Category Archives: Ohio River Pottery

Every Plate Tells a Story

Marion by Mayer China

At the turn of the last century, the potteries along the Ohio River were working overtime to fulfill rapidly increasing orders – bricks for streets, clay products for drainage, durable toilet wares and dinnerware. The potteries had developed new production methods and importantly for consumers, white ware replaced yellow ware. There was a celebratory air in the potteries shared by all.

Glass and Pottery Salesman 1921

In Beaver Falls, the annual holiday loaf was brief. Indeed, the customary holiday inactivity which extended from December 24 to January 3 gave way to a short holiday break. The economic boom was no less evident on the streets of cities. Two entrepreneurs,  Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia automated equipment imported from Germany. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants – they claimed one out of sixteen people ate once a day in a Horn & Hardart.

Two entrepreneurs,  Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart, opened a luncheonette in Philadelphia with automated equipment. City workers with little time for lunch filled the restaurants.  Soon, Horn & Hardart prepared food for carry-out by the consumer.

The owners did not cut corners – they offered fresh food prepared carefully. In The Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation, Christopher Klein writes:

While Horn & Hardart Automats delivered food quickly, meals were made from scratch using fresh, high-quality ingredients. Items were prepared shortly before they were eaten, and food was not allowed to linger overnight. Freshly squeezed orange juice that sat for two hours was poured down the drain.

Back along the Ohio River, Mayer China was producing Marion for the new automats in New York. Marion is an Art Deco teal transferware pattern. The simple design is charming, but not cloying. It is warm and comfortable not commercial.

The resplendent surroundings of the Horn & Hardart Automats—with marble counters and floors, stained glass, chrome fixtures, ornately carved ceilings and Art Deco signage—more resembled Parisian bistros than sterile, dingy fast food outlets. Food was served on real china and eaten with solid flatware.                                      Automat: Birth of a Fast Food Nation

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Selling Pieces of the Past: The World is Your Marketplace

Governor  James Rhodes brought the dream of the Appalachian Highway to life with a lot of political capital earned over the span of a long political career. Born and raised in Southern Ohio, his efforts on behalf of the people and the economy of Appalachian Ohio are still remembered. Jimmy, as the old timers call him, is a local hero.

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Appalachian Highway, Wikipedia.

 

Others traveling through the region might read the roadside sign dedicated to his memory. As one newspaper reported:

On its long, empty stretches, the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway gives drivers green vistas of southern Ohio’s rolling hills. This is not the green that planners had in mind.

The need for connecting roads was felt long before Governor Rhodes. H. R. Wylie, the owner of the pottery in Huntington, was very active in politics on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River. Mr. Wylie lobbied for support, invested a great deal of money to effect change and even entertained the idea of running for state office. Roads were essential for commerce – which as every school boy knows is good for the people.

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A Railroad Tunnel Built in the Late 19th Century, Moonville, Ohio.

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Ohio River Pottery: Black and White Restaurant China

Call it what you will . . . Retro Diner, Restaurant China or Restaurant Ware. To my eye, these plates look fresh and modern. Black is back but did it ever fade away?

The scalloped edge brings a cottage in the country feel. The bold black thick border looks clean and contemporary. Add to a collection or start a collection with these pieces. They will be with you a long, long time.

Adding a few photographs so that you can see them all together and on their own.

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Hard to choose a favorite when I favor them all . . .

 

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Shenango China Plate, Black Arrows and Circles on White

Russell Wright Chartreuse Salt and Pepper Shakers – For You

All that is needed to understand the beauty of  ergonomics is to hold the salt and pepper shakers designed by Russel Wright for Steubenville in your hands . . . to hold them is to love them. They fit the hand so perfectly.

And we would like to give you that opportunity. We are giving away this set of chartreuse Russel Wright Salt and Pepper Shakers.

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Ohio River Pottery: Shadows by John Gilkes for Taylor, Smith & Taylor

The ink was barely dry on his master’s thesis when John Gilkes accepted the position of Lead Designer for the Taylor, Smith Taylor Pottery. Gilkes, under the tutelage of Arthur E. Baggs, the renown potter and professor of ceramics at Ohio State University, researched production techniques for new dinnerware shapes. Innovation was paramount to the potteries that had enjoyed success along the banks of the Ohio River. Especially in light of the heightened competition from the Asian marketplaces and the new attraction of plastics to homemakers.

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Restaurant Ware: Warwick China Company, Wheeling, West Virginia

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Warwick China Company enjoyed a long history – over sixty years producing decorative pieces, fine dinnerware and finally, vitrified china. According to their catalog ca. 1940s, they produced “Vitrified China for Hotels, Clubs, Restaurants, Institutions, Steamships, Railroads, and Hospitals.”  No doubt, their entry into china production for commercial accounts was one way in which the Warwick China Company hoped to keep the kilns firing and so many residents of Wheeling employed. After all, Wheeling was one of the great manufacturing centers in the nineteenth century. Sadly, this manufacturer closed in doors in 1951.

