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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Captain J.F. Caulkins’ Rum Jug

Capt. Caulkins' jug, which survived a shipwreck off the Carolinas in 1872.
Capt. Caulkins' jug, which survived a shipwreck off the Carolinas in 1872.
A small-sized stoneware rum jug with an interesting history will cross the block in our April 10 auction. Standing just 5 1/4″ tall, the jug was made for Brooklyn, New York sea captain, Julius Frank Caulkins, and bears his initials, along with the inscription “His Jug,” across the front. The vessel is consistent in form and color to stoneware produced in Caulkins’ home state of New York, circa 1860-1870.

The captain was born on January 27, 1833, and eventually became master of the ship “Energy,” a fully-rigged vessel built in South Boston in 1860. It measured 168 feet long, had a 34 foot beam, and weighed 967 tons.

“Energy” was wrecked on Hunting Island, South Carolina, on October 20, 1872. Fortunately, Caulkins, his wife, and his prized jug survived. Apparently, there was some discussion as to whether the jug’s contents played a role in the grounding of the ship. Caulkins account of previous damage sustained by “Energy” nine years earlier was printed in the February 1, 1863 of the New York Times:

DEAR SIRS: After encountering a succession of the heaviest gales I ever experienced, in which I lost sails, stove boats, twisted off the rudder-head, and sustained other damage, I was compelled to bear up for this place to repair damages. I shall proceed at once with the necessary repairs, which I hope will be completed in about 10 days, when I shall leave for your port.

Yours truly, JULIUS F. CAULKINS,

Master of ship Energy.

After years of cheating death, an incident five years after the wreck in South Carolina would prove fatal for the captain. On January 3, 1877, Caulkins was lost at sea aboard the steamer, “George Cromwell,” which wrecked near Newfoundland. All hands were lost.

For stoneware enthusiasts, presentation pieces stir our curiosity when they come along. We often wonder who, exactly, they were made for, and why they were made for that particular person. Oftentimes, they are a relative of a potter or an important figure within a certain community. However, presentation pieces are often difficult to research, particularly when they are inscribed only with the owner’s initials. Fortunately for this little jug, it remained in the captain’s family. Having survived 150 years (and a shipwreck) Caulkins’ jug ultimately descended to his great grandson, its consignor. And while so much information on pottery is lost at sea, so to speak, this one’s colorful history has thankfully survived.

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L.W. PORTER / 27 NORTH MARKET STREET / BOSTON Stoneware Advertising Jug made by J. & E. Norton in Bennington, Vermont.

L.W. PORTER / 27 NORTH MARKET STREET / BOSTON Stoneware Advertising Jug made by J. & E. Norton in Bennington, Vermont.

The pheasant-on-stump design used at the pottery of Julius and Edward Norton in Bennington, Vermont, is a well-known, but not often seen, decoration that is highly valued by collectors. While most examples are impressed with the makers’ mark, “J & E NORTON / BENNINGTON, VT,” the example we will be selling in our July 11, 2009 auction is unusual–stamped with advertising for a Boston merchant: “L.W. PORTER / 27 NORTH MARKET STREET / BOSTON.”

Like most major American stoneware potteries, many existing pieces of stoneware made at the Nortons’ pottery are stamped with the names of merchants and other traders for whom they made their ware. American stoneware ranging from ordinary bottles and jugs to ornate and specialized water coolers and poultry fountains bear the monikers of general merchants, liquor dealers, distillers, oystermen, butter dealers, ship chandlers, and other nineteenth century businessmen for whom stoneware was a marketable commodity, a necessary container for products, or a means of advertising.

Documenting the people and firms whose names have come down to us as impressions in clay both helps to more accurately date stoneware and better understand its diverse uses. In this case, by looking in period Boston city directories, we can ascertain what the Norton pheasant jug held and, fairly accurately, when it was made.

