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From Beverly to Beantown

The pottery of Charles Lawrence


Justin Thomas
All photos by the author unless otherwise credited.

omparatively few people today know of Charles Lawrences nineteenth- and early twentieth-century earthenware business in Beverly, Mass., despite the fact that the pottery was responsible for Bostons popular nickname, Beantown. Lawrence was born Charles Albert Solares in Beverly in 1829. He was of Portuguese descent, and in the 1850s he changed his name to Lawrence, presumably hoping that an Americanized name would make it easier for him to succeed in the pottery business. Lawrence apprenticed and trained in Joseph Reeds pottery in Peabody, Mass. Reed had purchased the long established Osborn pottery from the family years before while he was employed there. The Osborn Pottery had successfully operated since the seventeenth century and helped lay the foundations for the pottery industry that ourished in Essex County during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pottery was the central business in an area that employed more than a hundred potters over many decades.

The Bass River in Beverly, Mass. - the location of the Charles Lawrence Pottery in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Monumental Lawrence Pottery bean pot made for Beverly when it became a city in 1895. Courtesy: Beverly Historical Society.

Variety of forms made at the Lawrence Pottery in the 1870s and 1880s. A partially glazed bean pot, a small terracotta vase or owerpot, a very rare candlestick and a redware cover.

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The Beverly Pottery


By 1866, Charles Lawrence had founded his Beverly earthenware business on the shores of the Bass River. The river allowed him to distribute his wares inland and to the harbor in nearby Salem, which would have opened up transport to other coastal communities. Lawrence did not see the Beverly business as its own entity, but rather as one that continued the long tradition of pottery making in Beverly that had begun in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. While walking along the shores of the Bass River recently, I discovered a handful of shards that were most likely from the Lawrence Pottery. They were thickly potted terracotta wares with deep incised decoration in both asymmetric and symmetric patterns. Some of the shards had been painted in white milk paint. There was also a group of partially glazed utilitarian shards probably from crocks. These shards appeared to be earlier than the Lawrence Pottery, probably from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. As we have noted, Charles Lawrence considered his company a continuation of those that came before him, and it was fascinating to see this born out in the shards I found on the shores of the Bass River. There were also dozens of owerpot remains that may have also been made by Charles Lawrence. Lawrence employed skilled workers at his Beverly Pottery many of whom had previously

worked in Peabody. Thomas Pitman of Marblehead, Mass., was employed as a decorator. Pitman likely applied many of the painted decorations used on the Old World forms and terracotta wares. The potter Edwin A. Rich joined the business from Keene, N.H., and his talent allowed the company to experiment with unexpected approaches and forms. The Boston manufacturer, importer and retailer, F.A. Walker and Company, occasionally purchased wholesale orders from Lawrence Pottery. F.A. Walker sold to the higher end of the Boston market, and their clients could afford higher quality products. Walker & Co. imported the most choice products from Europe and the products of the Beverly pottery were of high enough quality to be included alongside the European products. The recorded orders from Walker & Co. are from the 1860s and early 1870s, and there are a small number of traditional utilitarian forms that bear F.A. Walkers mark. The retailer stamped its products with an ink stamp that read F.A. Walker inside an oval circle. In the 1860s, the Lawrence Pottery focused on traditional redware forms - jugs, mugs, cups, pitchers, bean pots, herb pots, stew pots, creamers and coffee pots. The most common glaze was an orange body with red halos caused from iron in the clay that reacted to the heat of the kiln. Lawrence Pottery often applied yellow and green slip to its wares. Experimental glazes were sometimes seen, too.

Lawrence Pottery redware pots with typical glaze and yellow and green slip decoration. Made in the 1860s.

Large painted terracotta owerpots, both originally painted white, from the 1870s. The pots are similar to the white painted shard found on the Bass River. The pots were found together in Essex County, Mass.

Old World vase, hand painted, made in the 1870s, and modeled after a Greek original.