Warwick had produced some of the most beautiful china – highly decorated and complex pieces. They were one of the few American potteries to attempt the manufacture of flow blue. Their expertise was well known in the pottery world. Wheeling of course possessed all of the natural assets necessary to produce, market and ship wares. The chamber of commerce of Wheeling announced that Wheeling was at the crossroads for manufacturing and shipping. Most American pottery was manufactured in the Ohio Valley along the mighty Ohio River. And as a consequence, Wheeling certainly played an important part in the history of Ohio River Pottery.

Map from Chamber of Commerce Brochure

Map from Chamber of Commerce Brochure

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Ohio River Pottery: Russel Wright for Steubenville Pottery, American Modern

The dinnerware designed by Russel Wright is included in the rather broad [and vague] category, Mid Century Modern.  Russel Wright designed the new line of American Modern Dinnerware in the 1930s. His designs were, in part, a reaction to the formality of the late Victorian dinner table. Many courses served with service changes that required “help” in the kitchen. A way of living,  that was certainly at odds in the 1930s when many could no longer afford imported fancy serve ware or a household staff to serve. His stated intent was to bring design to everyone – American Modern would become the best selling dinnerware in American history.

His design took another turn; the post modernist turn. He looked to the form and function of each piece, first, and then applied glazes that reflected the natural world. You might even say, he used organic shapes and colors that soothed a generation in an era of unsettling news –  economic downturns, political unease and total war on a global scale. As much as his design fascinates, his later avocation to restore land that included abandoned quarries near the Hudson River inspires me. I plan to visit . .

The first piece of Russel Wright that I found was in a box in an abandoned trailer. Although I didn’t know who made the piece, I was captivated by the color and shape. I soon discovered the pitcher was manufactured by Iroquois China and designed by Russel Wright. The pitcher is definitive of Wright’s design – curves that do not end. There are no hard edges. Truly wonderful to hold and behold.  And the color  . . .  drawn from the forest at sunset.

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Royal China and Steubenville Pottery

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Royal China (Sebring Ohio) ca. 1950s and Steubenville Pottery (Russel Wright) ca. 1940s 

 

“Anywhere you dig in Sebring you hit pottery shards.  In some places they sit in parking lots or driveways, just
waiting to tell us their history.”

Table Talk: Christmas Morning

The best thing about Christmas morning is the quiet and the contentment in the air. The stockings so carefully hung are strewn on the floor, paper and ribbon everywhere, sipping hot chocolate with mounds of whipped cream and, of course, a roaring fire! The food we serve on this day differs from family to family based on tradition and quite often, passed down from generation to generation. If you were raised in the Catholic Church then you might also know the pure bliss of eating sweets and meat with real gusto! This meal is, after all, the family coming together in all reverence to celebrate the strength of that bond. Setting the table for this gathering is as important as the preparation for an altar . . . china, linen and decoration demonstrate the importance of this gathering of friends and family.

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The Gift: The Story of The Homer Laughlin Plate

Almost, thirty years ago, a package arrived postmarked from the Homer Laughlin Company, Newell, West Virginia quite unexpectedly. A few days before, we were at the International Housewares Exhibition in Chicago. It was a big deal, a really big deal. Now, as then, it was the biggest trade show in the country at one of the biggest exhibition halls in the world under one roof.  McCormick Place, a modernist structure designed by Gene Simmons, a student of Mies van der Rohe, is located on Lake Michigan. Sited as it was, the rebuilt McCormick place celebrated space perched on the coast with an unending vista of water and sky – the building occupies acres of land yet does not obstruct the view like a skyscraper while the interior remains open. Stepping into that place was a tad intimidating for a fledgling very small business owner but, how else to know what is happening?

Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate

Deep Rim and Classic Detailing of The Homer Laughlin Plate

One of the hundreds of exhibitors was The Homer Laughlin Company represented by a Mr. Wells. He was very generous with his time; he welcomed us into the booth heartily. As we spoke, the conversation turned to patterns. The new line of colorful Fiesta Ware was popular, but I gravitated toward a pure white plate with a deep rim, scalloped edge and classic ornamentation. It was very modern looking – but not. The plate was a part of the Best China Line i.e.. Restaurant Ware.

Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware

Best China by Homer Laughlin is Restaurant Ware

He asked, “Why would you want this plate?” Later informing me that he could not sell this plate to a retail outlet unless we could order large quantities. His warmth and kindliness made the bad news sound not so bad. Three days later, the plate arrived.

