J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Picking Up Pottery Pieces in Peabody

At the Early American Ceramics site, Justin W. Thomas just wrote about what he found at a site in Peabody, which in the eighteenth century was part of Danvers.

That site, Thomas knew, was once owned by a family of potters called Osborn. The business was established by a Quaker named Joseph Osborn in the late 1730s and grew over time; “there used to be multiple kilns located in this neighborhood, which were operated by multiple generations of Osborn family potters.”

In the early 1800s the family opened similar workshops in several other New England towns, expanding from Rhode Island to Maine and westward to New York. The Osborns sold the Peabody site to another pottery firm which stayed in business into the early 1900s.

That property is now mostly taken up by a senior citizen community center. Driving by, Thomas saw that a portion of it, never built on in recent decades, had been excavated to expand a parking lot. He got permission from the authorities to walk over the ground and pick up any artifacts on the surface that might be remnants of the early pottery works.

Thomas reported:
We discovered hundreds of artifacts. We found found kiln furniture, kiln bricks, wasters and sherds. I believe all of these objects are related to the Osborn Pottery instead of the businesses that operated afterwards. Collectively, I would say that these artifacts date from the circa 1740-1860 period.

I was amazed at some of the evidence that we were able to gather, which has never been tied to the Osborns before:

1) The abundance of thickly potted black-glazed wares: There were a number of thickly potted black-glazed utilitarian sherds with walls that were over one-inch thick, which appeared very-similar to black-glazed pottery that was produced in Buckley, England in the eighteenth-century. Were the Osborns trying to imitate the Buckley wares that were imported into places like Boston and Salem, Massachusetts in the 1700s? Are products in New England made by the Osborns mistaken for wares made in Buckley today?

2) Slip Decoration: It has been published in the past that the potters in Essex County, Massachusetts did not utilize a lot of slip-decoration in the eighteenth-century. However, I have found evidence that suggests otherwise. I think it is more a matter of tying slip-techniques to Essex County today that have been left unattributed or even attributed elsewhere in the past. I do not believe the Osborns have ever previously been linked to slip-decoration; although, we found accurate evidence of it yesterday.

3) Glazed Base: It has been published in the past that utilitarian red earthenware potters did not glaze bases in New England; however, I have recently proven that they did occasionally glaze bases in North Yarmouth, Maine. North Yarmouth was also a potter’s industry that was directly tied to Essex County. Yesterday, we found evidence of a black-glazed jug that was intentionally entirely glazed on the base by the Osborns. I have seen similar black-glazed bases in North Yarmouth.

4) A Fluid Glaze: We found evidence yesterday of a fluid glaze that was applied at the Osborn Pottery in Peabody. I have not seen this type of glaze previously associated with utilitarian potters in Essex County.

5) Glazes: We found an abundance of glazes yesterday that would not traditionally be tied to Essex County, Massachusetts today; although, Lura Woodside Watkins also confirms these type of Peabody (or South Danvers) glazes in Early England Potters and Their Wares. We found glazes that would normally be tied to Pennsylvania or elsewhere in New England (i.e., New Hampshire, Maine, etc.).
Thomas’s posting includes many photographs. The one above shows what he suspects might be the Osborns’ attempt to replicate thick black-glazed pottery from Britain.

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