MOORE & FOOTE, Detroit, Michigan, Stoneware Jar

The “MOORE & FOOTE” crock to be sold in our upcoming July 17 stoneware and redware auction is a very interesting example of American advertising stoneware. The impressed mark is one of the longest, most detailed I have ever seen:


MOORE & FOOTE (merchants of Detroit) stoneware jar with unusually lengthy and detailed advertising stamp.

MOORE & FOOTE (merchants of Detroit) stoneware jar with unusually lengthy and detailed advertising stamp.

I did my best in transcribing the punctuation, and also added spaces where, as you can see in the photo below, the potter did not bother to. I am also fairly certain the last character is supposed to be a “Y,” but it looks like the pottery had to improvise and use an upside-down “7” or some other stamp.

Moore and Foote—Franklin Moore and George Foote—were not potters; they were very prominent merchants in the city of Detroit. In a book written in the latter part of the nineteenth century, History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan, the author, Silas Farmer, wrote,

In 1835 Mr. [Franklin] Moore engaged in the grocery business, and carried it on alone until 1837, when his store and stock were destroyed by fire. The same year he started a new store …, the firm continuing until 1846, and doing a large and ever-increasing business. It was succeeded by the wholesale and retail grocery house of Moore & Foote, George Foote being the junior partner. In 1859, on the admission of John J. Bagley, the name of the firm was changed to Moore, Foote & Company, and for many years they did the largest business of any grocery firm in the State, their sales aggregating millions of dollars annually. (History of Detroit and Wayne County and early Michigan by Silas Farmer, 1890, Volume 2, pg. 1220)

An item I found in a Michigan newspaper printed in 1869 was effusive in its praise of Moore and Foote:

A few weeks since a justly deserved compliment was paid through the columns of the Mining Gazette, to the high character of the well-known house of Messrs. MOORE, FOOTE & CO., of Detroit. There is not, probably, a merchant or mining company on Lake Superior who cannot vouch for every word of that high encomium. Ever courteous and affable in their intercourse with patrons, and exceeding lenient to all who are willing, though at all times unables to meet their obligations promptly, these gentlemen have won a place in the estimation of their many friends on the Lake, second to no other house east or west.
(Lake Superior Miner [Ontonagon, Michigan], 9/11/1869)

Moore and Foote were apparently kingpins of the Detroit merchant scene.xXx: Return of Xander Cage live streaming film online

MOORE & FOOTE Advertising Stamp

MOORE & FOOTE Advertising Stamp

The crock itself may have been made under the auspices of some pottery owned by Moore and Foote, but very probably not, as is almost always the case with advertising stoneware such as this. It very closely resembles Wisconsin stoneware that I have seen, but it wasn’t necessarily made there, and could have been made in Detroit or elsewhere in Michigan or nearby Ohio by some potter using the same style. Little has been written about potters working in this area of the Great Lakes region, but my main initiative in writing this brief article is to establish the identities of the merchants Moore & Foote, and to discuss what I believe is a fascinating aspect of American stoneware production.

Growing up around stoneware and seeing the myriad advertising pieces that stand alongside those that bear potters’ marks (or no marks at all), I tended to take for granted their existence without thinking much about why they were there. But I think exploring their origin helps us not only to better understand these piece themselves, but to better understand the nineteenth century American stoneware industry in general.

Merchants who bought stoneware directly from potteries who emblazoned the vessels with their names were obviously concerned with “getting their name out there.” (For another discussion of merchant stoneware, see this article, written about one year ago). But different merchants seem to have had different mindsets about what they were accomplishing when they ordered their stoneware. Sometimes the marks seem like requisite afterthoughts, affixed mostly because it was the proper thing to do, and because the potter did it for free or cheaply. I hesitate to lower stoneware to the critical level of a free pen given out at a trade show, but I do think the same mindset always came into play with advertising stoneware—in using a vessel (or a pen) on a daily basis, the consumer is constantly reminded of whatever firm’s name is imprinted thereon. Often (I would say usually) the jug, jar, or bottle bore simply the merchant’s name and (though not always) his city. I’m not sure how much control over the wording on a particular pot the merchant had, but my educated guess is that in most cases the pottery had a standard way of handling things, which could be altered for extra money or through some other arrangement. So if Smith & Jones in Scranton, Pennsylvania, dealers in turpentine, wanted a group of jugs to sell their turpentine in, the pottery, by default, probably marked them “SMITH & JONES / SCRANTON, PA.” Had Messrs. Smith and Jones wanted their jug to spell out “DEALERS IN TURPENTINE, &C.,” they most certainly could have had that done, but it might have cost more money—or, perhaps, taken nothing more than extra negotiation or a friendly request.

So what was the point of stamping your name (and sometimes city) alone on a particular piece of pottery? I’m sure this often confused consumers. How was someone supposed to always know the difference between a maker’s mark and a merchant’s mark? Suppose they saw a beautiful jug and wanted to contact the pottery for a bunch of their own? If all they had to go on was the name impressed in the clay, wouldn’t they assume that person was the potter? This is the same problem we often encounter today in evaluating pottery. By now so many potteries are documented, but unknown marks, or barely-documented ones, turn up all the time. Often a piece is so obviously made by a known pottery that the mystery mark on it is very certainly that of some other business owner. But sometimes not, and we have to turn to paper documents to sort things out.

