Archive for May, 2013

Winds of Change

May 19, 2013

Industrial Revolution era Stoke-on-Trent master potters ruled the world.

Their unimaginably ingenious capacity for organization and innovation was matched only by their obsessively competitive blood-lust.  The potteries that operated within the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent were preeminent suppliers of up-to-the-minute pottery fashion to the entire world.  Silicon Valley meets Madison Avenue.   About the only thing Henry Ford added to the picture over a century later was additional mechanization.  In such a relatively small community as Stoke, one can imagine the subterfuge and turf battles.

On the other hand, no single factory was large enough to possibly handle the orders that rolled in.  As such, everybody did piece work for everybody else.  Shopping out orders while keeping innovations close to the chest must have been quite a delicate dance.

Yes, they were a colorful bunch.

But just so we’re clear about the topic, see the image below. This old post card photo of one of Stoke’s pottery towns was taken decades after their dominance had waned.

Imagine this scene 50 years earlier.

whiff of Stoke

Readings:
Master potters of the Industrial Revolution: the Turners of Lane End.  Bevis Hillier.  Cory, Adams, & McKay/London.  1965.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries.  John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

 

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We Make Earthenware Fast

May 5, 2013

There was a conversation between two 19th century redware potters that never actually happened.  Their little ‘chat’ was just a letter to a friend and a newspaper ad written in two different states several decades apart.

Norman Judd worked in Rome, NY starting in 1814.  Rome was a frontier boom town at the time,  catering to fortune seekers on their way to the Western Reserve (preset day Ohio).  In such a place people cared only about cheap, instant access to the necessities of life.  Anyone willing to mass produce tableware could make a quick buck.  Bennington trained Judd was just the guy for the job.  He described his life to a friend:

“We make Earthenware fast – have burned 8 kilns since the 8th of last May – amtg to $1500 – Ware here is ready cash.  It is now 8 o’clock at night, I have just done turning bowls – I rest across my mould bench while writing – no wonder if I do make wild shots…”

James Grier faced a very different situation.  When he started his Mount Jordan Pottery in Oxford, PA in 1828, the competition was fierce and growing fiercer.  Grier, and his son Ralph who took over the shop in 1837, followed the (by then) common path of advertising their talents in local newspapers to set themselves apart from the crowd.  Most 19th century pottery ad language tended to the ‘best there ever was’ sort of hyperbole.  But Ralph Grier took a slightly different tack.  An 1868 notice in the “Oxford Press” read:

“EARTHENWARE of all kinds of the very best quality.  No poor ware ‘cracked up’ and foisted upon the public.”

What potter has not at one time or another teetered into the depths of the chasm exposed between these two sentiments?

Readings
American Redware.  William Ketchum Jr.  Holt & Co./Ney York.  1991.