Trenton Pottery Industry Makes Strides, History of potteries

[Trade Journal]

Publication: China, Glass & Lamps

Pittsburgh, PA, United States
vol. 26, no. 39, p. 14-16, col. 1-2


Both in Quality of Ware and Volume of Production There

Has Been a Great Upward Trand - From Red Clay

Pots to Beautiful Vitrified China.

When John S. McCully came to Trenton in 1799 and began to make clumsy looking pie plates and flower pots out of rough red clay, he hardly realized that he was laying the corner stone for the foundation of an industry that would 100 years hence make this city famous the world over. It seems almost impossible today to connect the product of John McCully's unpretentious little potting shop with the magnificent output of the 45 potteries forming so important a part of the industrial pride and wealth of Trenton.

It is indeed a far cry from those unsightly red clay pots and plates of John McCully to the fairy-like beauty of the product of the ceramic art potteries of this city, says the Evening News, and yet the evolution of the red clay pie plate into the daintly Belleek vase can be traced through the years that intervened between the days of John McCully's shop until the present time.

McCully and the other pioneer potters of Trenton were, apparently, content for years with the red clay product and not until 1852 was any decided improvement made in pottery ware. Taylor & Speeler are credited with being the first to depart from the red clay ware and produce some yellow ware dishes that met with immediate favor. One year later Asbury and Millington began the manufacture of sanitary ware.

During all this time, however, the best potters could produce was the yellow ware, but by constant experimenting Rhodes & Yates in 1859 succeeded in putting on the market the first white granite and cream colored ware.

John Moses made the next step forward, when in 1863 he turned out of his pottery the first decorated ware; not the elegantly decorated ware of today, but white ware with a modest plain band in colors or gold.

In spite of these seemingly important improvements in the trade the real development did nto begin until about 25 years ago. After John Moses found out the secret of decorating ware the civil war took the entire country in its clutches and the pottery business suffered a severe setback with other industries. After the Centennial Exposition of 1876, in Philadelphia, the trade began to boom, and in the early eighties signs of its present greatness first appeared.

Since 1882 the development has been sure and rapid. Potteries have sprung up in every part of the city and the quality of the ware has been perfected to such an extent that Trenton, through its pottery product, has gained a fame that is world-wide in every sense of that term. The primitive decorated ware of John Moses has given place to the wonderful Bellek and Delft creations, and in the place of that single plain band of gold or color are placed decorations that have excited the admiration of kings and queens. The remarkable development of the pottery industry in Trenton in the past 20 years is almost as wonderful as the stories of the Arabian Nights entertainment. In 1889 there were only three decorating shops in the entire city, and not one of the plants in Trenton could boast its own decorating department. Today every pottery decorates its own ware.


Potteries in 1882.


In 1882 there were 16 potteries in Trenton as follows: Willets Mfg. Co., Anchor Pottery Co., J. H. Moore; American Crockery Co., Pliny Fisk; East Trenton Pottery, Cook & Marshall; Burroughs & Mountford Co.; Coxen & Co.; Mercer Pottery Co., James Moses; Union Pottery Co., H. T. Cook; Ott & Brewer; Isaac Davis; International Pottery Co., Burgess & Campbell; Thomas Maddock & Sons; City Pottery Co., Davenport Bros.; Greenwood Pottery Co., Stevens & Tams; Arsenal pottery, Joseph H. Mayer; Glasgow pottery, John Moses.

The capital represented by these 16 potteries amounted to $2,000,000. About 2,500 operatives were employed, who were paid $1,600,666. The output in 1882 was $3,000,000.

At this time nearly all of the product of Trenton potteries consisted of white ware. The shapes were of the plainest kind and the decorating meagre. Most of the ware was medium weight. However, even at this early stage of business Trenton pottery ware had a national reputation, which it merited.

