Antique Stoneware Yale Mug for F.T. Persons

F.T. Persons' stoneware Yale mug.
F.T. Persons' stoneware Yale mug.

The existing group of stoneware mugs made for Yale University students around the turn of the twentieth century are an interesting lot. Quite scarce–they were, after all, made for a rather small population of college students–these vessels were clearly prized by enough alumni that a fair number were passed down to us. While some are typical late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century examples coated in brown Albany slip, others are salt-glazed; these latter pieces, if not baring clear dates, could easily be mistaken as much earlier American stoneware products. It is one of these–a particularly well-crafted example–that we will be selling on March 5.

While heavily decorated American stoneware mugs are themselves rare, I consider the Yale mug to be something close to a unique, hyper-specialized form unto itself. Not just drinking vessels, these were predecessors of the ubiquitous university memorabilia we interact with every day: sweatshirts, baseball caps, and modern, mass-produced mugs. In the case of the F.T. Persons’ mug, which we will be selling in March, we actually know a lot about the young man for whom it was made.

The man who owned the mug: Frederick Torrel Persons.
The man who owned the mug: Frederick Torrel Persons.

Frederick Torrel Persons was born on February 2, 1869 in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, about thirty-five miles west of Springfield. His father, Byron Persons, was a farmer; he and Frederick’s mother, Ellen Spaulding, were both descended from very old Massachusetts families dating back to the 1630’s. Frederick Persons attended preparatory school in Norfolk, Connecticut, and went on, as his mug attests, to Yale College, from which he graduated in 1894. After some postgraduate work in the study of English, he became an English teacher and later the principal of a school in Falls Village, Connecticut. In 1899, he enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, and after graduating three years later, he entered the ministry, serving various churches in Connecticut.

The names incised on this side are those of some of Persons' fellow 1894 classmates.
The names incised on this side are those of some of Persons' fellow 1894 classmates.
]In 1906, Persons married Florence Cummings, who had attended the Yale School of Music, and the two would go on to have at least three sons. At the age of 46, he left his ministry in Connecticut for a post as librarian at Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor, Maine, and remained there until 1924, when he took the same position at the Congregational Library in Boston.

In Yale-related publications Persons spoke of his love of architecture, on which he became something of an authority, and his fondness for taking walks as a form of exercise. He also expressed a love of life, saying, when about 45 years old, “I am glad to be alive and want to live to do something for the world and to watch it go on till I am past eighty. Above all else, I am proud of [the Class of] ’94, and rejoice in the welfare and success of its members.”

Persons’ goal to live past eighty was almost realized. He passed away at the age of 79 on September 2, 1948.

Persons' name on the bottom of the mug.
Persons' name on the bottom of the mug.

All too often, objects are handed down to us, stripped of any memory of the men and women who handled them on a daily basis, who kept them on shelves in their homes. Pieces like Persons’ Yale mug remind us that real people with real lives actually owned these vessels, and they were capable of holding more than just water or beer, but also great significance to those who chose to keep them.

A Note About Sources: The Yale-related volumes from which most of Persons’ biography was gleaned are Quarter Century Record, Class of 1894, Yale College, and Vicennial Record, Class of Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Four, Yale College, both by Frederick Dwight, Class Secretary. I also used Union Seminary Quarterly Review (May, 1949), Who Was Who In America, Volume 2 (1943-1950), and the Federal Census.

Want to send us a comment or ask a question? Feel free to contact us anytime!

Gorgeous Gemel to Cross the Block in October 31 Auction

The pottery form known as a gemel, also gemel jug or gemel bottle, is one of the rarest forms in American stoneware. The word is derived from the Latin word “geminus,” meaning twin, double, paired, or half-and-half. The plural of this same word, “gemini,” is used to refer to the constellation composed of  twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, of Greek mythology. The words “twin” or “double” definitely come to mind when one thinks of a pottery gemel, which is composed of two wheel-thrown jugs, joined together with clay between the two. A single handle is applied to carry and pour the paired jugs, though the positioning of this handle can vary from potter to potter. Variations of the form were also produced by American glass makers. Occasionally, the form is taken one step further, involving four connected jugs. Such pieces are referred to as “double gemels.”

Stoneware Gemel with Incised Bird Decoration to be sold in our October 31 auction. Height 6 1/4".

Stoneware Gemel with Incised Bird Decoration to be sold in our October 31 auction. Height 6 1/4".

The purpose of a gemel was to hold two liquids that were frequently used together in individual chambers. The form obviously made using such liquids more convenient than carrying two separate jugs. It is believed that many gemels were designed to hold oil and vinegar, which were commonly used in foods together, but needed to be kept separate. In other instances, a gemel may have held two different types of movie iBoy 2017 now

While many gemels exist bearing little or no decoration, some are known with wonderful brushed or incised designs, indicating they were likely made as specially-ordered or presentation items. Most signed or attributed stoneware examples were produced in New Haven, CT, by Absolom Stedman, or during Stedman’s partnership with one of the Seymours, around the year 1831 (Ketchum, American Stoneware, p. 58). Several are known bearing maker’s marks from this pottery, including some with distinctive incised bird designs accented with impressed circles.

