During the 1980 excavation done prior to the construction of Baltimore’s Federal Reserve Bank, archaeologists removed the contents of numerous mid- to late nineteenth-century wells and privies from a neighborhood that served as home to first and second generation European immigrants. One of these privies had become the final resting place for a magnificent example of Baltimore’s nineteenth-century pottery industry. This Rockingham pitcher, molded in a detailed hunting scene depicting hounds attacking a stag and a boar, was manufactured around 1855 by E. and W. Bennett of Baltimore (Claney 2004). The Bennett firm, in production between 1846 and 1936, was one of the best known North American manufacturers of Rockingham glazed wares (Ketchum 1987:21). This firm’s wares are prized by collectors today for their finely detailed molded patterns, as well as quality of their mottled glazing (Brooks 2005).
There had long been a tradition of coarse earthenware production in the American colonies; almost from the earliest years of settlement, skilled potters produced a variety of common vessels for the preparation and storage of food. Baltimore was no exception, with a number of coarse earthenware and stoneware potters operating in the city, beginning in the eighteenth century. By 1812, the city had at least three stoneware manufacturers, as well as a number of potters who produced lead glazed red earthenware (Myers 1984:64). An 1833 directory of the city listed eight potteries (Varle 1833:164). With a population of over 102,000 by the late 1830s, Baltimore was the second largest city in the United States and, as such, offered a sizable market for ceramics.
The demand in the United States for refined earthenware and stoneware ceramics suitable for fine dining was easily met by manufacturers working in the Staffordshire District of England. Over time, the availability and decreasing costs of these wares began to hasten the demise of redware potters in the United States (Myers 1984:51). In 1820, Baltimore potters commented on the problems that English competition was causing (Bureau of Census 1820).
North American production of refined wares began with fledgling steps in Philadelphia and in North and South Carolina in last quarter of the eighteenth century, but it was not until the following century that the industry really took hold in the United States. The large amounts of initial capital required and the need for a highly skilled labor force helped delay the US establishment of refined ceramics manufactories (Myers 1977). But, beginning in the nineteenth century, a number of factors coalesced to create conditions conducive for the industry to burgeon. Suitable North American clay deposits were discovered and technological advancements in transportation allowed these raw materials to be easily transported to centers of production. The growing population of American consumers increased demand for ceramics. And, perhaps most importantly, deteriorating working conditions in England sparked the emigration of skilled pottery workers to this country beginning in the 1840s (Goody 2003:3).
Edwin Bennett was one of these Staffordshire potters who decided to take his chances in the United States (Goody 2003). He settled first in East Liverpool, Ohio, but moved to Baltimore in the mid 1840s and began the E. & W. Bennett Pottery in partnership with his brother William (Goldberg 2003:30). Bennett’s firm produced a wide variety of wares, both fancy and utilitarian, and his experimentation with clay pastes and glazes led him to be considered an innovator in his field. Edwin Bennett asserted that he designed the iconic “Rebekah at the Well” teapot—the longest and best selling Rockingham pattern in history—although this claim has since been challenged (Claney 2004:8; Goldberg 2003:31).
The success of the Bennett firm allowed it to purchase and merge with a number of other smaller potteries over the second half of the nineteenth century. Along with its subsidiaries, the Bennett pottery became one of the largest United States suppliers of hotel china, roofing tiles and public restroom fixtures (Bennett Pottery Company Records).
While Baltimore was eclipsed by East Liverpool, Ohio and Trenton, New Jersey as centers for pottery production, Bennett was not the only manufacturer of fine pottery in the city. The Chesapeake Pottery Company and the Maryland Queensware Company produced white bodied tablewares in the early 1880s. Bennett’s contemporaries in Baltimore also included David Haynes, who purchased the one-kiln operation known as the Chesapeake Pottery around 1882, renaming it the D. F. Haynes & Company. Haynes’ firm specialized in artistic wares and Victorian majolica, and soon became one of the most commercially successful art potteries on the east coast, winning awards at the 1904 Saint Louis World Fair (Venable et al. 2000:422; Burke et al. 1986). Financial difficulties necessitated the 1887 sale of the firm to Edwin Bennett, leading three years later to a partnership known as Haynes, Bennett and Company (Burke et al. 1986). Other firms in Baltimore continued to make household redwares and stonewares, with some manufactories, such as that of Maulden Perine, branching out into industrial stonewares (Myers 1984). The twentieth century, with its two world wars and the Great Depression, was not kind to the Baltimore pottery industry. Bennett’s firm closed in 1936 and a quick online search for pottery manufacturers in Baltimore yielded only “paint your own” pottery businesses.
Bennett Pottery Company Records
Bennett Pottery Company Records, 1844-1881. Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Finding Aid, http://sisis-archives.si.edu.
2005 The Story of Baltimore Pottery. Chesapeake Home. http://www.chesapeakehome.com/2005/08/11/collecting-antique-local-pottery/ Website accessed 12-5-2011.
Bureau of Census
1820 Record of the 1820 Census of Manufactures, Schedules for Maryland. United States Bureau of the Census. Record Group 29, National Archives, Washington, DC.
Burke, Doreen B., Jonathan Freedman, Alice C. Frelinghuysen, David A. Hanks, Marilynn Johnson, James D. Kornwolf, Catherine Lynn, Roger B. Stein, Jennifer Toher and Catherine H. Voorsanger
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Claney, Jane Perkins
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2003 Highlights in the Development of the Rockingham and Yellow Ware Industry in the United States—A Brief Review with Representative Examples. In Ceramics in America 2003, edited by Robert Hunter. University Press of New England, Hanover, pp. 26-46.
2003 “Our Home in the West”: Staffordshire Potters and Their Emigration to America in the 1840s. Ceramics in America 2003. Edited by Robert Hunter, University Press of New England, Hanover. pp. 1-25.
Ketchum, William C., Jr.
1987 American Country Pottery; Yellowware & Spongeware. Alfred Knopf, NY.
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1984 Marketing American Pottery: Maulden Perine in Baltimore. Winterthur Portfolio Volume 19(1):51-66.
1833 A Complete View of Baltimore; With a Statistical Sketch. Published by Samuel Young, Baltimore.
Venable, Charles L., Ellen P. Denker, Katherine C. Grier and Stephen Harrison
2000 China and Glass in America, 1880-1980; From Tabletop to TV Tray. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.