Clarkson Crolius Stoneware Oyster Jar for Thomas Downing

Thomas Downing and Clarkson Crolius
Thomas Downing and Clarkson Crolius. In their day, each was the most famous practitioner of his trade in the United States.

A newly-surfaced Thomas Downing oyster jar holds the distinction of being the first we have seen that was clearly made by Clarkson Crolius. Few stoneware jars made for America’s most famous oysterman of his day, the African-American entrepreneur Thomas Downing, are known. But every other example we have seen can be firmly attributed to a stoneware shop that relatively few American stoneware collectors have paid significant attention to: that of Dennis McClees and later T.G. Boone in Brooklyn. This Brooklyn stoneware manufactory, located at the corner of Sands and Navy Streets, was founded in or about 1839, and the distinctive typeface used to compose its various maker’s marks is a match for that found on all previous Downing examples we’ve seen. (For more on this shop, see William Ketchum’s Potters and Potteries of New York State … and Mark Smith’s great article in the Jan-Feb 2007 issue of Bottles and Extras.)

Brooklyn stoneware maker's marks
The impressed “T. DOWNINGS / PICKLED / OYSTERS” mark juxtaposed with that of the Brooklyn potters who manufactured stoneware jars for him.

The appearance, then, of the following jar is significant:

Attributed Clarkson Crolius Stoneware Oyster Jar for African-American OystermanThomas Downing
Clarkson Crolius’s version of a Thomas Downing oyster jar.

It does not bear the aforementioned, cruder typeface used at the Brooklyn manufactory. Rather, it features a refined style only seen locally on the signed work of Clarkson Crolius, who happened to be not only New York’s most prominent stoneware maker but the most famous American stoneware potter of his day. Crolius employed a progression of numerous maker’s marks over his roughly forty-year career, and of these we particularly see an extreme similarity between this newly-discovered Downing stamp and Crolius’s oval-shaped “STONE-WARE MANUFACTURER” mark. This maker’s mark appears on some of Crolius’s more typical stoneware vessel forms, but it notably tends to appear specifically on his well-known preserve jars–stamped with the fruit names “PEACHES,” “PEARS,” “QUINCES” and “PLUMBS.” How fitting, then, that the jar at hand, made to preserve Downing’s pickled oysters, should perhaps date to the same time period.

One of Crolius’s maker’s marks juxtaposed with the newly-discovered Downing stamp. Note the refined, similar composition of the stamps and in particular the italic fonts being used.

And indeed this brings us to the other notable similarity between this new Downing jar and the work of Crolius: its distinctive, chocolately Albany glaze. Brown Albany slip, used extensively on American stoneware beginning in the first decade of the nineteenth century, was made using clay found in a specific mine in Albany, New York. You would think this would mean that Albany glaze would have a consistent appearance across all stoneware potters, but this is not the case. And indeed the overall appearance of the Albany glaze on this Downing jar matches very well that seen on Crolius’s work; see, for instance, the marked similarity between this oyster jar and a Crolius “PEACHES” jar:

A Crolius jar bearing his aforementioned “STONE-WARE MANUFACTURER” mark (along with the impressed word “PEACHES” on reverse), next to the newly-surfaced Downing jar. Note the distinctive runny, chocolatey Albany glaze on both.

While the Brooklyn-attributed jars should date to something like an 1839-1846 window based on the lifespan of that shop, theoretically for Crolius’s we could place a date as early as 1825–the first year Downing appears in the local city directory as an “oysterer” at No. 5 Broad Street. And while I think that’s probably about as reasonably early as we could go with these jars, we should also keep in mind that based on period advertisements, Downing definitely seems to have been running an oyster stand out of No. 5 Broad even prior to 1825, when oystering was not his primary occupation:

A relatively early ad for Thomas Downing and his whitewashing business, also referencing his “old established stand No. 5 Broad …, where he will keep his oyster stand also, as usual.”

As someone who personally takes an inordinate interest in New York City stoneware, African-American ceramics and the history of the African-American community in New York City, this jar stands out to me as one of the truly remarkable artifacts we have had the privilege of handling. Indeed, even from a pure stoneware perspective, signed or attributed Crolius oyster jars are extremely rare in their own right! If you aren’t familiar with Thomas Downing and his remarkable life, please see, for instance, this great article from The Virginia-Pilot. To see the last Downing jar we handled, which set a world auction record for an American stoneware oyster jar, visit our Summer 2020 online catalog.

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Thanks to the American Ceramic Circle and MESDA!