Often these names were so well-known to consumers of their time period that no further introduction was needed. This seems to be the case for Moore and Foote, though they still felt the need to be long-winded. But what happened when this wasn’t so? I’m sure, actually, that this was partly the point. Any particular pot stamped with a merchant’s mark was meant to direct you to that merchant. You could buy stoneware directly from a pottery, but you could also buy it from a middle-man—and that was the business relationship that the mark was supposed to initiate. This might seem like a bad deal for the potter, but it was not. Whether a pottery sold its stoneware to an agent or sold it right out of their warehouse was probably neither here nor there, and any lost mark-up that they normally enjoyed in dealing with the general public was simply the cost of doing business.

In many cases, then, I believe the merchant shop, for all intents and purposes, wanted the consumer to see a particular pot as its product, not that of the local (or distant) stoneware manufactory. For small towns where the stoneware industry was non-existent, I’m sure customers had little choice (or barely knew better) than to procure all of their stoneware through merchants. But in localities where the stoneware industry was booming, and well-known to residents—say, Bennington, Vermont, or Baltimore, Maryland—the consumer was presented with a choice between merchants or potteries. I wonder if some potteries, like most modern-day companies providing consumer goods, simply did not deal with the general public. I really doubt this, however; potters needed to make money wherever they could, and often bartered for their ware, taking necessities like firewood in exchange. Sometimes, I suppose, the price a person paid at a merchant store was the same or even less than they paid directly from the potter, depending on what the merchant paid for the ware, and what specials they might have been running on that particular day.

This implies, however, that the merchants were even selling stoneware as a standalone commodity. In the case of any theoretical company like Smith and Jones, who sold nothing but turpentine and a few other odds and ends, the only stoneware they sold would probably be given over as containers for their primary product. So a customer who needed turpentine also received a stoneware jug for his or her money. Smith and Jones wouldn’t have even bothered dealing with stoneware manufacturers if they didn’t need vessels to hold their turpentine. Taking businesses like this into account, as far as distribution of stoneware went, there were probably only a few different types of merchant shops.

There were those who sold specific consumables like liquor or turpentine, and who only provided stoneware as containers to customers. In these cases, the stoneware may have been handed over as part of some deposit system.

There were merchants who acted as brokers for stoneware potters—either selling the stoneware of one particular pottery at a time, or maybe offering the wares of a few different ones. In my Commeraw article of 5/31/2009, I noted that a Portland, Maine, merchant had advertised, in an 1828 newspaper, “a large assortment of ‘Croliu’s’ [sic] New York painted, superior ware,” claiming that he was “agent for several extensive New York manufactories” of all kinds of goods. In my 6/8/2009 article on the Boston advertising jug, I likewise mentioned how David D. Wells, a Boston merchant, had advertised that he was a “Wholesale and Retail Dealer in every description of BENNINGTON STONE WARE” in the 1859 Boston city directory. An extreme example of these types of dealers would be someone like D.P. Hobart in Williamsport, PA, who sold ware made at the local pottery, which was stamped “D.P. HOBART, Agent / Williamsport, PA.” Within this framework, there were probably infinite iterations of how a particular firm did business. Some probably openly sold, say, stoneware marked “J. & E. NORTON / BENNINGTON, VT.” Others sold pieces like the subject of this article—made by a stoneware pottery, but marked with the merchant’s name. Those businessmen who chose to have their names emblazoned on a jug or jar had varying philosophies on the “ad space” of the vessel, and those that saw it as a valuable marketing tool had nice, descriptive stamps fashioned. Others were content with their name, and maybe address. For those that only sold stoneware marked with their own name, I wonder how often they marketed it as the product of a particular pottery, or how forthcoming they were as to its origin. And still other merchants probably sold a mixture of both—for instance, some marked with the Nortons’ stamp, some other identical ones marked with their own.

But the vast majority of merchant shops—especially in the case of run-of-the-mill general merchants—probably provided stoneware in both the above two ways. Someone could come into the shop and buy grain, liquor, or pickles, and take it home in a stoneware vessel. Another person might be in need of a group of containers for his home or farm, and take back a quantity of empty stoneware. Consumers buying stoneware as its own product or merely as a container could have ended up with pottery marked by the maker or marked with the merchant’s name, probably at the discretion of said merchant. In some cases, the merchant probably saw, say, the Nortons’ stoneware as a good, salable brand, and thus favored it as the product they offered. Others probably saw more value in having their own name affixed, and that was the product they offered. Perhaps, in fact, stoneware bearing merchants’ names was (usually) that designed only to be sold as a secondary container, and stoneware bearing the potter’s name was that supposed to be sold as its own product.

In the end, this brief discussion probably provides more questions than it does answers. But I think they are questions worth considering as we attempt to understand this eighteenth and nineteenth century product we value as art and how, and why, the general public bought it.

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