Notebook, 1993-


POTTERY AND PORCELAIN - Glossary - A List of Museums and Galleries - Ceramics - [A materials resource site with links]

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Pottery & Porcelain - American

'I like fine things Even when They are not mine, And canot become mine; I still enjoy them.' - This translated from Pennsylvania dialect, appears on a sgraffiato plate signed by Johannes Leman, made before 1830 at the Friedrich Hildebrand pottery near Tyler's Port, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Everything needed for the production of pottery was present in America - everything but the most important, enough encouragement. Potter's clays were abundant. The common red-burning clays [for bricks, roof tiles, coarse redware] occurred in shales at or near the ground's surface, and their use since earliest days had called for only the simplest kilns and equipment. Buff-burning clays of finer texture were employed since the seventeenth century for experimental wares of every grade, and in the 1800s provided a range of factory-made wares from Bennington to Baltimore, and westward along the Ohio River.

White-burning pipe clay had been used by the aborigines. In a court trial of 1685, at Burlington, New Jersey, the potter, 'Wm. Winn Attested sayth that hee can finde noe Clay in the Countrey that will make white wear', but white tobacco pipes were made as early as 1690 in Philadelphia, where in 1720 they were advertised by Richard Warder 'Tobacco Pipe Maker living under the same Roof with Phillip Sying Gold Smith'. And by 1738 'an earth' [the true kaolin, white china clay] was found by Andrew Duché on the back of Virginia', a vein of unaker running through the Carolinas into Georgia, exposed on river banks or along old stream beds.

Stoneware clays were absent in New England, but supplies were fetched by boat from northern New Jersey and Staten Island. At the Corselius [afterwards Crolius] pottery on Potbaker's HiIl, 'the first stoneware kiln or furnace was built in this year 1730' on lower Manhattan Island. In January of that year in Philadelphia, Anthony Duché and his sons had petitioned the Assembly for support in 'the Art of making stone-ware', to which they had been applying themselves' for several Years past'.

If the wanted clays were not near at hand, coastwise vessels and riverboats brought them. Materials for glaze or decoration were of simple and available sorts. Fuel for the potter's kiln was everywhere in this forested land.

Men with technical knowledge were here among the first. Brick making was reported by 1612 in Virginia, 1629 and 1635 in Salem and Boston. Roof tiles or 'tile Earth for House covering' appeared in Massachusetts court orders of 1646, and 'tyle-makers' prospered in Virginia by 1649. The potter Philip Drinker arrived in 1635 in Charlestown, and that same year at nearby Salem the 'potbakers' William Vinson [Vincent] and John Pride were recorded. One 'extraordinary potter' came in 1653 to Rensselaerwyk [Albany] on the ship Graef, and a Dirck Claesen 'Pottmaker' was established by 1657 at Potbaker's Corner, in New Amsterdam. The thumping of the potter's wheel was soon heard in every colonial town of consequence, and for New England alone [says Lura W. Watkins] 250 potters were recorded by 1800, twice that number by 1850. How many more were never mentioned at all?

Place names like Potter's Creek, Clay City, or Pottertown give a clue to the spread of activity - four states had a Jugtown, seven more a Kaolin.

All that was lacking was a proper market. In numbers the colonists were so few, a total of 200,000 by 1690 and the five leading towns accounting for only 18,600. The population nearly doubled every twenty years, so that by 1776 its total reached 2,500,000 [about equally divided between the five Southern and eight Northern provinces] and Philadelphia, with 40,000 souls, was the second city in the British dominions. Ninety per cent of the population was on the land, and for the most part comprised a sort of [p. 403] village society. The complaint was everywhere the same as in Virginia, that 'for want of Towns, Markets, and Money, there is but little Encouragement for tradesmen and Art ficers'. It was all very well for a Boston official to say [1718] that 'Every one Incourages the Growth and Manufactures of this Country and not one person but discourages the Trade from home', and says 'tis pitty any goods should be brought from England', but fashion preferred what was imported, and the colonial potter found little demand except for useful wares.