Redware examples are also known from elsewhere in the country, including a few produced in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which are pictured in H.E. Comstock’s The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region. A small example by the highly-regarded potter, Anthony Bacher, who worked in Adams County, PA, Winchester, VA, and Thurmont, MD, circa 1850 to 1885, is glazed in cream and brown and features a horizontal handle. A gemel by Winchester and Strasburg, VA potter, Solomon Bell, consists of two molded male figures holding mugs. Clay hats serve as the containers’ lids. Gemels were no doubt produced in nearly every region of 19th century American utilitarian pottery production, though few have survived.

We have been consigned an exceptional stoneware example for our October 31 auction, which was given as a gift to an early Hanover, PA antiques dealer in the first half of the 20th century, and has never been offered for public sale. Measuring 6 1/4″ tall, the double jug is decorated with two incised birds filled with bright cobalt slip. Both birds are embellished with incised crests and ringed necks, and their wings are outlined in unusual incised wavy lines. Each are perched on a scallop-edged leaf or stem, connecting at the center with a three-petaled flower resembling a bow. In this way, the connected design mimics the conjoined structure of the jugs.

The cobalt-highlighted letters M and B are impressed below the spout. According to the consignor, this piece originally descended in a New York State family by the name of Brewster. The two letters, therefore, may be the initials of its original owner, with the “B” referring to Brewster. However, it seems more likely that the letters refer to the contents of each jug. The best hypothesis on the meaning of these letters is that they refer to madeira and brandy. Madeira, a wine produced since the 16th century on the Portuguese island of Madeira, gained much popularity in 18th century America. It was favored by many of the founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, and was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Madeira’s flavors and uses varied, largely depending upon the aging process and varieties of grapes used. Interestingly,  the wine’s long travels on ships exposed to the sun’s heat created a taste many found pleasing, and this accidental method of aging was later replicated on the island’s sun-drenched beaches. Brandy, whose name is derived from the Dutch word “brandewijn,” meaning “burnt wine,” was originally created from wine distilled in oak casks prior to shipment. The distillation was designed as a method of preservation and to reduce costs by concentrating the liquid; the product was diluted with water upon reaching its destination by ship. Consumers soon realized, however, that the undiluted wine had a robust and pleasing flavor, which was chemically altered by the distillation process,  and soon began drinking it without adding water. Most of us are aware of 18th and 19th century stoneware jugs and coolers bearing the impressed or incised inscription “BRANDY,” indicating its popularity in early America.

An interesting link can be found between madeira and brandy. Both have been frequently used together in cooking as a base for meat glazes, sauces, and marinades. I have also found a 19th century recipe for a cake made with both madeira and brandy. It is possible that this gemel saw more use as a kitchen accessory than as someone’s personal flask.

As far as its maker is concerned, the fat-bodied birds that adorn the front most closely resemble the work of the Crolius and Remmey family of Manhattan, NY. The  style of decoration on this example is so far unlike the bird designs of the potters of New Haven, CT, who produced most incised gemels known, that we can safely rule them out. Furthermore, the age does not strike me as early 1830’s, but much earlier, perhaps sometime around 1800. The motif of two facing birds may be an early predecessor to later paired bird designs used in Baltimore and Philadelphia by Henry Remmey, Henry Harrison Remmey, and Richard Remmey.

From the very beginning, we have always endeavored to add excitement to the collecting community and offer fresh-to-the-market examples of exceptional quality. 2009 has been a year that has fulfilled this hope of ours. This gemel follows in the wake of two other remarkable incised stoneware pieces we have offered this year, the first being an Albany, New York, cooler with fish and bird decoration, which set a stoneware specialty auction record at $103,500, and the second a Connecticut flask with bird and flowering urn decoration, which sold on July 11 for $40,250. Like these two other pieces, I believe this newly-surfaced gem will further support the claim that ceramics are the hottest commodity in American decorative arts today.

Want to send us a comment or ask a question? Feel free to contact us anytime!

Some New Info on Peter Cross, Potter of Hartford, CT

P. CROSS / HARTFORD stoneware jug with incised ship design, to be sold in our July 11, 2009 auction.
P. CROSS / HARTFORD stoneware jug with incised ship design, to be sold in our July 11, 2009 auction.

We were all excited to receive the P. CROSS / HARTFORD incised ship jug–a rare example of stoneware that combines a scarce, desirable maker’s mark with a well-rendered, unusual decoration–for our July 11, 2009 auction. The consignment of this piece got me interested in this fairly mysterious potter, and I took an excursion into some early Hartford, Connecticut, newspapers to see if I could dig up anything new on him.

