Currently, we have two S. Bell & Sons Crock Pottery – regional pottery pieces that Bell Pottery collectors would have an interest in. The two crocks are marked S. Bell & Sons, which would be either Samuel or Solomon and were brothers of John Bell. Both are salt glazed. One has blue decorations. More information and images on these two crocks can be found on our bidding platform here.
Born in 1775, Peter Bell was operating a potting shop in Hagerstown by 1808 and was listed in the town records from the period as one of four known potteries extensively involved in the trade. Operating there until 1824, Peter relocated to Winchester, Va., where he worked until 1845. The father of the Bell family then moved back to Hagerstown and constructed a house and pottery where he remained until his death two years later. The site is the now the home of the Renfrew Museum, which, coincidentally, houses a major collection of Bell pottery.
Each of Peter’s four sons pursued the pottery trade; the eldest, John, was born in 1800; followed by brothers Samuel, 1811; Solomon, 1817; and Upton (date unknown). Remarkably, the great tradition of Bell family potters continued for 100 years, eventually involving and ending with the third generation.
Born in Hagerstown, John Bell became one of America’s preeminent potters, using glazes and techniques that many scholars believe are unsurpassed in American earthenware ceramics of the period. Although John learned the trade from his father, he advanced his knowledge by developing innovative recipes for different glazes and learning new techniques.
After apprenticing under his father in Hagerstown where the concepts of the German Eighteenth Century pottery were instilled in him, he married in 1826 and relocated to Chambersburg where he worked until 1833. It was there, working with Jacob Heart, that he learned the English ceramic molding techniques that would later become so popular in all of the Bell family pottery wares.
John achieved great status and wealth during his lifetime, earning his bread and butter by producing a line of utilitarian pottery that was an essential part of everyday life. However, John was not intimidated by the stylish ceramic output of the large city potters or the stylish English and European imports.
Often imitating the imported wares that were popular with the social elite of the period, John succeeded in inventing and producing glazes that stylistically emulated the popular Rockingham, mocha, Wheildon, spatterware and Bennington wares. In doing so, he was able to provide common households with a necessary ware that was luxurious in appearance but modest in price.
In the 1830s, he became the first American potter to make use of a tin glaze that produced a white surface, creating an appearance similar to stoneware.
Samuel and Solomon Bell set up shop in Strasburg, Va., opening in 1834. Solomon acquired the molding technique from his brother John in 1840 and it soon impacted the style of pottery produced there.
The Civil War was a major interruption for all aspects of life in the Shenandoah Valley, ultimately affecting the production of pottery. As reconstruction and railroad service advanced after the war, however, the need for the utilitarian wares increased dramatically. The Bell family dominated pottery production during this period; John and family in Waynesboro, and Solomon, Samuel and his family in Strasburg. The period was a heyday for the Bells due to their voluminous and artful production.
The third generation of Bell potters included John W. Bell, John’s son, who worked with his father for many years and then ran the Waynesboro pottery after his father’s death from 1881 to 1895. Mary Elizabeth, John W.’s sister, also worked at the pottery as a decorator and signed pieces, although few are known to exist. One such example with highly decorative applied floral motif is on view. Samuel Bell’s sons also worked as potters, with Bell family potting production finally coming to an end in 1908.
Thank you for taking the time to learn a bit more about the history of the Bell Family, and if you are interested in bidding on the two crocks mentioned above, and to see the other great antiques and collectibles we have for sale please click here.