The United States Pottery Company

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States

New York, NY, United States
p. 165-176


THE UNITED STATES POTTERY, BENNINGTON, VT.

 

Messrs. Christopher Weber Fenton, Henry D. Hall, and Julius Norton commenced making yellow, white, and Rockingham wares at Bennington, Vt., about the year 1846, in the north wing of the old stoneware shop (which had been erected in 1843 by the Norton family), operated by Messrs. Norton and Fenton. The new firm brought from England one John Harrison, who did their first modelling. Mr. Hall did not remain long in the company and after he and Mr. Norton withdrew, the style was changed to Lyman & Fenton, by the admission to the firm of Mr. Alanson Potter Lyman, a prominent practising attorney of Bennington, and shortly after to Lyman, Fenton, & Park. Rockingham, yellow, and white wares continued to be made and some creditable work in parian was turned out.

In 1849 Mr. Anson Peeler, a master carpenter, was engaged to erect suitable buildings for the company. The new quarters were finished in this year and the factory became known as the United States Pottery. Mr. Fenton took out a patent about the same time for the coloring of glazes for pottery. The manufacture of "Patent Flint Enameled Ware" (which was a fine quality of Rockingham, somewhat analogous to our modern so-called majolica) was added, white granite ware was made extensively, and soft-paste porcelain was produced in a small way. Artists were procured from abroad to decorate the ware, among whom was Mr. Theophile Fry, a skillful painter, who is believed to have come from Belgium or France. Mr. Daniel Greatbach, who belonged to a family of prominent English artists, went from the Jersey City Pottery and modelled some of their best pieces. The trade-mark adopted and used to a limited extent on parian pieces was a raised scroll or ribbon with the letters U. S. P. impressed, and a number indicating the pattern. This ware was decorated with raised figures in white, sometimes on a blue ground. Pieces were also frequently made after English designs. An example of this style is a graceful parian pitcher belonging to the writer, which is embellished with raised foliage and human figures on a "pitted" dark-blue ground. This is an enlarged reproduction of a syrup jug from the Dale Hall Works, England. Pieces with similar decoration are owned by Mr. G. B. Sibley, of Bennington. Mr. L. W. Clark, of the New England Pottery Co., who, when a young man, was connected with the United States Pottery, while his father, Mr. Decius W. Clark, was superintendent of the works, informs me that the "pitting" on the grounds of such pieces is done in the model with a single pointed tool, only one indentation being made at a stroke. The pit marks are made close together, covering the parts to be colored, which presents the appearance of a thimble surface. A mould made from the pitted model, of course, carries the reverse impressions, or points. The rough or pointed surface of the interior of the mould is covered with a blue slip by means of a camel's-hair brush. Then the mould is set up and white slip poured in, as is usual in casting. The white slip attracts the blue and takes it from the slip-painted sides of the mould. A group of Bennington blue and white parian is here figured, consisting of pitchers, a vase, and cane handle (Ill. 71). The blue ground varies in different pieces from a light to a dark shade, the raised decorations being pure white. The uncolored parians were generally of a grayish white color and more refined and marble-like in tone than those with blue ground. A group is shown in Illustration 72.

Parian pitchers were usually glazed inside, while many, particularly the blue and white, were finished outside with a " smear" glaze, produced by coating the interior of the seggar, in which they were burned, with glaze, which, under the fire, vaporizes and imparts to the ware a glossy surface. Small parian and porcelain statuettes, designed for mantel ornaments, were also made to some extent. Toilet-sets, pitchers, door plates, escutcheons, and other pieces, in white granite and porcelain, were often decorated with gold and colored designs, and with the names of customers or recipients. The group of white granite ware shown (Ill. 73) consists of a cow-creamer with gold decoration, swan mantel ornament with base edged with blue under the glaze, and water-pitcher with dark blue under-glaze and heavy gold decorations. The latter bears the date February 28, 1858, and was one of the last pieces made at this factory. The large ornamental figure represents a girl at prayer. Mr. Charles R. Sanford of Bennington Centre was at one time connected with the U. S. Pottery, and he has preserved a number of interesting pieces made there, including two dogs of parian, several pitchers, and a Rockingham figure of a deer.

In 1851, or the year following, Mr. Fenton had a large monumental piece made, ten feet in height (see Illustration 74), in four sections, the lower, or base, being composed of several varieties of clay, mixed together to produce the appearance of unpolished, variegated marble. This represented the "lava ware" made at that time. The second section was made of pottery, covered with colored glaze, and represented the "Flint Enameled Ware." Above this was a life-sized parian bust of Mr. Fenton, surrounded by eight Rockingham columns, and the whole was surmounted by a parian figure of a woman, represented in the act of presenting the Bible to an infant. This work is said to have been designed by Mr. Fenton, but modelled by Greatbach, and was placed on exhibition at the New York Crystal Palace in 1853. It now stands on the porch of Mr. Fenton's former residence in Bennington, a monument to his enterprise and genius. I am informed by Mr. L. W. Clark that several duplicates of this monument were made, as it was at first the intention of Mr. Fenton to utilize them as stoves, but the idea was afterwards abandoned.

