Excelsior Pottery


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In operation



white granite, c.c., decorated ware, and porcelain hardware trimmings (1878 Price List); thin opaque porcelain and hotel ware, white granite, c.c., decorated ware, majolica goods, porcelain, hardware trimmings, etc. (Industries of New Jersey 1882:206); white and decorated pottery, underglaze printed dinner, tea and toilet ware for the jobbing trade; Belleek, art porcelain, superior opaque porcelain, thin and hotel, white granite and c.c. ware, fine decorated dinner, tea and toilet ware (Board of Trade 1900); earthen and chinaware (Industrial Directory 1901); electrical porcelain (Industrial Directory 1909); majolica, including doorknobs (Snyder and Bockol 1994:140)

Maker's Marks

Click to enlarge


“É the Willets Manufacturing Company are making extensive additions and improvements” (Trenton State Gazette, Monday, March 8, 1880).

“The business was established originally about the year 1853, by William Young & Sons and was one of the first and best-known potteries in Trenton. The Messrs. Willets succeeded to the business in 1879 and under their vigorous management the works were enlarged to their present dimensions. They carry a vast stock and do an immense annual business. Their manufactures embrace thin opaque porcelain and hotel ware, white granite, C.C., decorated ware, majolica goods, porcelain, hardware trimmings, etc.

The premises embrace some six acres in extent, upon which are erected some of the most complete structures anywhere to be found, all of them fully equipped for the work with the most improved machinery and tools known to the art. The buildings are twenty-two in number and are chiefly of brick. The main building or east front is 415×75 feet in size, two and three stories in height, with four wings, 30×80, 50×80, 30×50 and 20×80 feet, all of brick, also two and three stories in height. To the rear of these wings is another building, 150×100 feet, of brick, and is three stories and a basement in height. Another is of brick, four stories in height and 50×125 in size; another, 50×125, two stories in height. A dozen others are of various dimensions, together with sheds, stables, etc. There are eleven large kilns for ware, two decorating kilns and one kiln for miscellaneous work, making in all fourteen kilns. The motive power is derived from a forty-five-horse power engine and three large boilers, which also heat the buildings by means of steam pipes. Steady employment is given to three hundred experienced hands, embracing some of the best-known artisans in this country. The facilities for shipment by rail or water are unsurpassed, a canal basin adjoining the premises É ” (Industries of New Jersey 1882:206).

“The rapid growth of the Willets’ Manufacturing Company’s works is probably the best indication of the remarkable expansion of the pottery business in the city of Trenton. It is a most fitting circumstance that the large factory which has just been completed by the addition of several large buildings, should have arisen from the nucleus of the first pottery established in Trenton” (Trenton Evening Times, Sunday, November 15, 1885).

“Manufacturers of white and decorated pottery, underglaze printed dinner, tea, and toilet ware for tax jobbing trade. Belleek, Art Porcelain, Superior Opaque Porcelain, Thin and Hotel white granite and cream colored ware, fine decorated tea and toilet ware” (Trenton Board of Trade 1900).

“Excelsior Pottery Company forfeited its charter in 1910” (Secretary of State 1914).

In 1879 it was known as “Willets Company.” In 1882 the pottery consisted of twenty two buildings, with fourteen kilns; it employed three hundred hands (Harney 1929).

” É among its wares was at least one improbable item, a majolica doorknob. While Willets Manufacturing Company produced many marks for its other wares (including white granite, semi-porcelain and Belleek) no marked majolica wares have been found to date” (Snyder and Bockol 1994:140).

Detailed history provided in Hunter Research, Inc. 2005:8-11.

Selected References

R.G. Dun & Company Collection, Mercer County. 1879. 2 [45]:362 and 3 [46]:141.

Federal Census of New Jersey. 1880. Industrial Schedules. On file, New Jersey State Archives, Trenton, New Jersey.

“The Pottery Enterprise.” Trenton State Gazette, Monday, March 8, 1880.

Fitzgerald, Thomas F. 1880-1900. “Fitzgerald’s Trenton and Mercer County Directory, Together with a Directory of Bordentown, Burlington, Mount Holly and Lambertville, NJ and Morrisville, PA, Included a Fund of Information Concerning Public and Private Institutions, National, State, County, City and Borough Governments, Gathered from Reliable and Official Sources.” Thomas F. Fitzgerald, Trenton, New Jersey.