In the South [where tobacco was the cornerstone of the finances of Chesapeake society until 1750, followed by wheat and corn; where rice was the staple in Carolina from 1700, indigo from about 1745' the English character of plantation life was strongly marked. The local commodities were exchanged for English luxuries, and except for rude plantation crafts, nothing much was to be expected here. Andrew Duché and the mysterious Samuel Bowen, two early Savannah potters, were marvels who appeared far ahead of their time.

England's suppression of all colonial manufactures was a sternly established policy. General Thomas Gage expressed the official attitude when writing to Lord Barrington in 1772 that it would be 'for our interest to Keep the Settlers within reach of the Sea-Coast as long as we can; and to cramp their Trade as far as can be done prudentially'. But he was unaware to what an extent people had already moved inland, away from the agents who supplied English goods; nor had he perceived the rapid advance made in American manufactures since the French and Indian Wars of 1754-63.

Yet pot makers lagged in this general improvement. Through the colonial years and far beyond, coarse red-clay pottery - jugs and jars, plates and bowls, mugs and milk pans - formed the principal output of small potteries everywhere. New England's glacial clays made excellent redware, which was partly supplemented by grey stoneware from the time of the Revolution, or more extensively after 1800. Always popular, ordinary redware survived the competition offered by cheap and serviceable factory-made wares from the 1830s, and in country districts lasted through the nineteenth century, lingering within present memory.

In kitchen and dairy, or for table use alongside pewter and common woodenware or 'treen', the simple forms of this sturdy folk pottery were washed or splashed with pleasant colour - glazed with browns and yellows, rich orange to salmon pink, copper greens, a brownish black made from manganese. For this the least equipment was needed: a horse-powered mill for grinding and mixing clay, a homemade potter's wheel, a few wooden tools, with perhaps a few moulds as well. The maker might be no more than a seasonal or 'blue-bird' potter who worked when his other affairs permitted, and carried his output by wagon through the near vicinity; or the larger and full-time potshops might employ untrained lads [William Scofield of Honeybrook got 'one skilled potter from every 16 apprentice boys'] or migrant journeyman potters of uncertain grades.

There were no secrets in this simple manufacture. Since 1625-50, at the Jamestown colony, potters everywhere had made useful everyday ware of much the same sorts, in its own time used up, smashed up, never regarded as worth preserving.

Of this class, an early and curious milk pan is credited to Andrew Duché, who advertised [April 1735, the South Carolina Gazette] to supply 'Butter pots, milk-pans, and all other sorts of Earthenware of this country make'. The story of its discovery over a decade ago was told by Ruth Monroe Gilmer in Apollo for May 1947.

Found at Guyton [in the Salzburger area forty-five miles inland from Savannah] this heavy, thick and flat-footed pan was apparently made from riverbank clays, quoting its owner: 'the body densely textured and mottled reddish brown, as if made from shale and ball clay . . . the glaze a clear straw-coloured lead used all over . . . the glazed bottom flat, without rim or ridge of any kind'.

Not long after Duché's time, another Southern pottery was established by a colony of Moravians, [p. 404] in 1753 moved from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to the wilderness region of Wachovia, North Carolina. Here the United Brethern founded a communal society served by Brother Gottfried Aust as potter. He fired his first kiln at the village of Bethabara in 1756, making redware, pipes, stove tiles, and from 1761 conducted public sales which attracted buyers from a surprising distance [Rice, Shenandoah Pottery, pp. 271-7]. The enterprise was transferred in 1768 to Salem, North Carolina, where by 1774 far superior wares were achieved, and production lasted to around 1830.

Still another venture in this region was the so-called Jugtown Pottery, in a settlement peopled c. 1740-50 at Steeds, North Carolina, by a group of colonists from Staffordshire. Apparently the plainest of 'dirt dishes' were made here [1750?] by Peter Craven, first of his family, and latterly the place became known as Jugtown, for the common vessels it supplied to Southern distilleries. Languished and long forgotten, the pottery was revived in 1917 at a hamlet amusingly named Why Not?:

Far north, New England must have been brimming with small but able potters. In 1775 [says John Ramsay in American Potters and Pottery] the two Essex County, Massachusetts, towns of Danvers and Peabody had seventy-five potters, and there were twenty-two Peabody potters at the Battle of Lexington.

