Fascination With Oriental Techniques
Give Rise to Dedham Pottery
The influence of England, the Orient and the United States are combined in Dedham Pottery, an extensive assortment of dinnerware and related items that were produced from 1891 until 1943. The distinctive gray/white crackle finish pieces, decorated with blue framing of a wide variety of animals, plants and other common items, have become highly collectible today.
Hugh Cornwall Robertson was born to an English potting family in Durham County, England, in 1844. His father, James, came to the United States in 1853, first to New Jersey and then to East Boston, Massachusetts.
James became a principal, with Nathaniel Plympton, in Plympton and Robertson Pottery. Hugh joined his brother, Alexander, in a Chelsea Pottery company in 1867, and the two joined their father five years later. The relationship continued until the death of his father, when Hugh became the master potter and his brother moved California.
The desire to duplicate the techniques of crackle finish in Oriental pottery, which had been lost for generations, took hold of Hugh, and by 1885 he had achieved an oxblood glaze and by 1886 a gray/white glaze. The latter, complete with its famous “craquel” finish, would become the popular Dedham Pottery.
Although his preoccupation with glaze experiments caused the company to fail in 1889, it was soon resurrected as the Chelsea Pottery in 1891 with the assistance of a group of Bostonians. His new backers, although encouraging efforts to produce high-quality artwork, pressed him to also produce a more marketable product. With his son, William, who had joined the firm, Hugh returned to his kiln to perfect the gray/white crackle glaze, and began applying it to flat pieces.
In order to enhance the product, a blue decoration was added, repeated around the outside edge. The first decoration was that of a rabbit and was designed for the company by Joseph Linder Smith, the director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and his wife, Alice.
The rabbit originally was repeated counter-clockwise on the border of a plate, with the pattern facing left. Decorating in that direction proved difficult, so Charles Mills, who was in charge of the decorating, changed the pattern to face to the right.
Because the production of the first rabbit plates was limited and not many have survived, the reverse rabbit pattern is the rarest of the Dedhamware. The first pieces were also made from moulds that allowed rabbits to be raised. This made it easier for the painting to be done more accurately. The moulds were later ground flat, when the decorators got more proficient. All designs were free hand.
The name of the pottery was changed to Dedham when the company moved to that city to be nearer the type of clay used in production of their ware. A further reason for the change was to avoid confusion with the Chelsea potteries of England.
Eventually, there were 50-60 different patterns and a wide variety of items in the tableware line. Approximately 250,000 pieces were produced before the pottery was closed in 1943. Among the most popular patterns were the rabbit, duck, grape, azalea, magnolia, horse chestnut, polar bear, iris, water lily, butterfly, turkey, snow tree and clover. Many other patterns were special orders.
The most desirable to find are the rabbit, duck, turkey and polar bear, although a collector that finds any piece within his budget should not pass up the find.
Because the pottery pieces were sold in both perfect and imperfect shape, the condition and crackling affect the value.
Hugh Robertson died in 1908, a victim, it is said, of the lead used to fire his oxblood glaze vases. His son, William, took over management until his death in 1929, and William’s son, J. Milton, continued with the company until he closed it in 1943. It closed due to rising costs and a shortage of skilled labor.
The markings on Dedhamware give an accurate means of dating. CPUS (Chelsea Pottery, U.S.) in a clover leaf was impressed from 1891 until 1895. In 1895, a rabbit was impressed. The blue imprinted mark was adopted 1896. The word “registered” was added in 1929.
A special mark was used during 1936 to commemorate the town’s tercentenary celebration.
Two decorators were the only ones to sign their pieces. Hugh used a small square or his initials, HCR, to mark his, and Maud Davenport, who was with the pottery from 1904 to 1929, hid a small “o” in the design.
Reproductions are currently being made, but they are easily recognizable. They are ceramic rather than stoneware, and include a star as a mark.
Dedham pottery is not something you'll find every day in the Pacific Northwest, but the internet now makes it somewhat more available to collectors.
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Londoner Tries Hand At Own
A very short-lived pottery existing in Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1883 to 1885 was the Matt Morgan Art Pottery. The output of Morgan’s pottery was similar to what would also be produced in the 1880s by the Rookwood Pottery – which is not surprising, since some of Rookwood’s artists, such as Matt Daly, also worked for Morgan. The pottery was marked on the bottom with the Matt Morgan name, sometimes with and sometimes without the inclusion of Cincinnati in the name. There may also be artist monograms, including those of Matt Daly, N.J. Hirschfeld, and William P McDonald.
Morgan, born in London, had a varied career before eventually coming to the United States. He was a scene painter for stage productions, including opera, and a correspondent for several different newspapers. He was the editor and artist in London for a publication called the Tomahawk, which printed, primarily, cartoons of the British royal family. At some point before coming to America, Morgan had spent some time in Spain in the pottery business. In 1880, he moved to Cincinnati to manage a lithography company.
When Morgan’s company incorporated, and the stockholders tried to put it on a commercial basis, it folded, and Matt Morgan became an art director for a lithography firm.
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