William H. Farrar

Potter

[Trade Journal]

Publication: Antiques

New York, NY, United States
vol. XXXV, no. 3, p. 122 - 123


WILLIAM H. FARRAR, POTTER

 

By Mary E. Davison

 

Illustrations from the author's collection

 

THE name William H. Farrar is not unfamiliar to students of American ceramics. Its owner was one of the principal stockholders of the United States Pottery at Bennington, Vermont, and in 1856, when that enterprise was falling upon evil days, contributed capital to the extent of $25,000 in what proved a vain attempt to save it from bankruptcy. He is likewise known as the founder, in 1856, of a pottery in Kaolin, South Carolina. Farrar has hitherto been considered a promoter and executive rather than a practical potter. Recent discoveries that I have made now indicate that he was both. It is, perhaps, possible that two men of the same name were engaged in the pottery business at the same time, and that in presenting this synopsis of William H. Farrar's activities I am rolling two personalities into one. Until such a confusion of identities can be proved, however, I offer the following brief record of the life and work of one William H. Farrar, potter, who took part in three distinct ceramic ventures.

Of the many potteries in central New York which were producing gray stoneware crocks and jugs prior to and following the Civil War, one of the earliest, if not the first, was located in the town of Geddes, Onondaga County. It was owned and operated by William H. Farrar, who made not only gray stoneware but also a good quality of Rockingham and yellow ware. The town of Geddes, once part of Salina, was absorbed by the city of Syracuse, May 17, 1886. It lies on the bank of Onondaga Lake, a little north of the center of the county, bounded on the north by the Seneca River and on part of its eastern limit by Onondaga Creek. The soil is largely clay and sand. The town early became noted for its potteries, as well as for its large salt industry, begun by James Geddes in 1796.

According to the 1855 census of Geddes, William H. Farrar had then been living in the town for ten years. A descendant of the well-known Farrar family of potters in Vermont, he was a native Vermonter, born in 1812. His wife was Jane Smith, a Canadian. Several members of the Farrar family were living in Geddes in 1850, all in the pottery industry, and it is possible that they were associated with William H. Farrar. In the year 1852 Josiah Farrar and his wife Dorcas, William H. Farrar and his wife Jane, together conveyed a piece of property to J. Hansell. Joseph was probably a relative, perhaps a brother, of William, who was ten years his junior. As I fail to find any record of Josiah in the following census, I conclude that he did not remain for many years in Geddes.

One E. H. Farrar and his wife Sarah were also living in Geddes in 1850. He was listed as a potter. Other potters of the town in 1850 were Anthony Southers, maker of stoneware, born in Germany; William Williams, from Vermont; Morris A. Dickinson, from Vermont; Henry B. Harrington, age eighteen, native of New York state; William Sitz, native of Germany; John Hansell, stoneware potter, from France. These men, gathered in Geddes from distant lands, were all under thirty years old. Though William H. Farrar was a substantial stockholder of the United States Pottery Company of Bennington, Vermont, it is not known that he lived in Bennington for any length of time. Having left Vermont as a young man, he was attracted to Geddes by its abundant supply of clay suitable for stoneware manufacture. His first pottery was located on the corner of School and Furnace (now Fayette) Streets (Fig. 1). Its products were marked W. H. Farrar Geddes, N. Y. They included cats, dogs, lions, and other small objects used for ornaments, doorstops, and banks, as well as pie plates, bowls, pitchers, crocks, and many other necessities for the housewife (Fig. 2).

 

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The sign proclaims in large letters W. H. Farrar, Rockingham Pottery. Note the hound-handled pitcher and urn, reminiscent of Bennington forms, surmounting the ridgepole of the warehouse. This pottery was in operation from about 1845 to 1857.

 

In 1857 Farrar sold his works to Joseph Shephard, Junior, who continued to make crocks and jugs, and marked them Joseph Shepard Jr. Geddes, N. Y. At about the same time Farrar sold other property in Geddes, probably in an attempt to raise funds for his new pottery in the south and to recoup the loss on his investment in the rapidly failing Bennington works.

 

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Decorated in blue. The tulip was a favorite Farrar motive. The figures 5, 2, 3 on the receptacles indicate gallon capacity. The 3-gallon crock, marked W. H. Farrar Geddes, N. Y., is a product of the early pottery (1845 - 1857). The others, marked W. H. Farrar & Co. Geddes, N. Y. are from the 1870 pottery.

 

In the summer of 1856 Farrar organized the Southern Porcelain Company in Kaolin, South Carolina, investing heavily in the new venture. He took with him experienced workmen from the Bennington company, a mixer, a modeler, and others noted for their skill. He may also have taken some of his workmen from Geddes. The stock company included prominent men from South Carolina and Georgia, among them Alexander Stephens, who later became Vice President of the Confederacy. The products of this pottery were similar to the output of the Bennington company, though not so fine in quality. They included hard-paste porcelain; so called parian ware, some with a pitted blue background; a large quantity of Rockingham; and good common white and yellow ware. Some fine specimens have been found in the south and elsewhere. The company continued to manufacture during the Civil War, when one of its principal products was telegraph insulators of brown stoneware, which were sold to the Confederate Government. The Southern Porcelain Company's products were marked S. P. C., or S. P. Company, Kaolin, S. C. (Fig. 3). Sometimes these letters were impressed within a shield. Undoubtedly large quantities of the ware were unmarked.