Early New England Potters
Their Wares were given ample and excellent record in Lura Watkins's book [Early New England Potters and Their Wares, Cambridge, MA, 1950] in which the illustrations show what Puritan austerity characterized the general output. Simple and appropriate forms were enough, with richly coloured glazes to satisfy the eye and only with occasional attempts at further decoration.

For the Pennsylvania- 'Dutch' [that is, deutsch or German] Frances Lichten has provided a full report in her Folk Art of Rural Pennsylvania. In the 'Dutch counties' settled in the eighteenth century by Swiss Mennonites, and by Germans from the Palatinate, pottery was made which was in wide contrast to New England work, marked by a love or colour, a play of ideas, and an engaging humour.

The flat Pennsylvania fruit pie dish or poischissel was a distinctive article: or the pots for apple butter called epfel buther haffa, the saucered flowerpots of bluma haffa. Fluted turk's head cake moulds were produced in all sorts and sizes, and there were standing pottery grease lamps not seen in New England, quaint banks and bird whistles, double-walled tobacco jars displaying skillful pierced work. [See Pennsylvania-German Folk Art by Frances Lichten, p . 401]

Shenandoah Valley
Just south of Pennsylvania, a numerous and flourishing group of potters worked throughout the nineteenth century in a hundred-mile stretch of the Shenandoah Valley. Foremost were the Bell family, founded by Peter Bell, who from 1800 to 1845 produced 'erthingwear' at Hagerstown, Maryland, and Winchester, Virginia. His eldest son, John Bell [1800-80], worked 1833-80 at Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and was followed by five sons who continued the business until 1899. John's brothers, Samuel and Solomon, were in partnership from 1833 at Strasburg, Virginia, where the factory continued until 1908.

Fairly typical of what was made through Ohio and Indiana, where a variety of pottery and stoneware clays were abundant, a washbowl and jug, buff-glazed inside, is stamped on one handle Zoar, on the other 1840. The Society of Separatists [called Zoarites] were one of many religious sects gathered in communal settlements that flowered and died in the nineteenth century, themselves coming in 1817 from Württenberg and prospering in 1819-98 at Zoar, in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. In a long list of trades and crafts practised here, we find weavers and carpenters, a printshop and bindery, a fine blacksmith shop p, and of course a pottery. Red roof tiles [one is dated 1824] are still seen on a few houses, and in 1834 the Society was selling 'porringers' to farm folk in the vicinity. The services of an outsider were engaged, Solomon Purdy, a potter recorded in 1820 at Putnam; in 1840 at Atwater. Until 1852-3 the Zoar associates still produced common brownware, and black- or buff-glazed redware.

Last of the everyday wares, and different from the others, a buff pottery painted [sometimes stenciled] with manganese brown belonged to New Geneva, Pennsylvania. So wholly unlike the Dutch-county pottery seen farther east, this sober stuff with hard, unglazed tan body was made in 1860-90 by James Hamilton of New Geneva, in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, and very likely [see Antiquarian for September 1931] also across the river at the A. & W. Boughner pottery in Greensboro.

Long employed by redware potters everywhere, a simple and most effective method of decoration was by the use of diluted clay or 'slip', which from a cup fitted with one or several quills was trailed on the surface of a piece in flourishes or perhaps words like Lemon Pie, names like Louisa. Made by George Wolfkiel at Hackensack, New Jersey, during the panic of 1837, were slipware platters woefully inscribed Hard Times in Jersey. [p. 405]

For such, a slab of clay was flattened with the wooden beater [one of them shows a beautifully worn and polished thumbprint] and smoothed like piecrust with a wooden rolling pin. When half-dried, the raised lines of slip would be pressed into the soft or 'green' surface of the unfired dish, its edge would be trimmed and then notched with a wooden coggle wheel.

Far more ambitious was sgraffiato [scratched] ornament, for which redware was thinly coated with cream-colour slip and this cut through to expose the darker body. Plates often showed a border inscription written with a sharp tool, and parts of the design might be enhanced with added colours. Widely known in European peasant pottery, this technique was a favourite of the Pennsylvania-Germans from perhaps 1733 [a shaving basin, p. 197 in Barber's Tulip Ware] and furnishes surely the most decorative examples in American redware.