“Industries of New Jersey, Trenton, Princeton, Hightstown, Pennington and Hopewell.” 1882. Historical Publishing Company, New York, New York, Newark, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Woodward, E.M. and John F. Hageman. 1883. “History of Burlington and Mercer Counties.” Everts and Peck, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Among the Potters.” Trenton Evening Times, Sunday, November 15, 1885.

J.M. Elstner & Co. 1889. “New Jersey’s Leading Cities Illustrated: Historical, Biographical, Commercial Review of the Progress in Commerce, the Professions and in Social, Municipal Life.” J.M. Elstner & Co., New York, New York.

Jervis, William P. 1897. “A Book of Pottery Marks.” Press of Hayes Bros., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Trenton Board of Trade. 1900. “Industrial Trenton and Vicinity.” George A. Wolf Publishers, Wilmington, Delaware.

New Jersey Bureau of Industrial Statistics. 1901. “The Industrial Directory of New Jersey.” Trenton, New Jersey.

Fitzgerald, Thomas F. 1901-1933. “Fitzgerald’s Trenton and Mercer County Directory, Together with a Directory of Bordentown, Burlington, Mount Holly and Lambertville, NJ.” Thomas F. Fitzgerald, Trenton, New Jersey.

New Jersey Bureau of Industrial Statistics. 1909. “The Industrial Directory of New Jersey.” Trenton, New Jersey.

Newark Museum Association. 1914. “The Work of The Potteries of New Jersey: From 1685 to 1876 , Being Extracts from ‘The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States,’ by Edwin Atlee Barber and Marks of New Jersey Potteries, as Reproduced from ‘Pottery,’ Published by The Thomas Maddock’s Sons Company.” Newark Museum Association, Newark, New Jersey.

Secretary of State. 1914. “Corporations of New Jersey, List of Certificates to December 31, 1911.” MacCrellish & Quigley, Trenton, New Jersey.

Harney, W.J. 1929. “Trenton’s First Potteries.” Sunday Times Advertiser, July 7, 14, 21 and 28, 1929.

Cleary, J.J. 1932. “Willets Bros.- Alpaugh & Magowan.” Sunday Times Advertiser, January 24, 1932.

Thorn, C. Jordan. 1947. “Handbook of Old Pottery & Porcelain Marks.” Tudor Publishing Company, New York, New York.

Lehner, Lois. 1980. “Complete Book of American Kitchen and Dinner Wares.” Wallace-Homestead Book Company, Des Moines, Iowa.

Robinson, Dorothy and Bill Feeny. 1980. “The Official Price Guide to American Pottery & Porcelain.” House of Collectibles, Orlando, Florida.

Gaston, Mary Frank. 1984. “American Belleek.” Collector Books, Paducah, Kentucky.

Lehner, Lois. 1988. “Lehner’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Marks on Pottery, Porcelain & Clay.” Collector Books, Paducah, Kentucky.

Frelinghuysen, Alice Cooney. 1989. “American Porcelain, 1770-1920.” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Nottle, Diane. 1997. “Beauty, Utility and Paychecks, All Built on a base of Clay.” In: New York Times, November 9, 1997.

Goldberg, David J. 1998. “Preliminary Notes on the Pioneer Potters and Potteries of Trenton, N.J.: The First Thirty Years – 1852 – 1882 (And Beyond).” Privately published, Trenton, New Jersey.

Hunter Research, Inc. 2005. “Historical and Archaeological Investigations at the Excelsior Pottery Site, Southard Street Bridge Replacement Project, City of Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey.” Report on file, New Jersey Historic Preservation Office (NJDEP), Trenton, New Jersey.

Wall, John P. N.d. “History of the Potteries of Trenton, New Jersey.” Manuscript on file, Trenton Public Library, Trenton, New Jersey.

Other Names

Willets Manufacturing Company

Block and Lot:
46E-1/24, 53-68, 72, 76

Historic Street Address:
Brunswick Avenue near City Limits; Southard Street; 400 Southard Street

City of Trenton

1880 Census

Name in censusWillets M'fturing Co.
Number of hands260
Males above 16175
Females above 1535
May to Nov hours10
Nov to May hours10
Skilled wages2.4
Ordinary wages1.25
Total wages in year70000
Full time months12
Value of raw material60000
Value of product175000
Number of engines1
Horse power130