For many years, this plate was part of the lore of our family. . . the story was,  “a manager from Homer Laughlin sent this plate.” The plate packed a powerful message; generosity and kindness. This story remains one of the most important business lessons that I have learned. Over the years, the pleasant memory inspired a collection of white restaurant ware. It has been a sentimental journey from that memorable beginning.

Years later, I learned that the history of the Homer Laughlin Company was integral to understanding the history of Ohio River Pottery. As it turned out, Mr. Wells was not merely a manager or salesperson. His family owned and operated the Homer Laughlin Company.  The Wells family led an expansion of the pottery. By the end of the nineteenth century, five kilns produced white ware instead of the much maligned yellow ware produced throughout the nineteenth century.

Laced thought out early accounts of the Pottery Industry, there are comments made by workers, observers and reporters. Most commentators noticed the mutual respect that owners shared with workers – mutual respect become one of the core values for the Homer Laughlin Company and the other potteries in East Liverpool. So, it was no accident that Mr. Wells sent the plate that he could sell.

The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)

The Gift: The Plate from The Homer Laughlin Company (ca. 1985)

 

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Selling Pieces from the Past – Part One

In my bio, I have described myself as a historian and collector. . . my first collection, books. History and literature stretching from the middle ages to the present. How many? I never knew. I never counted. I knew there were books that I needed. Books that I needed to read again, paragraphs to ponder, sometimes to wonder. Some books you know you will always go back to again and again. Then there were the rare books. Books the university library did not have that I needed to read slowly. I would check out books from my library at home – Alden Library – usually, I had over 200 books from that source. I was writing a dissertation that spanned two continents and the lives of two brothers, sons daughters. I read constantly. My appetite was voracious. Then I moved to a cabin in the woods – I needed to purge that collection. I gave away so many books without any sense of loss.

In turn, I started a new project, the history of Ohio River Pottery. I began collecting pottery made in Ohio. I wanted to write a history – not a guide to identification but rather a history of the people who built the industry and how they kept that business going for the next century. As I discovered, the story is a political, economic and social history. I also realized after that collection took shape, that the patterns told their own history of cultural change – colors, ornamentation and shape reflected taste and fashion. A new journey of discovery. . .  In turn, I am now selling that collection. In my mind, the sales would allow me the time to write the history.

Impetuously, I forged ahead into online selling and a storefront – the collection had grown too large for my barn! Now I was faced with a new learning curve. . . what came naturally for my children, by the way, was not natural for me. Certainly, I had used the internet to research in libraries from Quebec to Paris. But selling required another kind of knowledge – lots and lots. And organization and most of all presence . . great stress soon followed!

Books are simple to organize . . the miracle of the Dewey Decimal System! I can walk to my bookshelves and find a booka in a matter of seconds. But plates . . . over my head it seems. I have always favored white. Simple, pure and the eye is drawn to the form. While I had know Homer Laughlin since I first needed a plate, or so it seems, I at long last discovered Russel Wright! He understood form and the way in which everyday objects affect our lives. . .

Russel Wright, Steubenville, Relish Tray

Russel Wright, Steubenville, Relish Tray

I suppose the first big surprise was that other people wanted to buy parts of this collection. . . . lots of people and lots of pieces! Nothing to complain about except that the intellectual did not have a system in place. Have been working on that for the last few weeks. . . It feels like I have been thrown into the ocean and now we will see if I sink or swim. . .  Hmmmm, I have no intention of sinking. I am learning, too slowly it seems.

Last week, an angel from Canada ordered four Russel Wright plates. Now these are pure white dessert plates. They are a captivating white . . I so hate to sound romantic but – they are white as angels wings. Not a sterile white, not at all clinical, but pure like an angel’s wings, like Sugar White! Truly. I have seemingly millions of white plates, but these are different. So now back to the process of selling. I had not yet shipped anything to Canada. So how best to ship the plates . . . .that research took time. Then the packing. The mail carriers are not gentle with packages, they are in a hurry as the whole of civilization is now. And remember, we are forging relationships with people that we do not know. So, how do we trust. . . especially, the buyer? It is all such an interesting process of give and take without the usual social cues of shaking a hand and getting to know another.

After we had all the details worked out, in packing the pristine white plates, I looked around but could only find three! I had the good luck to know a dealer who happened to have more . . . but now, the shipment is late. . .

We have devised a new way to organize those things that we list online. I also now know that shipping to Canada is simple albeit expensive for the buyer! And this “angel” from Canada inadvertently forced me to learn new lessons for parting with this collection. . . I am in her debt. Whenever I think of Russel Wright especially, Sugar White, it will be her that I remember.

In looking back, I remember a letter that Noel Sillery once wrote to the governor of Canada seeking assurances that donations would go toward the new building of a convent and church. . . he was seeking assurance and trust across great distance. . . with a letter now an email! That time in history was a process of discovery. Ahhhh, she thinks, the more things change the more they remain the same.