Stoneware from Western NY

A Summary of research by John O’Brien

Updated 10/20/09

 

This paper is intended to unravel some of the mystery and questions one might have about the stoneware created in Western NY, specifically the stoneware made in Athens, Lyons, Mt. Morris, and Rochester. My intention is to reveal the close relationships between the various potters, their families, and workers. I also wish to reveal a timeline that will assist in dating pieces of stoneware that are marked with the maker’s name, explain some of the earlier uses of these wares, and tell a little about how it was made. I chose these certain Potteries because of my interest and proximity to them. This paper is not meant to diminish the importance of other Potteries in the region such as those found in Troy, Fort Edward, Penn Yan, Utica, Geddes, Cortland, and others.

 

The largest of all potteries in NYS with the greatest production and employment was the Athens Pottery, in the village of Athens, NY. So it makes sense that I start with this Pottery and the various branches of it that reached into Western NY. Nathan Clark, who began this pottery, had an older sister who married an Englishman named Thomas Howe. It was Howe that purchased the original property site for the Pottery and financed the operation. Nathan, who had just completed his apprenticeship at 18years of age was put in charge around 1805. This business, known at the time as “Howe & Clark” prospered until 1813 when Howe died and Nathan bought out his widowed sister’s half of the business. Nathan ran the business under the name of “N. Clark”. This business grew quite quickly and it wasn’t long before he was shipping his wares as far south as South Carolina and Georgia.

Around 1825 Nathan Clark formed a new company called “N. Clark & Company”. It was Nathan’s intention to expand the Pottery business into other parts of NYS where the pottery business could flourish. As a means to fund this expansion, Nathan sold half the interest in the Athens factory to Ethan Fox in 1829. Fox was related to Nathan’s wife. During this period, the Athens pottery was known as “Clark & Fox”. In 1838 Clark sold his remaining half of the Pottery  to Fox so he could concentrate on his branch Potteries. However, in 1843, Nathan Clark bought back the Athens’ Pottery from Fox and sold it the same day to his son, who operated the factory as “N Clark Jr.”. Nathan Clark Jr. ran the Pottery until 1892 when he sold it to Thomas Ryan. At this time, the pottery was identified as “Athens Pottery”. This continued until 1900 when the Pottery was closed for good. The rest of this document deals with the branches that Nathan Clark started.

 

Around 1822 Nathan Clark, along with an employee named George Williams who worked for Clark since 1813, formed a new company called “N. Clark & Company” It was the purpose of this new company to expand and create three new branches of the Athens Pottery in Western NY along the canals where the pottery business could flourish. These new Potteries would be located in Lyons, Mt. Morris, and Rochester.


 

LYONS: Around 1822, George Williams was to build and operate the Lyons Pottery in a location where the new Erie Canal was to open. The original pottery was situated on a farm land east of Phelps St. Later, the Pottery moved to a wide basin on the canal, south of Catherine and Spencer Streets between present day Canal St and Montezuma St. In the latter days, the Pottery was situated in what is now the Lyon’s Town Barn on Montezuma St. George Williams built the Lyons Pottery up to where it flourished, when in 1835 Williams left to build and manage a new branch in Mt. Morris. It was at this time that Thompson Harrington took over management of the Lyons Pottery but the name remained as “N. Clark & Company”. Between 1835 and 1852, Harrington would be allowed to occasionally mark a few pieces with his name. In 1852, Thompson and Amos Harrington brothers took control of the Clark Pottery Company in Lyons. A few years later, Amos fell ill and left the business but was replaced by a third brother. During this period, the wares were stamped “Harrington & Co”, “Harrington”, or “T. Harrington”. Thompson Harrington worked and managed both the Lyons and the Rochester Branch until 1872 when Thompson Harrington leased the Pottery to Jacob Fisher. Jacob immigrated from Germany in 1853 and married the daughter of John Burger Sr. who was operating the Rochester branch at the time. Fisher had worked for Burger at the Rochester branch since 1863. Fisher teamed up with George Lang, who was also a son-in-law of John Burger and was one of Burger’s partners in Rochester from 1871 to 1876. Even though George Lang was Fisher’s partner in the Lyons Pottery, Lang continued to reside in Rochester. During these years at the Lyons and Rochester Potteries, it was evident there were close family and employee relations. In 1878, Jacob Fisher bought the Lyons Pottery outright from Lang. Fisher’s daughter (Louise) and son assisted with the business affairs. It was during this time period that the business flourished like never before. Jacob Fisher had 2 of his own canal boats used to bring in clay from NJ and Long Island and Albany. These boats also delivered finished wares all along the canal. Wares were also distributed all over the northern counties of NYS bordering Lake Ontario from Syracuse to Buffalo by horse drawn wagons. The pottery grew in size and production during this time. Hundreds of pieces of stoneware could be seen stacked on the docks of the canal awaiting shipment. It was at this time that approximately 18 potters were spinning their wares. By 1896 the Fisher Pottery was the largest in the state. Around 1902, Jacob Fisher retired and decided to close the pottery because of increased competition from molded clay vessels being manufactured and distributed from Ohio. The crocks and jugs being mass produced in Ohio were attractive, cheaper, and could be produced 10 times faster than the hand made potters could produce. This was the downfall of all the Potteries in Western NY. Once Jacob Fisher closed the factory, some of the men who worked there decided to give it one last attempt. They re-opened the factory a few hundred yards down the road in what is now the Lyons Town Barn, and started to turn out stoneware. This business was called the “Co-Operative Pottery Co.”. This noble effort didn’t last very long. A few years later, after a fire destroyed a portion of the Pottery, the company closed it’s doors.


