Benjamin Harker, Sr. immigrated from England and settled on some land in the Ohio Valley near East Liverpool, Ohio to become a farmer. But the clay in the hills above the farm became a major source of his income. Finally in 1840, he decided that he could make more money by selling finished pottery than the clay and so he built himself a kiln and a small workshop on the river just north of the village. He hired a potter to teach the trade to his sons. And so began the oldest continually run pottery in the United States and the founding of an industry that exists to this day.
For 131 years Harker Pottery produced everything from dinnerware to bathroom fixtures. After fighting years of flooding on the western bank of the river (left, postcard of Ohio River showing East Liverpool with Harker Pottery), Harker moved across the river to the east bank in Chester, WVa. (right). It shipped dinnerware across the nation. In the 40's and 50's, you could get your Harkerware as premiums at stores and in theaters.
Among its first wares was an imitation of the English Rockingham glaze. This brown drip glaze that produces a rainbow like effect was most popular on Harker's hound handled jugs, tobys and pitchers.
Some of the most memorable items in the Harker line included an intaglio system that was patented as Cameoware . In this process a design is cut into a colored glaze. Early on, the design was applied as a rubber shape to the ware before it was dipped in the glaze and then removed before firing. Later, this was done by sandblasting the design on a glazed item using a metal stencil.
Harker was not the first to use this process; nor is all intaglio ware Harker. The process was first used by Bennett Pottery. But they went bankrupt before they could secure the patent. Bennett is easily distinquishable with its bright blue color and sharp, clean edges. Some intaglio ware comes from Europe. This ware comes in a variety of color and styles.
My favorite Harker pieces to collect are the intaglio platters. My own dinner service is the Ivy Intaglio.
Harker was the only maker of ceramic rolling pins. Holloware like this was difficult to make because of the tendency for the shape to collapse or break. Created primarily as decorative items, I know of one former Harker employee who used her Rockingham rolling pin to make cookies.
Pate sur pate used a colored glaze like the Cameoware. The shape of the ware, called Royal Gadroon, has a raised pie-crust edge. After dipping in the colored glaze the edge was wiped clean to produce a decorative border of white.
|But the advent of plastics and other manmade materials and the importing of cheaper ceramics from foreign markets made an end of Harker Pottery and most of the pottery industry that was the foundation of the economy of East Liverpool and Chester. The pottery was sold in 1969 and closed in 1972. The building burnt to the ground in 1975, leaving only the chimney... and a legacy of beautiful things.|
For More on the history of pottery in the East Liverpool area, check out these web sites: