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Cincinnati Pottery Before There Was Rookwood

by Wes Cowan (05/11/10).

This wonderful Cincinnati yellow ware paneled water pitcher with Rockingam-type mottled brown glaze on a slip-cast body was made by William Bromley. The pitcher has floral scrollwork decoration and a female with harp below spout. The base has impressed Eagle mark with “Bromley & Co. Brighton Pottery Cin. Ohio.”

This wonderful Cincinnati yellow ware paneled water pitcher with Rockingam-type mottled brown glaze on a slip-cast body was made by William Bromley. The pitcher has floral scrollwork decoration and a female with harp below spout. The base has impressed Eagle mark with “Bromley & Co. Brighton Pottery Cin. Ohio.”

For most antique lovers, the Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati conjures up images of fine ceramics. Great decorators, combined with great glazes gave this art pottery a well-deserved national reputation. Few people know, however, that Cincinnati was also the scene of a thriving ceramic industry long before pottery began to be manufactured on the top of Mount Adams.

By the time Rookwood was established in 1880, for example, no less than 29 separate potteries had operated in the Cincinnati basin. Virtually all were situated in Over-the-Rhine and in the Brighton neighborhood at the northwestern edge of the Cincinnati basin. Many of these potteries were operated by immigrants from the great pottery making district of Staffordshire, England. They brought with them technical know-how, and peculiarly English ideas about how pottery was to be made.

Much of this pottery was made in molds of two halves into which wet clay was pressed, allowed to become “leather hard” and then slipped out and joined together to make the finished product.
The output of these potteries was largely utilitarian ware—pitchers of various sizes, shallow bowls and basins—but mugs, pie plates, tea and coffee pots, bottles and spittoons were produced in abundance. Most were made from yellowish clay that was coated with a bright yellow or brownish glaze. Today, collectors prize this “yellow ware” for their simple, yet elegant shapes and great colors.

Identifying early Cincinnati yellow ware is maddeningly difficult since rarely did our potters sign their products. William Bromley, who was in business in Brighton between about 1849-1863, was an exception. This English potter evidently took great pride in his status as an American, for the bottoms of his pottery often bears a distinctive stamp of a raised, spread-winged American eagle and the logo “W. Bromley Cincinnati Ohio North America.” Bromley is known to have made pitchers in several sizes, some with plain handles, others formed to resemble a sleek greyhound.

If you’re lucky enough to find a Bromley pitcher they’re quite valuable. You can figure $1,500 for an 8-inch version and perhaps $2,000 for a 10-inch example. Look for that molded spread-winged eagle!

Dr. Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series “History Detectives” and is a featured appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow.” He can be reached via email at info@historicamericana.com.

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