 

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Rockingham glaze, decorated with an anchor on each side and a rope border at top and bottom. Marked on the base S. P. C. Made by the Southern Porcelain Company, Kaolin, South Carolina (1856 c. 1864).

 

Farrar encountered difficulties in launching his southern pottery. Eventually he sent for Decius W. Clark and Christopher Webber Fenton, of the Bennington company, to assist him with his problems. Clark took charge of the plant, and Farrar remained as general supervisor. For a time the enterprise ran quite successfully, but heavy overhead expenses forced the original plant to shut down in 1864 - 1865, when a new company was formed. An account of Farrar's southern pottery-making venture is given by John Spargo in Early American Pottery and China. Farrar's original idea, apparently, was to use only local clays, and to take advantage of a large local market. The local clays were inadequate, and most of the factory's output was inferior in quality. Advice of experienced potters failed to save the enterprise.

At the close of the Civil War we find W. H. Farrar back at his old home in Geddes. Recently I visited a gentleman in Geddes, eighty-three years of age, who clearly recalled Farrar as a well-built, stocky man of medium height. He remembered that Farrar returned to Geddes in 1865 and opened a grocery store, which he operated for a short time before organizing another pottery company. My informant brought forth a small Rockingham dog that had been made for him by Hartwell Farrar, who, according to my records, was the son of Josiah Farrar, thus possibly a nephew of William, though William's relation to Josiah is not clear.

It was in 1870 that Farrar again ventured into the pottery industry. In the Onondaga County directory for 1870 - 1871 I find his advertisement as follows:

 

CENTRAL CITY POTTERY, W. H. FARRAR & COMPANY, manufacturers of Flower, Garden, and Fancy Pots, Vases, etc. Works and office cor. Fayette and Geddes streete. Railroad runs within a few feet of the shop door. W. H. Farrar.

All communications addressed to Geddes (signed) Erastus Smart.

 

This Erastus Smart was a bookkeeper, no doubt associated with Farrar. The pottery employed few workmen, and seems to have been operated on a small scale. Its wares were marked W. H. Farrar & Co., sometimes with the added Geddes, N. Y. (Fig. 2).

Several years ago. In an antique shop, I saw a pair of brown earthenware dogs, ten and one half inches tall, with a brilliant brown glaze over a cream body (Fig. 4). Impressed in the base of one I found the name W. H. Farrar & Co. The owner called them Bennington dogs, and certainly they did resemble Bennington Rockingham. Sometime later I met these two dogs again and took the opportunity to acquire them. Since then, others have come my way. One is of a lighter brown color (Fig. 5); another is unusually dark. In all these dogs one of the front feet steps forward from the body, as in Staffordshire dogs. All seem to have been cast from the same mold. Recently I saw a pair of dogs of the same color, size, and shape, differing only in that the head, tail, and part of the body were decorated with a slaw or moss, such as was used on Bennington dogs; these were so similar to the Farrar dogs as to suggest that they may have been made at the Geddes pottery. Some of the Rockingham ware that I have found in Syracuse and vicinity may be from the Farrar pottery, but the only marked pieces are the dogs, jugs, and crocks.

 

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Mark W. H. Farrar & Co. impressed in base of one. Brilliant brown glaze over cream body. Probably products of Farrar's second Geddes pottery (after 1870). Height, 10 ½ inches.

 

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Unmarked, but similar in size and pose to Farrar item. Mottled glaze. Height, 10 ½ inches. The resemblance of these dogs to Rockingham glaze canines produced at Bennington is apparent.

 

Farrar operated his second pottery for only a short time, and subsequently a new company was formed. He died in 1876 at the age of sixty-four. A devoted churchman and public-spirited citizen, he was greatly respected by all who knew him.

Before the Farrar plant was closed, the proprietor had taken into partnership Charles Coykendall and H. M. Case. The works were operated as the Empire Pottery Company, and manufacture of "white ware" was undertaken, but without great success. The firm struggled along until a reorganization brought the Onondaga Pottery Company into being. This enterprise, still in existence, is now one of the leading potteries of the country, located on the very site of the first Farrar pottery. So William H. Farrar, pioneer potter of Geddes, paved the way for one of the leading industries of the city of Syracuse.

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Keywords:William H. Farrar : Southern Porcelain Company : Bennington Pottery : United States Pottery Company : Need Image
Researcher notes:The reader must take note that there are several errors in this document. Please refer to article 7533 for a more up to date, and more thoroughly researched article.
Supplemental information:Article: 7533
Researcher:Glenn Drummond
Date completed:July 14, 2007 by: Glenn Drummond;