The name William Young is synonymous with the birth of the ceramic industry in Trenton, New Jersey. This beautiful porcelain pitcher inscribed to him is a testament to the skill of the partners who established the Excelsior Pottery in 1853 and to the agreeable enterprise they managed.
The slightly waisted shape was modeled to resemble a tree trunk with ivy vines stretched across the bark. The bold shape of the ivy leaves and small knots in the bark have been highlighted with immaculate gilding. The inscription “Wm Young/Senr” is meticulously rendered under the spout.
Young was born in 1801 in Longnor, Staffordshire, England. He emigrated to the United States first in 1842 and again in 1848. His first efforts at establishing potteries in the Philadelphia and Camden area did not meet with success. When Charles Fish asked for his help building a kiln, he went willingly to South Amboy NJ. From there he joined Charles Cartlidge’s pottery at Greenpoint (Brooklyn) NY as the manager. Cartlidge’s firm was making small porcelain hardware such as key escutcheons, door and drawer knobs and door plates for use in the building and furnishing trades.
In 1853, Young was encouraged to move to Trenton by Charles Hattersley. A cutler by trade, Hattersley had built a small industrial pottery at Trenton because he thought the location between New York City and Philadelphia could become a prosperous site for ceramic manufacturing. In October 1853, Young leased the Trenton site from Hattersley for a period of five years and formed a partnership with several others he had worked with at Cartlidge’s, including Richard Millington, John Astbury and Young’s three sons, Edward, John and William Jr. This firm, which made yellow and rockingham ware in addition to porcelain hardware, was successful from the start.
Less than a year after production began, Young’s pottery exhibited its wares at the Exhibition of American Manufacturers held by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The Trenton State Gazette for December 7, 1854, reported on Young’s wares:
“One of the most interesting exhibitions of manufacturing taste and skill was yesterday on view at the Porcelain Works of Mess. William Young & Co., in Perry Street on the canal. It consisted of a large show card, containing specimens of their handi-work in great variety, such as door knobs, escutchens, door plates, harness furniture, and many other articles. Many of these were splendidly ornamented in gold and colors. The color [of the ware] was pure white, and the enameling was surpassingly brilliant. The whole of this business is done within the establishment, from the preparation of the rough clay and feldspar to the delicate and tasteful embellishment of the finished article.”
The Institute awarded the firm’s submission a First Class Premium: “No.902. Porcelain Doorknobs, Plates, Pitchers &c, by William Young & Co… This deposit is worthy of special notice. The door furniture is of the best quality in body and glaze. … It is asserted by the maker, and confirmed by one other person, that this ware is wholly burned by anthracite.”
The pottery’s early success encouraged the company to build its own facility. In March 1855, they acquired a four-acre site along the western bank of the Delaware & Raritan Canal near the Brunswick Turnpike. The firm continued as William Young & Co., and the new site became active in 1856 as the Excelsior Pottery. The pottery produced the usual round of architectural and decorative hardware, including porcelain furniture wheels as well as key escutcheons and knobs, and household crockery.
In March 1860, Millington and Astbury sold their interests to the Youngs and the company was renamed William Young & Sons. William Young retired in 1870. He died in July 1871.
The presentation pitcher might have been made at any time during the celebrated history of Young’s Trenton potteries, from 1854 to mark his successful first exhibition in Philadelphia, to the firing of the first kilns at the new pottery in 1856, to the departure of Millington and Astbury in1860, and to Young’s own retirement in 1870. The pitcher remained in the Young family for several generations, passing directly to the New Jersey State Museum in 1986 as a gift from Mr. & Mrs. William Young Bellerjeau.
Young was described as being “of fine physique and remarkable strength of character.” He was reportedly so esteemed by his workers that they vied with each other for a turn to sit at his deathbed and hold his hand.
Commemorative Pitcher, press-molded porcelain with gilding, made by William Young & Company, 1853-1857, 7.5 in H. The pitcher is inscribed to William Young Senior. It descended in the Young family. Young was a founder of the pottery with Richard Millington, John Astbury and Young’s three sons, Edward, John and William Junior. Collection of the New Jersey State Museum, CH1986.44.21. Photograph by Ricardo Barros.
Photographed as part of a collaborative project with the New Jersey State Museum. The project was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Mercer County Division of Culture and Heritage, in partnership with the New Jersey Historical Commission, Division of Cultural Affairs/ Department of State.