Mt. Morris – In 1835, George Williams left the Lyons branch to build and manage the Mt. Morris Pottery. This operation was substantially smaller than the Lyons operation. However, in keeping with the Clark tradition, this Pottery also employed it’s own boats to move the Pottery throughout the state. This Pottery did not flourish like the Lyons and Rochester branches, and around 1850 had closed up.

 

Rochester – Around 1838, Nathan Clark established a third branch in Rochester. This Pottery was also known as “Clark & Co.” until 1846 when it became the same name as the other branches, “N. Clark & Co.”. John Burger, who worked under Harrington in the Lyons Pottery, was named manager in 1841. It was always the policy of Clark that the most “skillful” potters would be set up in business for themselves. So it came to be that John Burger managed the Rochester Pottery much in the same manner of the Lyons Factory. In 1852, John Burger teamed up with Thompson Harrington and bought up Nathan Clark’s shares of the business

John Burger
John Burger Jr.

and operated this Pottery together under the name of “Harrington and Burger”. In 1854, John Burger became the sole owner and marked his wares as “John Burger”. It was in 1861 that Burger’s son, John Burger Jr. joined the business as a potter. In 1867, the business was re-organized as “Burger Bros. & Co.” which included John Jr.'s brother George. This lasted 4 years when George Lang (from the Lyons factory) entered the Rochester business. So in 1871 the factory started marking their wares as “Burger & Lang” as well as “Burger & Co.”. In 1878, John Burger Jr. assumed full control and stamped his wares as “J. Burger Jr.”. The Pottery operated under this name until 1890 when John Burger Jr. retired and closed the factory.

 

Making the Pottery:

The exterior of the vessels is called the “salt glaze” while the brown interior is called “slip”. If the clay is of the brown type, this would be called “Albany Slip”, as the clay typically would be shipped in from Albany, NY. When the kiln gets hot enough, salt was thrown on the fire. The heavy fumes from the salt would coat the wares creating a smooth glaze on the outside and inside. Sometimes, when the salt was thrown into a hickory wood fired kiln, it would stir up the ashes and some of the ash would get applied to the glaze. This would result in what appears as “specks”. The earlier hickory fired kilns were replaced with coal-fired kilns that resulted in a smoother more even finish. Often times, if there were tiny pebbles in the clay, they would heat up in the kiln and pop out. This was somewhat common and is known as a “stone ping”. This is not a defect when seen on stoneware, just a circumstance that occurs during the making. The same is true for “stack marks”. Often the vessels would be stacked on top of each other or too close to each other resulting in what is known as a stack mark. Although not as desirable as a piece without these marks, this is also not a defect. The blue decoration is a diluted solution of clay and cobalt blue coloring. It was applied either with a brush, quill, or by “squeezing” it on. This blue addition to the wears was a means to identify the maker, identify the vessel’s capacity, and to add decoration. When the Harrington brothers ran the Burger pottery, they created the most elaborate and beautiful decorations of all. The best color was created by the hickory-fired kilns that darkened the cobalt blue.


