Ohio River Pottery: H. R. Wyllie China Company

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Recently, I found a very old semi porcelain platter in less than pristine condition. I noticed that the gold trim was very very worn, in fact absent in some areas yet, the glaze was excellent,  no cracks and only slight crazing on the bottom. On the bottom of the platter was a mark unknown to me. At once, I tucked it under my arm. The platter appealed to me in many ways –  it was well loved, very heavy and a mystery to me!

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Wyllie Platter, Remnants of Gold Border Barely Visible (12″ X 16″)

 

 

The search began with the back stamp. The typography is representative of the Arts ad Crafts era;  beautiful but it was difficult to read. I relied on auto-correct in the Google Search Engine using only the last four letters and . . . Voila!  In a few hours, I discovered that the platter was manufactured by the H.R. Wyllie China Company in Huntington, Ohio between 1910-1920. The design for the back stamp is at the  center of the insert graphics in the advertisement for the Wyllie China Company. Judging by the weight and size, the platter was part of the “double thick hotel ware.” As written in the advertisement, there is more evidence that Mr. Wyllie was truly committed to the quality of the china produced in his pottery. He went so far as to write a letter to the editor of The Pottery and Glass Journal asking for a correction. He insisted that he did not produce souvenir plates but china for the most discriminating!

Wyllie China Company, The Pottery and Glass Salesman, Vol. 18
Wyllie China Company, The Pottery and Glass Salesman, Vol. 18

Mr. Wyllie was born in East Liverpool, Ohio. He was not a stranger to pottery production; he learned his craft at this father’s plant. Striking out on his own, he purchased the Huntington China Company (1907). In three short years, the company fell into financial difficulty. In effect, Wylie purchased a commercial kiln that was modern and quite a bargain. The new enterprise was successful; new production kilns were added five years later to fulfill the demand for wares. And still later, Mr. Wyllie took an active roll in the effort to build roads to serve West Virginia. In his introduction for the bill proposed to the West Virginia Legislature, he wrote,

As a manufacturer and business man I appreciate to the fullest possible extent the benefits that will accrue to the business life of West Virginia from the construction of permanent roads. I know that it will mean much from a material viewpoint to the farmer, the miner and the laborer. Good roads mean better schools, more churches and the eradication, of illiteracy. They mean a more contented and more intelligent citizenry and give our boys and girls better opportunities than those which were enjoyed by the mature men and women of today.

The legislation for new roads was passed, which led to some speculation that Mr. Wyllie might better serve the community as a member of the West Virginia Legislature. He was respected as a civcl leader, business owner and a producer of quality goods.  Five years later, Mr. Wyllie died. The china company soon closed its doors, years later the massive structure was demolished leaving behind memories for those who lived in Huntington. A few years back, a new road was built in Huntington. The work crews noticed potshards in the rubble left behind from the demolition of the Wyllie China Company. Some residents of Huntington arrived at the scene in search of those fragments of their history. One long time resident added that he still remembered Mr. Wyllie smiling at him when they passed on the street. Mr. Wyllie left a a beautiful legacy.

No longer a mystery to me, the H. R. Wyllie platter is important to the history of Ohio River Pottery.  The manufacture of pottery along the river depended on rich sources of clay, supplies of natural gas and a river to transport the wares far beyond the borders. Geography isa  powerful predictor of sustainable production, after all. But, digging deeper into the story of the goods produced, there is yet another story about the men and women who established potteries and worked in the potteries over generations.

The well-loved platter with only remnants of the gold trim is one hundred years old – a century – and a history tied to Mr. Wyllie. I just love his bow tie!

H. R. Wyllie
H. R. Wyllie

 

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)

 

The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Hmmmm, I said, this looks like spam.

Quickly, I clicked log out and returned to my real work.

Later in the day, there was another notification from Etsy about a convo.

Hello Valerie,
I am gathering materials for a vintage Christmas photo shoot to be featured in Romantic Homes magazine.
Would it be possible to use your vintage set of dishes that…

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The Romance of a Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine
Christmas Mouse Featured in Romantic Homes Magazine

Hmmmm, I said, this looks like spam.