According to the 1860 federal census, Leonard W. Porter was born in Vermont circa 1820. In or about 1851, he went into business with George Sawin, a Boston wine and liquor dealer, and the partnership of Sawin & Porter began selling libations out of its store at 27 North Market Street, apparently just north of Quincy Market. The primary focus of the firm seems to have been wine, as nearly all references in city directories list the pair as dealing in “wines, &c.” Around 1858, the partnership dissolved, and Porter began running the business under his own name, out of the same location. Circa 1858, then, is the earliest possible date for the jug. However, by the following year, Porter had apparently attempted to expand his business, as he was now trading concurrently out of a second location on nearby Blackstone Street. He continued running both shops until about 1862, when he seems to have contracted back to the single North Market shop for about a year. By 1863, he had procured a new second storefront on Tremont Street. Porter continued to trade at both of these locations until about 1865, when he apparently sold or stopped leasing 27 North Market full film Get Out

Since only the North Market address is listed on the jug, it seems likely that it was made during one of the years when Porter was operating only one shop–around 1858 or 1862. The piece’s ornate design may, however, indicate that it was made just as Porter was moving out on his own, as a particularly attractive advertising piece for his new business.

Based on existing advertising pieces attributable to their pottery, Julius and Edward Norton frequently shipped large quantities of stoneware into Massachusetts and New York State. In a way that, for instance, Crolius’ Manhattan-made stoneware was probably well-known and regarded far outside New York City (as I discussed in the recent Commeraw article), Bennington stoneware seems to have been a respected brand amongst New Englanders and residents of New York State. In an 1859 Boston city directory, a merchant named David Wells ran a very interesting advertisement. Above the large, bold words “BENNINGTON STONE WARE” sit four renderings of stoneware drawn to look like J. & E. Norton’s wares–a jug with a floral decoration, a lidded jar with a cobalt bird, a tall-collared pitcher, and a lidded crock. Wells seems to have been confident that the Bennington name and the images of Norton’s stoneware, both which were probably quite familiar to his potential customers, would have drawn them into his store. For those who had never seen these Bennington wares, those same images were probably meant to show both the diversity of forms and attractive decorations available from the Nortons.

Illustrated 1859 ad for a Boston merchant selling BENNINGTON STONE WARE.

Illustrated 1859 ad for a Boston merchant selling BENNINGTON STONE WARE.

Wells may have been selling J & E Norton pieces stamped with his name (for instance, “DAVID D. WELLS / 27 HAVERHILL STREET / BOSTON”), the Nortons’ mark, or examples of each. While I am unaware of any existing vessels bearing Wells’ name, there are pieces stamped with the mark of an apparent successor to Wells: “WALKER & CO. / 27 Haverhill St. / BOSTON, MASS.” There were two ways to sell stoneware in nineteenth century America–empty (as a primary product for use in a home or business) or full of a drink or foodstuff (as a secondary item provided as a container). Acquiring stoneware by the former method appears to have been a straight-forward transaction. The consumer bought the ware directly at the pottery, or through an agent / reseller who marketed the pottery’s pieces. Sometimes potters advertised their stoneware for sale and as an aside noted that they would accept other materials in exchange–for instance, pine wood, which stoneware makers constantly needed on-hand for fuel. Stoneware bought from a merchant or other agent would be marked with either the potter’s or manufactory’s name, or the name of the merchant. Why, how, how often, and under what circumstances businessmen chose to have their names stamped on stoneware is a facet of American stoneware production that is not well understood. Acquiring stoneware as a container for beer, soda, sauce, turpentine, wine / liquor (as was the case with the Porter jug), and so on was, however, a transaction that is even less understood.

The Porter jug is a somewhat problematic example for this discussion because the ornate and highly decorative design was not the standard container offered for two gallons of wine. But for even a more standard vessel–say, a jug with no decoration, marked with a liquor dealer’s name and address–what was the arrangement between the dealer and the consumer? Did the buyer pay more to receive the jug with the liquor? If so, was this some sort of a deposit system, where any amount of money paid over the price of the alcohol would be refunded if the jug was returned? If the dealer would buy the jug back, would he do so if it was chipped or otherwise minimally damaged? Even if there was no actual deposit system in place, maybe the dealer encouraged the buyer to bring the jug back for a refill that cost only as much as the alcohol itself. If so, would a dealer accept a jug marked with the name of a competitor? In the case of the Porter jug, maybe the unusually ornate decoration was simply an added bonus to the consumer to encourage sales and function as an excellent advertising piece for anyone who happened to see the beautiful jug someone bought at Leonard Porter’s store. Or maybe a jug with this sort of design was thrown in when a customer bought a particularly expensive wine or liquor.

Questions and considerations such as these have not been extensively pursued, but I believe they are important ones to keep in mind as we study eighteenth and nineteenth century American stoneware. Examining this side of the art form enables us to better understand and explain the decorations and other attributes of these vessels that have survived from a time period when day-to-day commerce and social interaction as a whole was quite different from our own.

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