other salvage encampments were lost due either to modern construction or to the elements before they could be properly investigated from an archaeological standpoint.

Tonala Ware was a type of early ceramics that predated the Hispanic era. Primarily designed for utilitarian purposes, the early ceramics were not fired, so any painted pieces faded over time. The Spanish introduced techniques such as the potter’s wheel and glazing, which allowed created items to retain a colorful and bright appearance.

Our featured item was described by Armstrong as a toy, “a small brown turtle 50-millimeters long, by 25-millimeters high. The toy is made of one nearly solid lump of buff-colored clay with a small hollow on its underside. The exterior is under-glazed with a medium-brown base coat, having a circular scale pattern of black painted onto it. A red-brown color is used in various places as a highlighting background. The whole piece is then over-glazed with a finely crackled clear glaze. The left side of the toy is blackened as if it had been burned in a campfire. These interesting little creatures were made in Mexico and came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some were obviously real animals, while other critters are out of the artist’s imagination” (p.23 – 24)

Tonala Ware toys were also recovered on other Spanish wreck sites, such as the 1733 Fleet. Below is an image taken from our own John de Bry Collection, found on our home page.

This small grouping from the 1733 Fleet depicts terra-cotta animal figurines from Tonala, Guadalajara, created by native artisans. Ducks, rabbits, dogs, and even an anteater can be seen in this collection.

Much of the information for this post was obtained from Douglas R. Armstrong’s book The Winter Beach Salvage Camp, second edition (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013).

Photo by Douglas R. Armstrong and provided to us courtesy of T. R. Armstrong.

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