The family of stonewares, a varied company, was made of finer and denser clays and fired in a kiln much hotter than for earthenware [above 2,000° F.], resulting in a hard body for which 'no other glazing need be used than what is produced by a little common salt strewed over the ware' [1785]. The salt vapour supplied a roughish , glassy coating that was colourless. According to the clays used and the temperature of the kiln, wares ranged from the familiar grey body to buff or cream, even a dark brown.

Fine grades of stoneware approached the quality of porcelain, such as the 'white stone Tea-cups and sawcers' [thin-bodied white Staffordshire, later with scratch-blue decoration] sold 1724 in Boston, or the Basket-work't plates' [of salt glaze with embossed and pierced lattice borders] which arrived from England in 1758 and 1764. Next century a middle grade of 'figured stone pitchers' and Toby jugs of 'superior stone' in buff and brown earned praise and awards in 1829-30 for David Henderson of Jersey City.

The popular class of stonewares considered here were chiefly utililty articles: common crocks, jugs, or churns, along with other things made for amusement, such as whistles and money banks, bird or animal figures. Most of it was greyware, and after about 1800 the vessels were usually coated inside with brown Albany slip.

The favourite decoration was freehand painting in cobalt blue, or rarely brown. Initials and dates, birds or flowers and scrolls, might be emphasized with scratched lines or die-stamped flowerets, though after about 1850 stenciled designs were widely used.

Many redware potters made stoneware also, and from c. 1800 often marked their work with a die-stamped name and perhaps the place. But later than 1850 and especially in the Midwest, crocks might show the name not of their maker but of some wholesaler to whom they were supplied.

Stoneware was developed because of fear of poison from lead-glazed wares. 'Preceding the glorious Revolution', said a long notice in the Pennsylvania Mercury on 4 February 1785, 'here and there, were a few scattered Potteries of Earthen-Ware infamously bad and unwholesome, from their being partially glazed with a thin, cheap washing of Lead.' This lead glaze, attacked by acid foods, 'becomes a slow but sure poison, chiefly affecting the Nerves, that enfeebles the constitution, and produces paleness, tremors, gripes, palsies, &c.' It was hinted that the Legislature should enact 'discountenancing the use of Lead in glazing Earthen-ware', and further that 'a small bounty, or exemption' might encourage stoneware potters.

Whatever justice there was in this alarm, it had long been discussed among potters. The apocryphal date 1722 appears on a large open-mouthed stoneware jar [Robert J. Sim, Some Vanishing Phases of Rural Life in New Jersey, p. 43]. At least we have seen 'the first stoneware kiln or furnace' erected 1730 near the Collect Pond in New York, by William Crolyas [Crolius]. And we have heard Anthony DuchÚ that [p. 406] same year claiming to have made stoneware 'for several Years past' in Philadelphia. Others soon sought to learn the mystery.

Isaac Parker of Charlestown [Boston] was one of these, a redware maker who eagerly sent for a man 'trained in the stoneware potter's art'. What arrived in Boston on 14 July 1742, aboard the brigantine Mary [Watkins, Early New England Potters, pp. 35-8] was James, son of Anthony Duché and brother of Andrew the porcelain maker. Two months later, Parker could report to the General Court that he had 'now' learned the secret of stoneware making. Parker died forthwith; but by December 1742 his widow Grace with James Duché as co'partner was granted a fifteen-year monopoly, and in April 1745 their firm [called Thomas Symmes & Co.] advertised 'blue and white stone ware of forty different kinds'. Duché disappeared next year, probably returned to Philadelphia, and death in 1754 released Mrs. Parker from a failing enterprise.

Nor was the failure surprising, since New England afforded no stoneware clay and was put to the expense of getting it from New York. Indeed, the major source of supply for all American stoneware was for many years the rich deposit of fine blue clay centered at South Amboy, New Jersey, and extending to Staten Island and Long Island.