Great advancement has been made in decorating ware since 1882, and today it is an education in art to go throught the decorating department of any pottery in the city. From the plain band decorating of 25 years ago, the styles have changed to those of fancy character, more or less embossed, made in underglaze and overglaze colors. Decalcomania effects have considerable vogue as well as printed and filled-in goods.

Potteries in Trenton today can be divided into three classes: Those making dinnerware or fancy ware; those making sanitary ware and those producing electrical procelain fixtures. Here is the classified list of the city's potteries at the present time:


Sanitary Ware.


The Trenton Potteries Co., six plants; Thomas Maddock's Sons Co., two plants; John Madock & Sons, Keystone Pottery Co., Fidelity Pottery Co., Brian Pottery Co., Bellmark Pottery Co., Monument Pottery Co., Trenton Fire Clay & Porcelain Works, Sanitary Earthenware Specialty, Co., Acme Pottery Co., Elite Pottery, Excelsior Pottery Co., C. B. Walton Co., Resolute Pottery Co.


Dinner and Fancy Ware.


Willets Mfg. Co., Anchor Pottery Co., J. T. Norris; Mercer Pottery Co., James Moses; Cook Pottery Co., two plants; International Co.; Maddock Pottery Co., two plants; Greenwood Pottery and Greenwood China Co., three plants; Lennox, incorporated.


Electrical Porcelain.


American Porcelain Works, Artistic Porcelain Co., Central Porcelain Works, Diamond Porcelain Co., Electric Porcelain Mfg. Co., Imperial Porcelain Co., National Porcelain Co., Standard China Works, Star Porcelain Co., Trenton Porcelain Co., Union Electric Porcelain Works, Porcelain Electric Co., Sun Porcelain Works.

These 40 or more plants represent the vast sum of $5,000,000 and employ 5,000 operatives. The money that will be paid out in wages in 1906 will reach $3,700,000, and President John A. Campbell, of the Trenton Potteries Co., estimates the total output of all the local potteries for this year at $7,000,000.

These figures show conclusively that the pottery industry of Trenton has more than doubled in the past 25 years. The development has been steady every year, but no year since the business was introduced here will show such an all-round increase as the one that is now nearing its end.

In dinner and general ware there is little exportation owing to the fact that wages in Trenton are so greatly in excess of those in England and the methods of making the ware about the same. There is a duty of 50 per cent on white and 60 per cent on decorated ware, but in spite of this there is a great quantity of dinnerware imported here from England. Trenton, however, is well in front in the manufacture of both these lines of goods, as was demonstrated by the Ott & Brewer, Glasgow, Isaac Davis and other firms that won prizes for dinnerware at Philadelphia in the Centennial Exhibition, and later in the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893.

The Cook Pottery Co., of which Charles Howell Cook is the president, is the largest general ware producer in this city. Its features are jardinieres and dinnerware of the high grade underglaze styles. The Cook Co. also makes a specialty of Delft ware, which is regarded as even better than the French product.

The Maddock Pottery Co. places on the market the celebrated Lamberton China. The decorations are highly artistic and the ware can be found generaally on the tables of the finest hotels in the country.

The ware produced at the Greenwood pottery, known as vitrified hotel china, occupies a most unique place in the trade. It is used generally over the world, and is particularly favored by steamship companies. This ware is unquestionably the most durable manufactured and is celebrated for its resistance.

The Willets Co. sends some of the finest ware out of the city. The design and general finish is charming.

The Mercer pottery has the reputation of making some of the most attractive Delft ware on the market, in addition to dinner and toilet articles.

The Delft, Lamberton China and vitrified china are the principal styles of general ware exported, and the foreign demand for this product is rapidly increasing.

Trenton ceramic art pottery, the most delicate and exquisitely beautiful of all pottery products, was first manufactured here in 1883 at the Ott & Brewer plant. J. Hart Brewer brought some skilled workmen from England in this year, and made what is known as Irish Belleek.