Utilitarian redware crock shards found near Lawrence Pottery shards on Bass River. Probably from an earlier Beverly pottery in the 18th or early 19th centuries.

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Lawrence Pottery terracotta shards found on the Bass River.

Flowerpot shards found on the Bass River. Possibly from the Lawrence Pottery of the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Then, in the 1870s, the pottery completely changed its focus. Terracotta wares and Old World forms copied from Greek and Egyptian styles became fashionable, and Lawrence met the fashion. Period advertising in local publications described these Old World forms as Accurate reproductions of all the best specimens of ancient pottery, literal copies of some of the nest pieces now in Old World art museums (are now available in Beverly). Lawrence Pottery marketed most of these Old World wares to the general population, but some more detailed jars were made to order. Some Old World forms were stamped on the base in black within a circle, Beverly Pottery, C.A. Lawrence. A ne example is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These forms were unique to the Beverly Pottery, though Chelsea Keramic Art Works in Chelsea, Mass., did create a similar line under Hugh Robertsons direction, as did John Farmer Clark in Concord, N.H., and Thomas Nickerson in Newburyport, Mass. The Beverly Pottery gave a greater emphasis to the Old World style and terracotta forms than anyone else in New England. It was also the only utilitarian pottery that transformed its production to include these wares. Most the other businesses that made Old World forms were companies that focused on art pottery. In the 1880s and 1890s, the companys focus returned to more traditional terracotta products and utilitarian wares. In 1903 Lawrence Pottery advertised itself as a manufacture of earthenware, glassware, owerpots, antique pottery and roasting pans in the 1903 Beverly City Directory. It also identied the pottery as a wholesaler of stoneware, Rockingham ware, yellow ware and drain pipe. They also advertised the sale of bean pots as souvenirs of the Battleeld of Gettysburg.

Beantown
Beverly was incorporated as a city in 1894. Its rst mayor was elected in 1895. To celebrate the event, Charles Lawrence made a monumental bean pot boldly incised, PRESENTED TO THE FIRST MAYOR OF BEVERLY FROM THE BEVERLY POTTERY, JAN 1895. The jar now sits prominently in the Cabot House as part of the Beverly

Old World vase, made in the 1870s and modeled after an Egyptian original.

Lawrence Pottery redware pot with unusual, probably experimental, glaze. Made in the 1860s.

Historical Societys collection. This was not the rst commemorative bean pot the company had produced. It was already selling smaller bean pots as souvenirs of the Battleeld of Gettysburg. This protable line of souvenirs resulted from an important order to the pottery in 1890, which is when it rst sold bean pots as souvenirs. The State Department of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest veteran organization in the country, hired the pottery to create souvenir bean pots for a national encampment of Civil War veterans in Boston. The Twenty-Fourth National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, as the reunion was called, marked the 25th anniversary of the Civil War, and Lawrence was contracted to make a redware bean pot for each of the thousands of participants. These souvenir pots were smaller than traditional bean pots and each was boldly marked Beverly Pottery and came with a red ribbon around the lip. It is not known if any have survived. It is likely that the souvenir bean pots made in 1890 and the monumental bean pot made for the mayor in 1895 were similar in form, if not in size. The veterans returned home to all parts of the country. They told their families and friends of the wonderful experience they had in Boston. They showed them the souvenir bean pots and told them they had nicknamed Boston Beantown because of them. The name spread by word-of-mouth in their towns and cities across America. The name Beantown, then, is the direct result of that 1890 order to Charles Lawrence and his pottery. Charles Lawrence died in 1906. The companys 60 years of existence ended shortly after. It was a small business compared to many in Essex County, but its accomplishments were substantial. Its products were of a high quality. Its potters were masters at their craft. The paint decoration was truly artistic. The business carried its operation into the twentieth century a feat accomplished by very few utilitarian potters from the1860s and 1870s. The business was run by a true craftsman and businessman in Charles A. Lawrence, for whom quality and beauty were always of the utmost importance.

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