From this bed Adam Staats, a potter of Horse Neck [Greenwich], Connecticut, dug clay in 1751, on a five-year lease between 'the Said adam States' and the town trustees of Huntingdon, Long Island. He knew its qualities, having worked at Cheesequake or 'Chesquick' Creek [South Amboy] before appearing in 1743 in New York.

With seemingly one exception, other early stoneware makers, if not in the locality, were at least within easy range of the New Jersey blue-clay beds. This exception occurred far south, where the Moravians at Salem, North Carolina, burnt their first kiln of stoneware [according to Brother Aust's diary] in May 1774, instructed by an English journeyman potter William Ellis, who came the year before from Pine Tree 'where he had been working'. At this inaccessibly inland town local clays must have answered.

Naturally, these opening years of the Revolution saw vigorous increase in stoneware potting. First by a boycott to express political discontent, and then by war itself, the domestic market was largely cut off from its accustomed foreign sources of supply, the Thames-side potteries at Fulham and Lambeth, and the furnaces of the Rhine Valley.

Blue-painted grey stoneware shards carrying the dates 1775 and 1776 [Antiques, March 1944, pp. 122-5] have been found along Cheesquake Creek, presumably from a pottery operated by General James Morgan, who in 1779 filed a claim for 'a kiln of Stoneware not burnt' that British soldiers had destroyed. Also dated 1775, July 18/JC is a stoneware jug [Metropolitan Museum] from the New York factory of William Crolius II. By 1778 a certain Bernard Hamlen advertised for return of a horse strayed from his 'Stoneware Potting Manufactory at Trenton' [Clement, Our Pioneer Potters, p. 20].

By a potter who sometimes stamped his ware C. Crolius Manhattan-Wells and was working by 1794 is a brownish stoneware batter jug with die-stamped blue flowerets and leaves, scratched: New York, Feb 17th 1798/Flowered by Clarkson Crolius/Blue. The New York Historical Society, its owner, also possesses the maker's actual stamp and other tools. This was Clarkson, Sr [1773-1843], a grandson of William 'Crolyas', the stoneware potter of 1730. Clement, Our Pioneer Potters, reviews [pp. 21-5] the complicated record of the Crolius dynasty [fifteen potters in all] who worked in New York until c. 1870 when Clarkson, Jr retired.

The first Crolius and one 'Johannes Remmi or de Remy [John Remmey I] married the Cornelius sisters, Veronica and Anna'. But a supposed business partnership of Remmey & Crolius in 1742-4 finds no supporting records. The Remneys followed their separate way from 1735 until today. When the New York factory failed in 1819-20 one great grandson continued at South Amboy until 1833; another had gone to Philadelphia about 1810, where [with a side venture at Baltimore from 1818 to c. 1835] the firm is still established.

A reason is easily seen for the flurry of new stoneware factories that appeared around 1805. From 1804 to 1812 the seizure and impressment of 10,000 American seamen into the British Navy led to a series of Congressional Acts [1806-9] that prohibited trade with England. With the Embargo Act of [p. 407] 1807 [one of the causes of the War of 1812] imports dropped to one-third, and American potters had to supply a domestic market cut off from foreign sources.

Xerxes Price, who stamped his jars XP, was working at Sayreville [South Amboy] as early as 1802 and until 1830. Peter Cross, whose mark was P Cross/Hartford, appeared 1805 to c. 1818 in Connecticut. Samuel Wetmore in 1805 began the enterprise at Huntingdon, Long Island, that later would become Brown Brothers. And from an unidentified maker [Watkins, New England Potters, p. 83] came sober brown-stained jars with 'BOSTON, 1804.' impressed.

In Albany the able Paul Cushman from 1809 to 1832 made both redware and stoneware, on the hill 'a half mile west of Albany Gaol'. Not far east was Bennington, Vermont, where Captain John Norton in 1793 had started a potworks continued by the family for a century, until 1894; in 1810 wagons were fetching clay across the hills from Troy, and in January 1815 the diary of Hiram Harwood says the Nortons 'were making ware of both kinds, stone and clay' [Spargo, , pp. 9, 11-13]. But the flourishing period was from 1828 to 1832, when the proprietors had begun to use clays from South Amboy and Long Island.

