Trenton Makes Pottery: The Stoneware of James Rhodes

Photo: PhillyBurbs

Many avid art pottery collectors might remember the exciting find in 2000 when builders excavated part of Trenton New Jersey only to find thousands of broken pieces of James Rhodes stoneware. There were remains of gray salt glazed stoneware, including teapots, plates, bowls, cups and much more. Since then, it’s been researched and examined and the findings are nothing short of remarkable. 13,000 sherds and pieces of kiln furniture (items used to help in stacking pots in the kiln during firing) were retrieved from this particular site, where the kiln is still intact, buried beneath the tunnel roadway.

Rhodes was known for the cobalt blue glazes on his art pottery and the familiar signings that included molded faces on the bottoms of his pieces.

Several years later, another discovery was made about a mile away from the original site and it’s since been linked to Rhodes. This only further cemented Trenton’s rich history and reaffirms it was indeed one of the two epicenters of the early American art pottery movement. The first, of course, was -and remains – in Ohio.

The Potteries of Trenton Society has documented more than fifty art pottery makers and manufacturers that dotted the area by the turn of the century and for many years, there were millions of tiles, art pottery, everyday dishes and even fine china that were shipped out of the area for destinations around the country and around the world.

Now, the city of Trenton is preparing for an exciting new show that will last for months.

Beginning September 14th 2012 and running through January 13 2013, the Potteries of Trenton Society will display not only those thousands of pieces unearthed in 2000, but will also showcase more than 50 of the manufacturers that called Trenton home. The “Trenton Makes Pottery: The Stoneware of James Rhodes, 1774-1784” has much in store for area residents and visitors. The stoneware pottery of James Rhodes, one of the few known American stoneware potters of the colonial period, is the star of the exhibit that’s being curated by Richard Hunter, Rebecca White, and Nancy Hunter. Rhodes had a successful pottery-making business on a property adjoining the Eagle Tavern site, where his first boss was creating stoneware. It was all combined later s part of the tavern property.

Visitors can enjoy lecturers and speeches by some of the most well respected archaeological consultants in the nation. In fact, on September 30, Richard Hunter will be the first of those consultants who will address fans of American art pottery.

It truly is a once in a lifetime event and if you’re planning a vacation, this is certainly worth consideration.

Fulper Pottery: Backstory

Even though Fulper Pottery was incorporated in 1899, it had roots that went as far back as 1814, albeit under a different name. The Flemington, New Jersey company was first the brainchild of Samuel Hill. He too called New Jersey home and was a well respected producer of crocks, jars and drain pipes. Hill passed away in 1858 and before long, Abram Fulper decided to begin purchasing as many of Hill Pottery pieces that he could get his hands on.

Fast forward to 1899 when the company was incorporated. William Hill Fulper II, Abram’s grandson, transitioned into the role of secretary and treasurer of the company. His Princeton University education served him well, especially as the company continued to grow. It wasn’t until 1909 that the now-Fulper Pottery Company released its first line, known as Vasecraft. It was more of a minimalist line; quite casual, yet lovely.

Within a year of Vasecraft’s release, another prominent employee, Martin Stangl, found himself in the role of ceramics engineer and soon was developing many of the glazes Fulper Pottery is so well known for. Another prominent name associated with this art pottery company is John Kunsman. He too preferred the simple glaze colors. His work found its way to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition where it earned an honorable mention. There were approximately 100 glazes used during the course of the company’s production. It wasn’t until 1929 that Stangl bought out the Fulper family, and unfortunately, he opted to compromise both quantity and quality. Within five years, the company was producing most dinnerware.

What we’re left with is some of the most striking art pottery to be found anywhere. If you’re already a collector, you know the glazes are often what sets this line apart from all others and if you’re new to the Fulper Pottery collections, you’re in for a treat as you explore those many glaze lines.

Be sure to explore the Just Art Pottery Fulper Pottery page. We have several pieces available, including the Fishing Man Statue, which is a favorite among collectors.

A Look at Fulper Pottery

Founded in 1805 by the Fulper brothers, this New Jersey pottery has remained synonymous with an evolving northeastern pottery company. What began as a drain tile manufacturing company quickly evolved into a pottery company known for its Fulper doll heads, beautiful book ends and multicolored and multi-shaped vases, statues and even kitchenware.

Unlike other pottery companies, Fulper Pottery consistently, from the beginning, marked its wares with back stamping of an oval trademark and pattern name. Contracts began rolling in once the company transitioned to an art pottery company and soon, thousands of Fulper Pottery pieces were being sold around the nation.

Fulper Pottery, though, didn’t have an easy road to its ultimate success. In September, 1929, the Flemington, New Jersey Plant burned in its entirety. It was a blow to the town; Fulper Pottery was one of the largest employers in the entire region. Many employees were able to transfer to the Trenton, New Jersey plant. It was then that Fulper Pottery became Stangl Pottery. Then, in 1940, Stangl released what is described as a “fine grade” of hand crafted and hand decorated dinnerware. Each collection incorporated lovely designs; though there was one more element that really set these designs apart. Stangl Pottery introduced for the first time a revolutionary carving process. Using special tools, the designers carefully carved those subtle those distinctive designs that culminated into beautifully decorated finished pieces.

By the time the 1950s rolled around, Stangl released its Antique Gold pottery line. These wares are easily identified via their 22 karat gold hand brushed embellishments. It’s absolutely stunning against the matte green glaze. So popular was the line, that soon Granada Gold, with 22 karat gold brushed over a striking turquoise finish and Black Gold, which is painted over a handsome and inky black finish were released. The final piece in this unique line was the Platina, which is hand brushed with platinum for a brushed silver finish.

See more of the Fulper/Stangl pottery on Just Art Pottery’s Fulper Pottery page.