We recently received a rare example of northwestern Pennsylvania stoneware for our upcoming October 26 auction: a bank made at the Erie stoneware shop of George Webb and probably Jay Childs. Webb and Childs’ shop was the descendant of Erie’s first stoneware pottery, which was founded in 1851 by Reuben and Charles Sibley on the Erie Extension Canal, between Second and Third Streets. The Sibleys had come from the stoneware production hotbed of Bennington, Vermont, but for some reason they quickly abandoned their new Erie venture, with stoneware potter George Webb taking it over in 1853. Webb went through various partners at this site, finally taking in a former ship’s captain, Jay Childs, in 1865. As Phil Schaltenbrand notes in his sweeping book on Pennsylvania stoneware, Big Ware Turners, “[A]las [Webb & Childs’] undertaking lasted only two years, and very little is known about it. Stamped pieces from WEBB & CHILDS are still waiting to be identified.” (Also see Schaltenbrand for a great explication of the Erie stoneware potters.)
To help us understand exactly when this bank was probably made, we must turn to its inscription: “Francis C. Taylor / Erie, Pa / Presque Isle Pottery / J. N. Baxter.” Presque Isle Pottery was a trade name used by the partnership of Webb & Childs; indeed, the only reference we have been able to find to this name is an ad for their stoneware shop (reprinted in Schaltenbrand) with the headline, “PRESQUE ISLE POTTERY, ON THE CANAL, BETWEEN SECOND & THIRD STS., ERIE, PENNA.” This ad goes on to announced that the pair “have associated themselves, under the firm and style of Webb & Childs, in the Pottery business, at the old stand … .”
George Webb’s Presque Isle Pottery closed in 1867; in 1861 he had acquired a competitor nearby who would operate for many years, but who does not appear to have ever used “Presque Isle Pottery” as a trade name. This would place the bank’s manufacture probably in the 1865-67 window, but perhaps as early as the 1850’s, if (despite what we find in the historical record) “Presque Isle Pottery” was a name used earlier by Webb.
But turning to the names on the bank, Francis C. Taylor (a girl) was born in Erie on December 19, 1861, so the bank could not pre-date this date. J.N. Baxter appears to be Julius N. Baxter, the uncle of little Francis, she being the daughter of his sister, Charlotte. Baxter was born circa 1849 in New York, and is listed in the 1850 census living in Utica with his father, Sylvester (a fireman), mother, Jane, and some siblings. By 1860, his father had apparently died and his mother was raising the family in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It is unclear when Baxter moved to Erie, but he seems to have done so by 1870, as he married his young wife, Jennie (born around the mid 1850’s), about that year. But given the latter date of 1867 for the bank, it would seem he was at least visiting the area by that time.
You can see, though, that given that J.N. Baxter was only about 16 years of age when Webb & Childs struck up their partnership, it seems highly likely that it was indeed their Presque Isle Pottery that produced the bank.
I find inscribed stoneware objects like this perhaps the most fun to research, as they often allow us to add surprising new pieces to the American stoneware puzzle. In this case, while (as far as we know) “Stamped pieces from WEBB & CHILDS are still waiting to be identified,” we can at least say with relative certainty that this incised bank was produced under their tenure near Lake Erie.
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