The best reference I have been able to find on Peter Cross is Lura Woodside Watkins’ 1950 book, Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Watkins’ brief biography of Cross’ career is written as follows:

In the 1790’s, … John Souter, an Englishman, made his appearance in Hartford. He is said to have built an earthenware shop on the northeast corner of Potter and Front Streets. In 1805 he sold it to Peter Cross, a stoneware manufacturer. The name Cross does not occur in the land records, and I believe he was not a native of Hartford. Although he made some excellent stoneware, he was not altogether successful. After a few years he sold his first building to Horace Goodwin and Mack C. Webster and moved to 38 Front Street; but this, too, he abandoned at some time before 1818. Cross’s business was taken over by two retired sea captains, George Benton and Levi Stewart, who lived on either side of the pottery. They found a manager in Daniel Goodale, Jr. (Watkins, 194)

All of these stoneware makers’ names still exist as impressions on pieces of pottery. Jugs and jars marked “GOODWIN & WEBSTER / HARTFORD,” “D. GOODALE / HARTFORD”, and variations thereof regularly come up for sale, and while more difficult to find, “G. BENTON & L. STEWART” pieces do, as well.

According to Watkins, Cross began his career as a pottery owner in Hartford in 1805. While that may be true, he probably was not marking his pieces “P. CROSS” until the following year. In searching Hartford newspapers of the time period, I discovered two interesting ads relevant to Peter Cross’ career. The first appears in the March 27, 1806  issue of the American Mercury:

Dissolution of Copartnership.
THE connection in business subsisting between the Subscribers, under the firm of CROSS & SMITH, was dissolved by mutual consent, on the first day of January last–All persons having any demands against said firm, are requested to exhibit their claims immediately to the Suscribers.

N.B. The business in future of making and vending Stone Ware, will be carried on by said Cross–where all kinds of articles in the Stone Ware line, will be for Sale, on the lowest terms, at his Factory, in Front-street, 40 rods south of the market, in this city.

An apprentice to the above business will meet with good encouragement by applying to said CROSS immediately.

City of Hartford, 27th March.

1806 ad announcing the dissolution of the stoneware manufacturing partnership of Peter Cross and Samuel W. Smith.
1806 ad announcing the dissolution of the stoneware manufacturing partnership of Peter Cross and Samuel W. Smith.

The partnership of Cross & Smith is a previously unknown one, and no pieces, to my knowledge, exist with its mark. Samuel W. Smith, likewise, is a previously unknown potter, but it is likely that he is a relative of prolific Norwalk, CT potter Asa E. Smith, whose work exists today bearing many different maker’s marks.

We can confidently say, based on this advertisement, that pieces marked “P. CROSS / HARTFORD” were made, at the earliest, beginning on January 1, 1806. This first endeavor by Cross to own his own shop ended fairly quickly however. On November 17, 1808, the following ad ran in the American Mercury:

THE Public are respectfully informed, that the Subscribers, have lately taken the Stand, formerly occupied by Peter Cross, as a STONE WARE Factory, where they have constantly on hand, an Assortment of this article, at Wholesale and Retail, where Dealers, in the above article may be supplied, on as accomodating [sic] terms as at any other Factory.
Hartford, Nov. 17.

1806 ad announcing the dissolution of the stoneware manufacturing partnership of Peter Cross and Samuel W. Smith.
1808 ad announcing Goodwin & Webster's takeover of the former Peter Cross stoneware shop.
Watkins says that after selling his pottery to Goodwin & Webster, Cross took up a new business down the street and continued there until “some time before 1818.” As is often the case with the earlier works on American stoneware and redware, Early New England Potters and Their Wares contains no proper citations, so it can be very unclear where the author obtained her information–and, moreover, just what is incontrovertible fact and what is speculation, assumption, or second-hand knowledge. Watkins’ book is, nevertheless, a very good work on its subject and a lot of research clearly went into its writing. In order to verify that Cross did start again in his own firm, however, since no Hartford city directories exist for the years 1800-1824, a search of the city’s land records would have to be done.

At this time, then, the only firm, definite dates for pieces marked “P. CROSS / HARTFORD” are January 1, 1806 to about November 1, 1808. It seems very possible, given Watkins’ research, that Cross did use the mark after this period, and it is also possible, though unlikely, that he did so at some point before, as well. The rarity of pieces stamped by Cross makes me wonder, however, if his signed work was, in fact, limited to that 1806-8 time frame. The incised ship jug does seem to date to an early period such as this.

Hartford, Connecticut, was clearly a hotbed for stoneware production beginning around 1800. Many, many marks were used as various potters and pottery owners opened new shops, took over each other’s businesses, and struck new, and dissolved old, partnerships with one another. Cross’ status as the earliest Hartford stoneware potter to sign his work makes him significant, and his work is quite sought after. Hopefully more research on these prolific potters will better flesh out their lives and the dates of their many diverse maker’s marks.

Want to send us a comment or ask a question? Feel free to contact us anytime!