We’re off to see the Wizard…

It wasn’t until we went on the gold standard in 1900 that the US had a unified currency (…the wonderful Wizard of OZ).  Originally, local banks issued local dollars, which were barely recognizable just over the hill.  Coinage, mostly foreign, was scarce.  People used “IOU’s” based on local notions of dollar value.  But as employment in the mills and factories of the Industrial Revolution increased…

…blah blah blah…

Let’s face it.  The arcane world of economics is the kiss of death.  Suffice it to say that many early potters bartered their wares.  In 1833, Ohio potter Thomas Ochs bragged about a particularly good deal he swung.  In his journal he wrote:

Today I received a chicken, six loaves of bread, and a goose.  For this I gave a colander, a three gallon jug, a five gallon crock, and six plates.”

If I received these items at today’s prices I would have received:

1 Chicken (live) $15.00
6 Loaves Bread ($4.50/loaf) $27.00
1 Goose (live) $50.00
Total Dollar Value $92.00

For this I would have exchanged (at my current retail prices):

1 Colander $80.00
1 Three Gallon Jug* $270.00
1 Five Gallon Crock** $450.00
6 Plates*** $140.00
Total Dollar Value $920.00

My, how times have changed…

(of course, if you have something worth trading, I might consider a swap)

* I don’t make them, but a gallon jug goes for $90.00, so charging by the gallon, a 3 gallon jug would probably total $270.00.
** again, not in my repertoire, so taking the $90/gallon estimate it would total about $450.
*** I’ll assume medium sized and plain for use around the house at $20 each x 6 = $140.

American Country Pottery.  Don & Carol Raycraft.  Wallace Homestead Books/Des Moines, IA.  1975.

The Roots of Rural Capitalism.  Western Massachusetts, 1790 – 1860.  Christopher Clark.  Cornell University Press/Ithaca, NY.  1990.

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6 Responses to “We’re off to see the Wizard…”

  1. Elise Says:

    Fabulous post! Pricing work is so difficult for most potters. Cost of materials is so low….. but the price to put on our labor, all the schooling that enabled us to make well-made pots and the market of today all play a role – a confounding role – in our pricing.

    To make strictly functional ware well, and to sell them to average day folks to use, as your Mr. Ochs would have done, would make the contemporary American potter a homeless person or in need of a sugar momma/dadda. Lucky for some, they have the spouse or pension. Unlucky for many of us, including myself, we need to make work and sell work that is beyond the average Joe’s income (willing to plop down the cost of 6 loaves of bread, a chicken and goose) for all those pots.

  2. lucyfagellapottery Says:

    Thank you Steve for a great post!

  3. sue Says:

    Have you ever read the Moravian Potters of North Carolina
    There are some journal entries of Market day.
    One where they are fighting off buyers with a sword.
    And they fear there will not be enough pots for all who want them…taking butter in trade.
    We could all be so lucky…..

    • Steve Earp Says:


      I haven’t read that book, but the scene sounds pretty cool (at least from our particular perspective). The latest Ceramics in America says a lot about Moravian market days as well. Thanks for sharing this.


  4. Steve Earp Says:

    The kinds of comments these stories generate are very energizing to me. Thank you all so much for participating. If Mr. Ochs knew we’d be chattering about his swap, I’m sure he’d have been perplexed. But if he were around today – just for a few weeks – he’d quickly realize how much of a nerve can be touched when the subject of money and pottery come up.

  5. Tiffany Hilton Says:

    I love that image of fighting off customers with a sword! We might have to at the first hour of the seconds sale – but not usually 🙂

    The best barter I ever did was for $600 of electrical work to install a kiln…and I gave the electricians wife and daughter pottery lessons! I also have bartered for haircuts, web design, raspberry plants, and lots of food, bread, honey and flowers at Farmers’ Market.

    Thanks for the great post Steve.

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