For holidays and special occasions, we gather with family around the table and celebrate. Grandma dusts off her special china. Your feast is plated and served. You cut ever so gingerly into your turkey so as not to scratch the design. Your knife; however, has other plans and slightly screeches across the blue china design. Grandma gives you a side-eye glare. At this point, you switch to your fork and test the mystery casserole. Then you hear your carefree, clumsy sibling carrying on about something in the kitchen followed by a calamitous crash. The air in the room depletes and an awkward silence fills the room. You notice Grandma’s left temple pulsing furiously paired with her jaw firmly clamped, into a sour grin. This moment will forever be burned into that sensitive place in Grandma’s brain, a taboo moment preserved in the cobwebs of your family gatherings. You have an unspoken understanding among your family members as a result, do not go there and never repeat. Perhaps Grandma would be a little less sensitive with the knowledge that the broken china would one day be re-purposed, cherished, and adorned as jewelry, Chaney?
Here is some Chaney lore to satiate your curiosity…
Chaney are pieces of china from the 1750’s-1900’s found on the beaches and grounds of old Sugar Plantations. St. Croix thrived during this era with rum production and sugar trade. The island was divided into 200 plus estates with many cultivating sugar or contributing to rum production. Historically, after heavy rains or beach cruising, local children would find broken china treasures and they would round them out to use as play money in games. The name Chaney evolved from these childhood adventures combining the words china and money. Today artisans seek Chaney and hand craft them into wearable art.
Chaney can often be found on beaches or when snorkeling. It is believed that, during the 18th and 19th centuries, when new families were moving to island, they would pack themselves and their belongings on a ship. As their ship sailed into port, rough seas would often shift the cargo causing delicate items to break. In an event to avoid taxation, broken items would be thrown overboard before docking; thus, leaving little puzzle pieces of history for beach cruisers and snorkelers to find today.
A second theory for finding Chaney on beaches, is from shipwrecks and ocean tides. It has been reported that captains would use china or pottery in the bottom of the ship to help balance the weight. If the ship wrecked, then its contents would be strewn across the ocean floor and at the fate of the ocean tides.
On land, Chaney can also be discovered when walking around estates. The Chaney pieces are unearthed from their resting place of 200 years frequently after heavy rains or when a land is being excavated. On older plantations, you can often find Chaney outside the original kitchen window. In the 1750’s-1900’s there was no trash collection. Trash was discarded in a pile outside the kitchen window. When that china plate broke, it was swept, tossed out the kitchen window, and preserved over generations in the ground for us to seek and bring back to life.
There are copious brands of china. English Transfer ware is most commonly found in St. Croix. The familiar blue designs set in the back drop of a Chinese landscape were mass produced as luxury dining ware in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mocha ware china, rare and highly lusted after today, has a much more interesting history. Mocha ware china was less desirable because of the china’s brownish earthy tones. Little time was dedicated to applying the design’s paint by hand. The paint was often stamped on, scratched with fingers, or brushed blending muddled colors into less desirable worm like, geometric, or modern designs. The pieces were often used in the back of kitchens, taverns or lower income households. The natural look of the Mocha ware makes it all that more desirable today. Rare whole pieces of the Mocha ware go for thousands of dollars in antique auctions. Unearthed shards found on St. Croix today are rare and worn as a status symbol. One era’s trash is this generation’s treasure.