Post-holiday winter means plunging income and skyrocketing expenses. Short cold days. Long cold nights. Not good for difficult or depressing stories. Those are best left for warmer days…
And so (before it gets too cold) the tale of Jabez Vodrey. His biography runs as follows; 1797, born in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent; Worked lathes in the Stoke potteries and in Derbyshire; 1827, emigrated to the US; Worked in several places; Produced America’s first Mocha ware; 1860, died. Sons carried on the trade.
So far so good. But the devil is in the details. Imagine leaving everything you’ve known, knowing you’ll never see it again. Leaping into the unknown. This was Jabez Vodrey’s lot. Many English potters had emigrated to the US with varying success. The clay was rumored to be fine. The market certainly was. Why not move closer to the action, bypass those who drove you from your job?
Jabez and his wife Sarah (a decorator) first went to Pittsburgh. But finding the right materials to make “fineware” (anything resembling English imports) proved impossible. Besides, imports ruled. Serious local competition was quickly squashed. Start over again.
An offer came from Jacob Lewis in Louisville, KY in 1829. Shipping imports up past the Ohio Falls and into town was difficult and expensive. And Louisville had tantalizingly good raw materials. This could be the place to finally produce American fineware, safely away from cheap, soul-crushing imports.
Still, without internet or consistent supply systems it was no easy task to produce even the little that Jabez’s group did. But all evidence indicates they successfully produced American’s first fineware Mocha.
A canal opened in 1834, allowing large freighters to bypass the falls. A marvel of modern progress! So where was Jabez when he read the headlines? Coming soon, Stoke’s finest! At the lowest prices ever!
Jabez probably saw it coming. But how many times can a person pack up and move on? He had been chased to the edge. Imports always won. Why bother anymore? Jabez eventually landed in the next great pottery boom town, East Liverpool, OH. There he and his family, like many others, would make their last stand.
But on that day in 1834 he surely felt he had lost everything he knew. Again. All in the name of pottery.
Ceramics in America. Robert Hunter, ed. University Press of New England/Hanover NH. 2001.
Mocha and Related Dipped Wares, 1770-1939. Jonathan Rickard. University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH. 2006.