Morganville pottery bears mark of history

Sep 20, 2012

Morganville Pottery

Morganville Pottery

 

John Jenner recently donated a large, Morganville pottery bowl to the Stafford Museum of History. The bowl is unusual because a previous owner had it repaired with staples. (Submitted photo)

Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2012 12:12 pm

STAFFORD — A humble piece of pottery offers a small mystery at the Stafford Museum of History.

A large, redware bowl was recently donated to the museum by John Jenner, a former LeRoyan who lives in Connecticut. He purchased the bowl about 40 years ago from an antiques dealer in Caledonia.

The museum has a collection of Morganville pottery that was produced in the hamlet during the 1800s. What makes Jenner’s bowl unusual is that it had been repaired with staples.

“It took a lot of effort and skill to repair a piece of pottery with staples, so it was reserved for pieces of some value,” said Dan Barber of Stafford, co-author with Catherine Roth of the booklet, “The Pottery at Morganville”

Perhaps a family heirloom, Barber suggests. Or a prized piece of Wedgwood.

But most likely not Morganville pottery, which was “like Tupperware” — inexpensive, utilitarian and not something you’d worry about breaking, much less paying to have fixed.

“You’d just go to the local general store — or the potter himself — and buy a new one for a minimal price,” he explained.

The Morganville Pottery made earthenware (or redware) at its factory on Morganville Road, across from the Morganville United Church of Christ. The pottery flourished between 1850 and 1860, and closed about 1900.

(Little remains of the pottery in Morganville, but a there is a working replica at the Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford.)

Many of the vases, jars and urns produced at the pottery were unmarked. So identifying a piece of Morganville pottery necessarily involves some educated guesswork. “We’re always about 90 percent sure,” Barber said.

One clue is style of an individual potter, nearly as specific as a fingerprint. But skilled craftsmen often moved from place to place — from New England, then perhaps to the Alvin Wilcox Pottery in Ontario County or the one in Morganville, and then on from there.

“In some respects they were itinerant,” Barber said, so similar pottery can be found at different sites.

Because Jenner’s bowl has a rim and ear handles similar to shards of pottery found at the Morganville pottery site, it can well be identified as a piece of Morganville pottery. It also has the characteristic glaze and flattened rim of such pottery.

The fact that the bowl had been broken and then repaired suggests that the piece must have been valuable to its owner. Most such repairs to pottery and china were done in England and rarely in America. However, it is known that some street peddlers repaired pots and pans in this country and perhaps such a tinker had repaired this bowl.

It involved drilling small holes on either side of the break, and connecting the pieces with something like a modern staple — most often a double-wire iron, but in this case brass. If the staples were inserted in an inconspicuous location, the repaired pottery could still be displayed and even used (though it would probably not be watertight).

“It was an art, definitely,” Barber said. “It would hold the piece together so well you wouldn’t have to use glue.”

The staples on the Morganville bowl are most likely at least a century old. The repair of pottery with staples was a practice and a skill that vanished by World War I, Barber said.

Why might an everyday piece of Morganville pottery be given the royal treatment?

Chalk it up to a modern-day, old-fashioned virtue.

“Back then, people valued things more and tended to recycle,” Barber said. “Being ‘green’ is not new.”

The repaired bowl is on display with the rest of an extensive collection of Morganville pottery at the Stafford Museum of History, Route 237, Stafford. Hours are from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays through September.