Table of Contents
Joesph Mayer's Arsenal
William B. Liebeknecht
Part 1: Yellow ware
Editor's Note: Pottery waster dumps associated with the Arsenal pottery were examined
as part of the archaeological research along the new alignment for N.J. Route 29 in Trenton.
This is the first of three articles, by archaeologist William B. Liebeknecht, that will
describe some of the ceramic finds made at these dumps.
The Arsenal Pottery was owned by James and Joseph Mayer from 1876 to 1905 (Goldberg 1998;
Hunter 1999). In the late 1870s the plant manufactured "Majolica and Barbotine Ware vases,
jardiniers, jugs and flat ware" (Wall n.d.:6) as well as "Rockingham and brown stoneware,
fancy flower pots, hanging baskets, hanging logs, stumps and pedestals..."(Mains &
Fitzgerald 1877). A brief article on the pottery industry from the 1877 Trenton city
directory stated that "Mr. Mayer is the only potter in the city of Trenton who is
manufacturing Rockingham ware" (Mains & Fitzgerald 1877). Since other potters in the
city were listed as manufacturing Rockingham wares in the late 1870s, this claim may
not be entirely accurate. Nevertheless, the manufacture of Rockingham had decreased
in the city with the rise in produc-tion of white granite wares; at most only a handful
of potteries were producing Rockingham ware.
Some of the yellow ware wasters recovered from the Arsenal Pottery dump are particularly
interesting and might shed light on relationships among pottery manufacturing firms at
the end of the 19th century. The yellow ware wasters were from both bisque (fired but
unglazed) and finished (glazed) pieces. All of the bisque sherds are from "Rebekah at
the Well" teapots. The finished sherds came from a variety of vessels (such as pitchers,
a spittoon, and a chamber pot) as well as Rockingham glazed Rebekah at the Well teapots.
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There are a variety of Rebekah teapots in the dump. The bisque pieces all have a remnant
red/brown slip, dipped glaze on the interior and exterior surfaces. Most of the teapots
are 10-sided vessels with sides that expand gradually from the shoulder to the base. A
few have smooth bodies. Some are marked "FIRE PROOF" on the base, and others are un-marked
(known examples of Rebekah at the Well teapots manufactured by the Mayer Arsenal pottery
are marked "FIRE-PROOF /J. MAYER / TRENTON" [Stradling 1996:26]).
The teapots could claim to be fireproof because of the presence of grooves or pads that were
designed to release the heat created by direct contact on cast iron stoves. The grooves
prevented the vessels from cracking. Two types of grooved bases were found at the Mayer
dump: two unshaped grooves or channels spaced 180 degrees apart along the footring and
six small flattened drop-shaped pads spaced evenly around the footring.
Lids from the teapots come in two diameters, 3 1/4 inches and 4 inches, and they have a
single locking-notch. The finial or knob is conical-shaped and divided by five incised
lines filled with dots, crosses and horizontal lines. The body has a plant emanating
from a single stem with four simple toothed leaves and terminating in three branches
containing one berry each.
Rebekah at the Well teapots were not produced exclusively by the Arsenal Pottery.
According to an 1876 Crockery and Glass Journal article, the Speeler Pottery Company
of Trenton was manufacturing "the 'Rebecca,' 'Chinese,' 'Medallion,' 'Pineapple,'
and 'Vine,' [teapots] all in new shape." Stradling's 1996 article on the Southern
Porcelain Company has a photograph of a Speeler Pottery Company Rebekah teapot.
This teapot (clearly marked with the Speeler Pottery Company mark "SPCO") looks
remarkably like the examples recovered from the Mayer Pottery dump site, right
down to the location of the mold seam, which runs vertically to the side of the
spout and handle (more commonly, mold seams were horizontal and located beneath
the spout and handle). The Rebekah teapots from the Arsenal and Speeler potteries
also display similar handles, lids and spouts, the three main elements of the
Rebekah teapots which were subject to stylistic change among potteries.
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It therefore appears likely that Rebekah at the Well teapots manufactured by the
Mayer Arsenal Pottery were produced using either former Speeler Pottery Company
molds or very good copies of those molds. How they would have obtained these molds
is open to speculation. The Speeler Pottery Company changed hands in 1878 (acquired
by Carr and Clark and renamed the Lincoln Pottery) and again in 1879 (purchased by
Burgess and Campbell and renamed the International Pottery Company). After purchasing
the pottery, Burgess and Campbell reportedly switched from manufacturing Rockingham
and yellow ware to white granite and related products (Goldberg 1998:22). Although
there is no direct evidence, it is possible that the Arsenal acquired the Speeler
molds at that time. Perhaps further research can shed some light on the relationship
between the Arsenal and Speeler potteries.
Goldberg, David J. (1983) Preliminary Notes on the
Pioneer Potters and Potteries of Trenton, New Jersey. [Revised 1998].
Trenton Museum Society.
Hunter Research, Inc. (1999) The Trenton Potteries
Database. On file, NJDOT.
Mains, B. W. and T. F.
Fitzgerald (1877) Mains and Fitzgerald’s Trenton, Chambersburg and Millham
Stradling, J. G. (1996) The Southern Porcelain Company of
Kaolin South Carolina: A
Reassessment. Journal of Early
Southern Decorative Arts 22(2):1-39.
Wall, J. P. (n. d.) History of the Potteries of Trenton,
NJ. Paper on file, Trenton
Public Library, Trenton.
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