In the Ohio county the earliest recorded stoneware potter was Joseph Rosier, working by 1814 near Zanesville; but by 1840 [says John Ramsay] there were more than fifty such potters through the area. Excellent clays were here in plenty, and potters of all sorts were attracted to the Midwest. East Liverpool with its fine Ohio River clays was to overtake northern New Jersey, which itself has been called 'the Staffordshire of America'.

By this time stonewares were a factory-made product that devoted less attention to form, more to decoration. Typical are a four-gallon crock made in 1850-68 by Edmands & Co. and the grey churn made in 1850-70 in the State of New York, a freely drawn, blue-pointed deer on one, a whimsical bird on the other. Still later the decorations might be stencilled, to save labour. After the mid-nineteenth century a cylindrical shape was much used for crocks.

Government reports for 1900 showed an American output of stonewares valued at $1,800,000, but of redwares only $400,000 [Ramsay, p. 18], and the latter mostly from Ohio and Pennsylvania. The old order of work was indeed disappearing.

Some Better Wares
In between the common grades of work, on one and, and procelains, on the other, American potters made constant boast of producing wares 'allowed by the nicest judges to exceed any imported from England'. These were always 'on the very lowest Terms' -terms that were often based not on cash but barter, and perhaps 'the potter will take in Pay, pork, tar, wheat, corn or tobacco' [Maryland, 1756]. Though claiming so much, theirs were mostly small and experimental ventures, poorly financed and showing a high mortality rate. Edward Rumney in July 1746 bravely undertook 'to sett up a Pottery' at Annapolis, having 'furnished himself with Persons exceedingly well skilled [in the making of] all sorts of Potts, Pans Juggs, muggs &c.' Within four months his business was already offered at public vendue, even 'two Potters and several Horses'. A more ambitious project was that factory in New Boston which advertised in October 1769 'for Apprentices to learn the Art of making Tortoiseshell, Cream and Green-coloured Plates' [or Queensware and so-called green-edge Leeds]. After this solitary notice, only silence. From the dismal number of such failures, Lord Sheffield's Observations on the Commerce of the United States [1791] seems not too prejudiced in saying: 'Manufactures of glass, of earthenware, and of stone mixed with clay, are all in an infant state.' Yet across this fairly cheerless scene moved many potters of sound experience. Who were these lost men? Some are known only from one passing mention in early records, or for a solitary example of ware 'said to be' by John Doe, a potter. Unlike the silversmiths, who were often men of public consequence, potters enjoyed relatively slight notice.

And where are their products, of which enormous amounts once existed? How to account for the total disappearance of examples from our first whiteware furnace [1688-92 at Burlington, New Jersey], where Dr. Daniel Coxe said his agents made 'a great quantity of white and Chiney ware'? What has become of all the 'Pennsylvania pencil'd bowls and sugar dishes' praised for their 'beauty of colours and elegance of figures', that work of Alexander Bartram who 'has got a pot-house' in Philadelphia and advertised 1767-73? Where is one specimen of 'General Washington's bust, ditto in Medallions, several images part of them not finished', which in 1784 were offered at the sale of Jeremiah Warder's kilns in the North Liberties [Philadelphia]?

An answer might be that because American work of the better grades must compete with the imported, it attempted close imitation, and nowadays the American ware [so seldom marked, until after 1800] [p. 408] languishes unrecognized, mistaken for English. Thomas Baker who advertised 1756 in St Mary's County, Maryland, was only one who made 'ware of the same kind as imported from Liverpool, or made in Philadelphia'.

In their day the 'compleat Setts of Blue-china, Enamuel'd ditto' shown in the Boston imports lists of 1737 probably had no equal here. But the 'new fashion'd Turtle-shell Tercens' of Whieldon's ware [1754] were soon copied by colonial potters. The same were described as 'Tortoise-ware' in Boston and New York lists of 1771, along with other Whieldon-Wedgwood types such as 'Colly flower, Mellon, Pine-apple, Aggitt'. Also in 1771 came 'Queen's Ware' to Boston, the 'Plain Cream-colour' of New York.


[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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