A rare Ohio redware jar will be sold in our April 10 auction. Consigned by a woman in Ohio, the 8 1/2″ ovoid-formed pot features a rounded foot, heavy tooling around the shoulder, and an unusually-shaped flaring rim. The surface is covered in a reddish-brown lead and manganese glaze, typical of most redware produced in America throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries. Most significant about the jar is the large impressed maker’s mark, “J M T & CO / LONDON,” which extends across the midsection.
The initials “J M T” refer to potter, James M. Thompson, Jr., of London, Ohio. Born in 1786, Thompson was the younger brother of John W. Thompson, patriarch of the Thompson family of potters active in Morgantown, WV for most of the 19th century. James’ nephew, and perhaps the most well-known member of the family, was David Greenland Thompson, who produced a large number of stoneware pieces with cobalt people decorations around the year 1870, which are highly prized by collectors today. Much of what is known about James can be found in the well-researched article “The Potters and Pottery of Morgan’s Town, Virginia,” by Don Horvath and Richard Duez, featured in the 2004 edition of Ceramics in America. According to Horvath and Duez, Thompson likely learned the potting trade from Jacob Foulk in Morgantown around 1804. Though no apprenticeship records have been found, Thompson’s involvement in a court case against Foulk suggest a relationship between the two (Horvath and Duez, p. 121). Another book entitled “The History of Madison County, Ohio,” which was written in 1883, offers additional insight into Thompson’s potting career. According to this book, he traveled to London, Ohio in 1813, and established a pottery there in the same year. He was one of the first settlers in the town of London, and, judging by the early date of his arrival, may have been one of the earliest potters in all of Western Ohio. A lawyer named John Dungan, who traveled through London in 1835, described the town as having “two potteries. . . one located on South Main street, in the rear of the present residence of Judge Clark, carried on by James M. Thompson, and the other located on the site of the Presbyterian Church carried on by W.W. Burchnell.” (A signed redware jar by William Burchnell exhibiting Morgantown influence was sold by Crocker Farm, Inc., in July of 2009.) As further noted by Horvath and Duez, Thompson is listed in the 1850 U.S. Census for Mt. Pleasant Township, Madison County, Ohio, as a potter, age sixty-four, born in Virginia, living with his wife, Sarah, also a native Virginian ( Horvath and Duez, p. 121).
While Thompson’s career in Ohio spanned forty years or more, Horvath and Duez note that no examples of his work from Morgantown or London were known as of the publication of their article. This jar is the first signed product of this potter to have surfaced. Earlier this year, we received photos from a woman in Ohio, who inquired about consigning the jar. We were instantly intrigued by the impressed word “LONDON,” after having sold a jar by potter, William Burchnell, from the same town. We believe the ovoid form and stylish rim date it to somewhere around the year 1830. The impression of the mark across the midsection is unusual for any early American pottery, and suggests that Thompson wanted his business name to be very noticeable, literally “front and center” when his pots were used. The length of the mark also suggests he may have used a coggle wheel, rather than a very long rectangular stamp, which would be more difficult to apply against a heavily-curved surface. The Morgantown Thompsons were very familiar with such tools, where they were frequently used on both stoneware and redware to ornament a vessel’s shoulder and handles. Several coggle wheels from the Thompson family’s Morgantown operation have survived, and are currently in the collection of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
New discoveries in stoneware and redware are one of the more exciting parts of this business. With each newly-found maker’s mark comes greater insight into the tastes of a specific potter. And as with any antique, just one signed “missing link” piece can help put a name on thousands of otherwise unattributable works.
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