The Everyday Uses of the Stoneware:

Every home had it’s vinegar jar, yeast jug, syrup jug, and molasses jug. It was a matter of fact that the molasses jug was always the darkest jug of all, most likely for identification purposes. There was a jug for water, cider, and of course, whiskey. The earliest jugs were made in the ovoid shape. Later forms were straight sided. Crocks were used for storage. An average farm would typically have 15 to 20 different sized crocks around. They would be used to put up butter, lard, pickles, and preserved eggs. They would also store bread, donuts, and cookies in them. The 2 gallon and larger crocks with lids (that we currently call preserve jars) were called cookie jars. The smaller preserve jars were used to preserve jams and fruits. It was not uncommon for a home to have a dozen or two of these jars. Batter pitchers were quite common and every home had one. Pancake batter was made and kept in them near the fire to rise. The batter then could easily be poured directly on the skillet. Typically these batter jugs would have tin lids over the spout and mouth. Every table had a stoneware pitcher for milk, cream, water or other essential liquids. Larger 20 gallon crocks were used to keep salt pork, corned beef, pickles, and kraut. These vessels were too large to spin in one piece, so they were made in sections and later put together. “Crocks” is a modern day term used to describe what they referred to in the day as pots, cream pots, butter pots, or cake pots. The earliest forms were semi- ovoid shaped. Later, after 1850, the crocks were made with straight sides. They were also sometimes made with covers to fit from ¼ gallon to 8 gallons. The very largest, from 30 to 50 gallons were not made in NYS but were brought in from out of the area.


 

TIMELINE:

Exact dates are found to be somewhat conflicting however the following timeline is generally correct.

 

LOCATION
POTTER
PERIOD
MARK(S)
Athens
Nathan Clark 
1813-1825
N. Clark
Athens
Nathan Clark
1825-1829
N. Clark & Company
Athens
Nathan Clark & Fox
1829-1838
Clark & Fox/ATHENS
Athens
Fox
1838-1843
E. S. Fox
Athens
Nathan Clark Jr.
1843-1892
N. Clark Jr.
Athens
Thomas Ryan
 1892-1900
Athens Pottery
Lyons
Nathan Clark & George Williams
1822-1852
CLARK & CO/LYONS
Lyons
Nathan Clark & George Williams
1822-1852
 N. CLARK & CO/LYONS
Lyons
Nathan Clark & George Williams
1822-1852
G.G. WILLIAMS/LYONS, N.Y
Lyons
Thompson Harrington
1852-1872
HARRINGTON/LYON
Lyons
Thompson Harrington
1852-1872
T. HARRINGTON/LYONS
Lyons
Thompson Harrington
1852-1872
HARRINGTON/LYONS N.Y
Lyons
Thompson Harrington
1852-1872
 HARRINGTON & CO./LYONS
Lyons
Thompson Harrington
1852-1872
T. HARRINGTON & CO./LYONS
Lyons
Jacob Fisher & George Lang
1872-1878
J. FISHER & CO/LYONS, N.Y.
Lyons
Jacob Fisher
1878-1902
J. FISHER/LYONS, N.Y.
Lyons
Lyons Cooperative Pottery Company
1902-1905
CO-OPERATIVE POTTERY CO./LYONS, N.Y.
Lyons
Lyons Cooperative Pottery Company
1902-1905
LYONS CO-OPERATIVE/POTTERY CO./LYONS, N.Y.
Lyons
Probably marked by an apprentice
1822-1905
LYONS
Mount Morris
George Williams
1835-1850
N. Clark & Co./Mt. Morris, N.Y.
Rochester
Nathan Clark & George Williams
1838-1846
CLARK & CO./ROCHESTER
Rochester
George Williams & John Burger
1841-1852
N. CLARK & CO/ROCHESTER NY
Rochester
John Burger & Thompson Harrington
1852-1854
 HARRINGTON & BURGER
Rochester
John Burger 
1867-1871
JOHN BURGER
Rochester
John Burger,  John Burger Jr.,
George Burger
1871-1878
BURGER BROS & CO.
Rochester
John Burger,  John Burger Jr.,
George Burger
, George Lang
1871-1878
BURGER & LANG
Rochester
John Burger,  John Burger Jr.,
George Burger
, George Lang
1871-1878
BURGER & CO.
Rochester
John Burger Jr.
1878-1890
J. BURGER JR.

 

 

References:

“Many Worthy Young Men” part 1 & 2,  article in “The Spinning Wheel” magazine, Nov, Dec 1971 issue

 

“Lyons Pottery” – paper delivered by Anna Avery at the Lyons Civic Club about 1950.

 

“Potters and Potteries of New York State, 1650-1900”, 2nd Edition, William Ketchum, Jr.

Photos of John Burger and John Burger Jr. posted with permission: © 2009 W. J. Burger. All Rights Reserved.


This site created by the GraphicElements division of O'Brien Enterprises.
All Rights Reserved, © O'Brien Enterprises, 2014.
Review our Mission Statement and our Shop Policies prior to purchasing.
Send your Feedback to the WebMaster.