Thomas Commeraw Lecture, Nov. 2019I just wanted to quickly thank the American Ceramic Circle and Old Salem / Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts for having me over the weekend. It was my privilege to present my latest talk on Thomas W. Commeraw, the free African-American potter of federal era New York City. All of the folks at both organizations made this one of the best ceramics-related events I have ever attended.

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Some Quick Notes About New York City Stoneware in Our 11/2/2013 Auction

If you’ve gone through our November 2, 2013 Stoneware & Redware Auction catalog, you might have seen a couple of references to museum pieces and how they relate to two examples of early Manhattan stoneware we are offering this time around:

Lot 8 in our 11/2/2013 Stoneware & Redware Auction, an early Thomas Commeraw jar--related to an example at the Smithsonian.
An outstanding Thomas Commeraw jar from his early period of production (during which he was incising his work with elaborate designs as opposed to his later stamped decorations) is closely related to an example currently in the collection of the Smithsonian. You can view that Smithsonian example by clicking here. I was, needless to say, very happy to receive this for our Fall sale, and that particular group of Commeraw’s stoneware (bearing, I might add, one of the earliest documented maker’s marks ever employed on American stoneware) is perhaps my absolute favorite of all American pottery.

Lot 12 in our 11/2/2013 auction: A jug made by a mystery potter, related to one of the greatest surviving stoneware vessels, currently at The Met.
An important New York City jug belongs to a group of stoneware by a mysterious maker, responsible for what is considered one of the very greatest examples of American stoneware, the “Elizabeth Crane” punch bowl currently on display at the Met (part of the collection of American Folk Art Museum). You can view that punchbowl here. The interior features a great incised and cobalt-highlight fish, and if you own Georgianna Greer’s American Stonewares, you can see a photo of the fish there. This bowl has been attributed to the shop of John Crolius, Jr. If you don’t know much about early Manhattan stoneware, some of the following may be a little “inside baseball,” but if you are interested in this sort of thing, feel free to read on:

John Crolius, Jr. was the older brother of who may be the most famous American stoneware potter of all, Clarkson Crolius. Clarkson would eventually take over his father’s shop, which was apparently the very same pottery established by his grandfather, William Crolius [the 1st], who had emigrated from Germany circa 1720. During the Revolutionary period, John, Jr. would inherit the shop of his uncle, William Crolius [the 2nd], which was basically located down the block from his father’s / Clarkson’s shop. John, Jr.’s manufactory operated for many years (and this is not an indictment at all of whoever performed that initial attribution of the punch bowl decades ago; he or she could be correct) but there is a problem with that attribution–there are no signed extant examples from John Jr.’s shop to use as a basis for an attribution. There is a larger body of work known for the maker of the punchbowl and the jug, and determining who that maker was is of extreme interest to me. Hopefully we are able to get to the bottom of it before too long!

Anyway, I just thought it would be fun to share links to the museum pieces we referenced in the catalog, and put these two examples of Manhattan stoneware into a better context.

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Two April 2013 Stoneware Lectures

April 14, Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg and Central PA Stoneware. April 27, Old Greenwich, CT: Manhattan Stoneware, 1795-1820.
Mark, Luke, and I will be giving a couple of stoneware lectures to be held next month:

On Sunday, April 14, at 2:30pm, Luke and I will be giving a new talk, Excellent Ware: The Harrisburg Stoneware Potters and Their Contemporaries, at the Historical Society of Dauphin County in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Afterwards we will be holding an appraisal event, during which we will evaluate attendees’ stoneware and redware. Admission is by donation at the door, but is free to members. The HSDC will also be charging a small fee for appraisals to help support their important organization. For more information, please visit the HSDC website, or call 717-233-3462.

On Saturday, April 27, at 2pm, Mark and I will again be delivering our lecture, Manhattan Stoneware, 1795-1820, as a special program during the Westchester Glass Show in Old Greenwich, Connecticut (at the Greenwich Civic Center). A well-respected event, the Westchester Glass Show is for the very first time encouraging exhibitors to offer ceramics for sale, as well, so this should be a fun time for stoneware collectors. Our talk will be essentially the same one we gave at the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum back in October, so if you missed that event, this is an opportunity to get an incisive look at the big three Manhattan stoneware makers–Clarkson Crolius, John Remmey III and Thomas Commeraw–as well as the former Manhattan potter who completely revolutionized Mid-Atlantic stoneware production–Henry Remmey, Sr. Our talk is free with admission to the show ($7). Here’s a link to a show circular with the important details.

We have really enjoyed sharing our love of this great American art form with you, and look forward to doing so many times this year!

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