The stoneware of Thomas Commeraw, made in Corlears Hook, on the East River in New York City, has been valued by historians and collectors for about as long as any stoneware made in the United States. The work of the early Manhattan potters was some of the first to be recognized as important American material culture, way back around the turn of the twentieth century. At that time, authors and students had it pretty easy–a lot of the potters we now write about and spend a great deal of time trying to research were actually alive back then. But the work of the Croliuses, the Remmeys, Thomas Commeraw, and David Morgan in New York all caught the eye of people interested in decorative arts, early on. A lot has been written about their work, and about the men themselves. One of my favorite books on American stoneware, William Ketchum’s Potters and Potteries of New York State, 1650-1900, has been the definitive work on the Manhattan potters, and the entirety of what we have known about Thomas Commeraw, in particular, is encompassed in that work. Not at all a criticism of Ketchum and his near-exhaustive work, but there was something he and the scores of other authors who have written about Commeraw missed.
Thomas Commeraw was not another potter of European descent working beside the Croliuses and Remmeys. He was a free African American. I discovered this fact some time ago by chance and at the time I was so shocked by this revelation that I wondered if there were two different Thomas Commeraws running around Manhattan during the time period. But there were not, and since then I have spent a lot of time trying to flesh out the life of this man whom history forgot. I believe Commeraw’s story demands nothing less than a book on his life and work, and I will be finished writing this book soon. I have launched a website, www.commeraw.com, to keep those interested in my project updated on its progress, and to enable people to easily contact me. At this time, I am asking for your help. I have many photographs of Commeraw’s work, but I am trying to amass as large of a photographic record of his pottery as possible. I am also looking for pieces by David Morgan, his fellow potter in Corlears Hook, and the fairly well-known pieces stamped “COERLEARS HOOK” and incised with elaborate floral decorations. In many cases I can travel to you, and in some cases I will ask for you to mail or email me photos. If you attend our regular auctions in York, Pennsylvania, or would like to in the future, I can have your pieces photographed conveniently there, as well. I of course promise complete discretion and anonymity. If you are interested in helping me by providing photographs, please feel free to contact me: http://www.commeraw.com/contact.
I invite you to visit my website, www.commeraw.com, and thank you in advance for your interest and for helping me restore Commeraw’s deserved place in American history.