Quickly, I clicked log out and returned to my real work.

Later in the day, there was another notification from Etsy about a convo.

Hello Valerie,
I am gathering materials for a vintage Christmas photo shoot to be featured in Romantic Homes magazine.
Would it be possible to use your vintage set of dishes that feature a mouse?
They are the perfect colors and will complete our vintage holiday decorating guide.
Your shop will be credited and I will return them to you promptly.
Please let me know today as I am on deadline.
Thank you!
Sarah Jane O’Keefe

Well, I said, maybe this is legitimate. I texted my closest advisors for advise (my internet savvy children).

I paraphrase, The editor had asked that I send a set of china for a photo shoot for the Christmas issue.

Here is where it gets really funny – all of the opinions were all different of course but,

I was very surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the little project, the presence of Putnam and Speedwell

in a successful national magazine and the suggestion that a legal contract was needed, otherwise,

it simply would not happen.

Well, maybe I should just forget about it and text her that are not interested.

But, I thought, what if . . . ? So, I decided to take the chance, the leap of of faith, if you will, that we can trust –

even if we have not met face to face. So, immediately, I began researching the magazine (legitimate),

the story editor (found her byline in previous issues) and the address that she had sent. It all checked out.

No, I did not draw up a contract nor did I ask her to pay for the china . .  .but I did write on the packing list

the expected date of return. I figured, what the heck anyway – they are concerned about losing a few dishes?!?

Really! Then they really do not understand how many dishes there are in the barn!

The package arrived in a timely manner with the pink pastel mouse on a green Christmas wreath. . .Sarah Jane also included a note thanking me and remarked that the mouse was “just the right touch” . . .

The whole episode was quickly forgotten . . . at first, I refused to tell anyone – JINX. A few weeks ago, my daughter asked if I had any news and then suggested that I contact the editor. But, I did not follow her advise (a big mistake) . . . and I realized that I had really pushed it way back in my mind – as in nearly forgotten! I then re-listed the dishes on Etsy!

 

Late last Thursday, I noticed that there were lots and lots of people visiting putnamandspeedwell.com. And we had a lot of new orders – it was the weekend of the Halloween Block Party and a birthday party for my beautiful little nieces!  In the middle of the night, the cell phone  continued to vibrate and then, the familiar sound of a vintage cash register, CHA-CHING.

I was still clueless. I did not know how to account for the dramatic increase of visitors to the blog –

Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse
Dinnerware Decorated with a Christmas Mouse

or on Etsy. One of the hot items was dinnerware decorated with a Christmas Mouse.

Here is the description on Etsy,

The design – a certain favorite for children of all ages –
incorporates a retro color palette that includes pink, peach
and green on a white background.

 

In a note to one buyer, Carol, I mentioned that the Christmas Mouse had quite an adventure – he travelled all the way to California for a photo shoot. So maybe, “your plates will appear in the magazine.” Carol replied, “I saw the set in Romantic Homes that’s why I looked at your Etsy site to see if you had any left. I was lucky!”  Mystery Solved!

 

And then a big whoop . . . . YAAAA HOOOO!   Cowabunga . . . YES!

Next stop . . . Little Professor. Of course, they had the issue in stock, found The Special Christmas Issue by Romantic Homes but then read the little blurb aloud:

Sweet Details . . . .This sweet set, featuring mice busily preparing for

Christmas, is from the Putnam & Speedwell Etsy Shop.

 

But still there is a mystery.

Notice that Sarah Jane nor I mention the name of this pattern!

Looking at the bottom of the plate, my hunch is that it was manufactured by Royal China.

The colors lead me to think that it was produced mid-century.

But still, I do not know the pattern name. So, we will offer a 25.00 gift certificate at Putnam and Speedwell.

That’s right.  If you know the name of this pattern, you can let me know with a comment.

 

Thank you Sarah Jane!  Carol, thanks for solving the mystery! Thank you Etsy. for making it easy to access a large, very large, audience.

Thanks also to my family . . .

(Mom, you need to sell on Etsy! Etsy?)

XOXOXOXO

Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes
Putnam and Speedwell in Romantic Homes

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.