By quoting from Horace Greeley's Art and Industry at the Crystal Palace, New York, we are enabled to gain an excellent idea of the various wares produced at the Bennington factory at that time. He says: "Around this monument are displayed table and scale standards, Corinthian capitals, figures, vases, urns, toilet-sets, and a great variety of other specimens in porcelain, plain and inlaid. The pitchers in porcelain are deserving of notice, as a branch of natural industry; though not decorated beyond a gilt molding, and, therefore, not attractive as china, yet they possess the first elements of good ware that is, an uniform body without any waving, and of well-mixed and fine materials. . . . The superiority of the Flint Enamel Ware over the English consists in the addition of silica combined with kaolin, or clay from Vermont, which, when in properly adjusted proportions, produces an article possessing great strength, and is perfectly fireproof. Telegraph insulators in white flint are on exhibition; this material being one of the best electric nonconductors that can be found. Various forms of insulators are in the collection. This ware has been employed on the telegraphs in the vicinity of Boston. Among these specimens is a patented form, recommended by Mr. Batchelder, which has a shoulder with a re-entering angle of forty-five degrees; this angle causes the wind and rain to pass downward, and prevents the inside of the insulator from being wet. This enamel ware comprises a variety of assorted articles, candlesticks, pitchers, spittoons, picture-frames, tea-pots, etc. This ware has become a favorite article in New England; and possesses much merit as cottage furniture. The lava ware is a combination of clays from Vermont, New Jersey, Carolina, etc.; composed of silica and feldspar, intermixed with the oxydes of iron, manganese and cobalt. It is the strongest ware made from pottery materials ; the glaze upon this lava ware and upon the flint ware is chiefly flint and feldspar, and has, therefore, to be subjected to such an intense heat to fuse it, as would destroy the glaze upon common crockery. The colors upon the flint ware are produced by different metallic oxydes applied on the glaze, which latter serves as a medium to float them about upon the surface, while in a state of fusion, thus producing the variegated tints.

"The Parian ware of this Company is remarkably fine, especially in the form of pitchers. They are light in material, of graceful outline, and of two tints one fawn-colored, from the presence of a little oxyde of iron, and the other white, from its absence. To us the former appears the more pleasing to the eye. These are made of the flint from Vermont and Massachusetts, the feldspar from New Hampshire, and the china clays from Vermont and South Carolina. This Company has the credit of first producing Parian ware on this continent."

Some of the specimens of the above described exhibit are figured in Silliman and Goodrich's New York Exhibition of 1853, published by George P. Putnam. Here may be seen illustrations of examples of flint enamelled and parian pitchers and a water-cooler made by the United States Pottery Company. Another design peculiar to the Bennington factory was a large water-pitcher intended to represent a waterfall, with rocks in front and water overflowing the mouth and falling in volumes down the sides, in relief.

In 1853 the works were enlarged and six kilns of improved construction were erected. The main building of the new plant was one hundred and sixty feet long ; water power was used for grinding and preparing the materials, and one hundred hands were employed in the various branches of the business. At this time the selling headquarters of the establishment were in Boston. Mr. G. B. Sibley and Dr. S. R. Wilcox, of Bennington, both of whom learned the " presser's " trade at the United States Pottery, have kindly placed at my disposal a choice series of pieces made there, a number of which are represented in these illustrations. Examples of flint enamelled ware. with mottled or variegated glaze, include a picture frame, lion, hot-water bottle in form of a book, candlestick, and goblet vase. The stamp used occasionally on this ware was "Lyman, Fenton & Co., Fenton's Enamel, Patented 1849, Bennington," arranged in a large ellipse. A curious old Toby jug, of flint enamelled ware, with handle in form of a human leg and foot, has been deposited in the collection of the Pennsylvania Museum of Art by Miss Hannah A. Zell.

In the Trumbull-Prime collection, now on exhibition at Princeton College, may be seen a number of Bennington pieces, including two lions in flint enamelled glaze, a reclining cow, book flask, and pair of candlesticks in Rockingham, and a flattened parian vase, of old French or German form, with blue pitted ground, and white modelled bunches of grapes in high relief and handles formed of series of grape leaves.

"Scrodled" ware was made to some extent at the United States Pottery, being what Mr. Greeley calls "lava ware," as shown in the Fenton monument. This was produced by combining different colored bodies, mixed with layers of white clay by partial "wedging." A bowl and pitcher of this ware, with impressed mark, "United States Pottery Co., Bennington, Vt.," in an ellipse, is owned by Rev. F. E. Snow, of Guilford, Conn.

Captain Enoch Wood, of South Norwalk, Conn., who was connected with the Lyman and Fenton works in 1850, states that John Lee and Enoch Barber at that time were mould-makers, and that Enoch and Thomas Moore, William and Charles Leek, John Coughclough, Stephen Pies, and Joseph Lawton worked there. Enoch Barber afterwards was a mould-maker at Kaolin, South Carolina. Most of these are now dead.

The Bennington factory was closed in 1858, and in the following year Mr. Fenton moved to Peoria, 111., where, in connection with his former superintendent, Mr. Decius W. Clark, he established a pottery for the manufacture of Rockingham, yellow, and white wares. Mr. Fenton was born in Dorset, Vermont, and learned his trade there at a common red-ware pottery. After a career of over thirty years as one of the foremost practical potters in the United States, he died at Joliet, 111., on November 7, 1865, at the age of fifty-nine. The United States Pottery buildings were torn down in 1870. Mr. Lyman died on May 2, 1883, in his seventy-seventh year.

I have recently seen two white parian pitchers bearing the mark "Fenton's Works; Bennington, Vermont." We have no knowledge that Mr. Fenton was at any time sole proprietor of the works which afterward became the United States Pottery, though he may have been alone for a short time previous to his partnership with Mr. Lyman. It is possible that this stamp was used by him in some of his previous operations, and that inadvertently, or for some special purpose, it was placed on a few of the pieces made during his connection with the United States Pottery. One of the pitchers so stamped is owned by Mr. G. B. Sibley, and the other is now in the collection of the Pennsylvania Museum of Art. They are the first two shown in Illustration 72.

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Keywords:Bennington Pottery : United States Pottery Company : Elliott : Batchelder
Researcher notes:Book author was Edwin Atlee Barber, 2nd edition. Book illustrations show various pottery - no insulators.
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:October 7, 2008 by: Elton Gish;