Reverend L.M. Boyer and His Swank (Johnstown, PA) Bank

The bank for Reverend Boyer, made at the Swank shop in Johnstown.
On March 2, 2013, we will be pleased to offer a stoneware bank made at the well-known Swank Pottery in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The only Swank bank of which we are aware, this rare specimen’s story is enhanced by an inscription around the top, reading, “Rev. L.M. Boyer / 710.” Clearly made as a gift for the good reverend, the bank begs the question, “Who was Reverend Boyer?” Thankfully, we are able to answer that question in detail.

Levi Mitchell Boyer was born November 17, 1842 in Ashland Township (Clarion County) in northwestern Pennsylvania. At the young age of 18, following the outbreak of the Civil War, he volunteered for service in the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry and began a tour of duty in the South, during which he saw much action–including at the important Battles of Stone River, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. At the end of May, 1864, he was wounded at the Battle of New Hope Church, Georgia, and received his discharge along with other seasoned veterans of the 78th in November of that year.

The inscription: Rev. L.M. Boyer / 710
Lucky to have survived his three years’ worth of fighting, Boyer entered the ministry, married his wife, Mary, and by 1870 was living in Burnside, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania–not far from Punxsutawney. By 1880, the couple, along with their children, had moved to Somerset, just down the road from Johnstown, and we initially believed that it was here that Boyer resided when the Swank pottery made him his bank. However, I have since learned that Boyer did, indeed, pastor the First Evangelical Church of Johnstown from around the early to late 1870’s, and it was clearly during his tenure there that the local pottery bestowed him with a gift.

The Rev. himself
What “710” means, as inscribed alongside his name, is a mystery, but probably refers to something church-related.

Boyer held many high-level positions within the Evangelical Church throughout his life, both in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, where he would eventually settle. He seems to have moved around a lot during his tour of Christian duty in Pennsylvania, but would move to Canton, Ohio, in the early 1890’s, basically residing there until his death on November 18, 1931, at the age of 89.

It is unusual that we are able to gather this much information about a name we find inscribed on a piece of stoneware, and I think it is safe to say that Reverend Boyer’s bank is one of the more important examples of Johnstown pottery to surface in some time.

A Note about Sources: While I used various sources for this brief article, I would particularly like to credit this very helpful entry on

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Luke Zipp’s Baltimore Stoneware Articles: Henry Remmey and Baltimore Survey

Henry Remmey's makers mark on a stoneware pitcher made in the 1810's.
This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, but it also marks the bicentennial of an event that–while perhaps nowhere near as impactful on the history of our nation as that aforementioned conflict–did leave an indelible imprint on the history of American ceramics. It was two hundred years ago that Henry Remmey, a remarkable Manhattan potter who had fallen on hard times, moved to Baltimore and quickly set the standard for stoneware production in the Mid-Atlantic region. (If you have any doubt as to what Henry Remmey accomplished in Baltimore, please also have a look at Luke’s article on the earliest dated piece of Baltimore stoneware, also made in 1812.)

It recently came to my attention that The Chipstone Foundation has posted Luke’s important article, Henry Remmey & Son, Late of New York, online for free reading. That article appeared in the 2004 edition of Ceramics in America (published by Chipstone), and was the first to not only flesh out the “lost years” of a man who was arguably America’s greatest stoneware potter, but the first to reveal the long-mysterious origin of “H. MYERS” stoneware. Luke managed to correct a long-standing misconception with his research–one that I am reminded of whenever I see, on now-very-rare occasions, someone label an “H. MYERS” pot as a product of Philadelphia. Having spent many an afternoon with Luke down at the Maryland Historical Society and at the State Archives in Annapolis, the publication of this article was very gratifying for me, and I think it is remarkable that he was able to contribute one of the more important articles published on American stoneware in the last few decades, when he was still in his early twenties.

This article is a comprehensive look at Henry Remmey’s years in Baltimore. I know it is the nature of the passage of time, but I am always amazed whenever–on a trip to Little Italy or elsewhere nearby–we drive by the federal housing project that now occupies the site of a place where some of my favorite pieces of American art were crafted. When you click on the link to read it (below), you will see one image on the left-hand side of the article. These images (with accompanying captions) can be clicked through via the arrow beneath the image.

I am also including, for those who have not seen it or would like to revisit it, Luke’s excellent overview article on Baltimore stoneware, which appeared in Antiques & Fine Art in 2006. This, again, served to educate everyone on what was actually made in Baltimore: the long-standing misconception in this case being that the central figure in Baltimore stoneware production was Peter Herrmann (because he was virtually the only one, later on, who marked his work), and that besides the ubiquitous “clover” designs, Baltimore had very little to offer in the way of stoneware. This was, of course, completely wrong, and Baltimore was one of the chief centers of stoneware production in the entire country, with many prolific artisans churning out their ware.

Henry Remmey & Son, Late of New York: A Rediscovery of a Master Potter’s Lost Years by Luke Zipp (originally published in Ceramics in America, 2004)

Baltimore Stoneware by Luke Zipp (originally published in Antiques & Fine Art, Summer 2006)

Finally, because it is such a good resource on what is actually “out there” in terms of Baltimore pieces, here’s a link to our Baltimore stoneware highlights. This is just a fraction of the Baltimore pottery we’ve sold over the past several years, but this gives a great idea of what the best pieces look like:

Baltimore Stoneware Auction Highlights

I am very excited to be able to discuss Henry Remmey, Sr.–one of my very favorite potters–alongside Thomas Commeraw and others on October 13 at the Gunn Museum in Washington, CT. You can read more about Mark’s and my lecture there by clicking here.

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COMMERAW’S STONEWARE Jug Found in Norwegian Waters

Farsunds Avis's article on the recent underwater recovery of a Commeraw jug off the Norwegian coast.
About ten days ago, I received an email from a member of a Norwegian dive team. He, along with his fellow divers, had found a jug made by Thomas Commeraw in coastal waters in southeast Norway. This was a great find for their team, and a newsworthy story for the town of Farsund, but it was also exciting to me on multiple levels–one of which being that two of my great-grandparents were Norwegian immigrants. From a purely historical standpoint, however, this was–to my knowledge–the furthest from “home” a piece of Commeraw’s work has ever been found.

I was more than happy to converse with Aase Astri Bakka of Farsunds Avis about Thomas Commeraw and my thoughts on the recovery; her article on the dive team’s discovery was published last week. Since most of you, like me, probably are not able to read Norwegian, Google Translate can create a roughly translated version on the fly. That English version is available here, and you can find the original Norwegian version here.

I am not, of course, sure what Commeraw’s jug was doing all the way over in Norway. I am essentially certain that it was either some passenger’s personal vessel or part of a larger shipment of liquor. While this would be an interesting topic of study that begs to be investigated, I am unaware of any instances in which the American stoneware potters were shipping their ware as a primary product across the Atlantic. They definitely could and would ship their items great distances within the United States, and their products certainly were used to help transport any number of consumable goods from our country to others. But as a houseware, I simply have never seen–in my own research or someone else’s–an instance in which, say, Clarkson Crolius was shipping stoneware across the ocean for use in another country.

The jug itself seems to be one of the smaller examples I have seen. Further photographs and measurements will give me a better idea, but the size of the maker’s mark on the vessel–and the fact that Commeraw apparently could only fit one of his double swag designs (sometimes called “clamshells”) beneath the rim–both tell me that this was an unusually small vessel for Commeraw’s work.

I am excited to discuss this in the book, and I think a lot of you will be as interested as I was to see an example of early New York City stoneware not only end up in the waters off of Norway–but find its way back to the land of the living, two centuries later.

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