At that time Walter S. Lennox, now the leading spirit in the Lennox Incorporated plant in this city, was in the employ of Mr. Brewer as a decorator. He received instructions in the art of making this ware and a short time afterward he went into the business with Jonathan Coxon. Mr. Coxon has retired, but under the direction of Mr. Lennox the ceramic art product has been brought to a high state of perfection.

The Lennox Co. has long since been able to compete successfully with the leading English plants, turning out the same kind of ware, and in the past few years it is said that the local company has won the reputation of making better and more artistic work.

The goods of the local plant are sold everywhere, both here and abroad, and the most costly of the articles can be purchased at the leading jewelry establishments.

Many persons wonder why the Trenton porcelain vase should be held so valuable, and for that reason the manufacture should be of deep interest. The ingredients come to the pottery in the raw state and are then calcined, reduced to a powder and separated from all foreign substances. The composition is then mixed and placed in vats where water reduces it to a uniform and cream-like mass which is drawn off and strained through silk lawn. The mixing of this composition calls for the greatest care and the quality of the ware depends on the purity of the material.

After the above careful preparation the material is taken to the clay shop to be modeled and cast. From the clay model a block mold in two perfectly fitting parts is made of plaster of paris. From this a plaster replica of the model is made. Then the potter binds together the two portions of the mold, sets it on his wheel and pours in the "slip" that came from the vat. If the article he is making is thin he leaves the slip in the mold only a moment, then quickly pours out all that has not adhered to it. The spongy plaster absorbs the water in the slip, leaving a shell of clay, which in drying shrinks from the mold while it retains its shape.

The mold is then taken to the drying room and when sufficiently firm its contents are removed and set upon the wheel where the edges are trimmed and the parts cemented. The ware next goes to the kiln shed.

Packing and firing a kiln is a careful and painstaking job, as the slightest mistake will ruin the ware. The ware is placed in fire-clay boxes called "saggers," in which it rests on sand or flint.

Small portions of moist clay are placed around the edge of the sagger to protect the ware from the fumes and smoke and the saggers are piled one on the other until the kiln is filled. The door is then bricked up and plastered over and the kiln fire.

The fire burns from 24 to 100 hours, and then the saggers containing the ware are removed. From the clay color of its original state it has been changed by the firing in the kiln to a pure and beautiful white and is then porcelain. It is then taken to another part of the plant where it is rubbed with sandstone and polished with sand paper until it is free from dust.

In the dipping room it is plunged into a liquid compound called glaze, which forms a sort of glass over the ware. In this stage it goes into a glost kiln for a second burning. Through small openings in the kiln the kilnman watches the progress of this second burning carefully, and when it appears to his practiced eye as perfect the kiln is drawn and the ware cooled by water from a hose. Then it is removed and sorted until the decorating shop is ready to put on the finishing touches.

The underglaze decoration is painted on the green ware after which the article is glazed and placed in the glost kiln. The overglaze is painted on after the ware has been taken from the glost kiln. The overglaze ware admits of the most artistic decoration.

The manufacture of porcelain for electrical fixtures is a branch of the pottery industry that has been developed entirely in recent years. Frederick Duggan is the pioneer on this line of trade and his plant is one of the largest in this country. The demand for electrical porcelain has increased rapidly as the science of electricity and all of the numerous plants in this city devoted to this product are kept busy all the time.

The Star, another large plant, is operated by Dr. Charles P. Britton and Dr. Thomas Mackenzie.

Just what the total value of the electrical porcelain output will be for this year cannot be determined, but that it will be considerably in excess of last year is a certainty.

The product is shipped to every part of the world where electrical fittings are needed.


Keywords:Star Porcelain Company : Electric Porcelain & Manufacturing Company : Imperial Porcelain Works : Union Electrical Porcelain Works : Sun Porcelain Company : Porcelain Electric Manufacturing Company : Trenton Porcelain Company
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:March 4, 2008 by: Bob Stahr;