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!
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!
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!