This old pottery city is abuzz over a new book by collectors and historians Bill and Donna Gray.
“Amazing Ware Made in the East Liverpool Pottery District,” features profiles of the more than 135 potteries operating in East Liverpool and Wellsville, listed alphabetically, from Acme Craftware on page 1 to John Wylie & Son on page 425. It features color photos of each pottery’s ware, something no one else has attempted.
“The advantage of this book is that it is a pictorial history of the potteries,” said Susan Weaver, director of the East Liverpool Museum of Ceramics. “It is a comprehensive work. The photographs of the products of the potteries are wonderful to see.”
“The Grays’ book is magnificent, with first-class text research about the various potteries,” said Attorney Jackman S. Vodrey, whose family roots are in the local pottery industry. “The photographs of the many, many individual pieces of ware are amazingly sharp and clear.”
The Grays initial order was for 100 books, retailing for a hefty $112. Ninety-five copies have been sold, donated or given away, and an additional order of 24 was printed.
Copies were donated to the public libraries in East Liverpool and Wellsville, and are for sale from Barnes and Noble book store or locally at the Museum of Ceramics, Pottery City Galleries antique mall, or from the Grays themselves.
Bill and Donna Gray wrote in their dedication: “Potters mined the clay, built the kilns, designed and made the molds, fired their creations and exquisitely decorated them. . . This book is for them and their descendants. . . .”
Although comprehensive and detailed enough for collectors, “Amazing Ware” is highly entertaining with its tightly written histories of the potteries and stories about the personalities of the early potters.
For example, the sons of John Goodwin Sr. despaired of not finding the funds they believed he had put aside before his death to refit the Goodwin Pottery. They found $20,000 in government bonds inside his worn rocking chair when they had it reupholstered.
Donna said several people told them of not being able to put the book down once they started reading.
William and Donna Gray married in 1991. She was a widowed schoolteacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC Originally from Wellsville, Bill was divorced, working for Bell Atlantic (later Verizon) and moonlighting at a convenience store, where they met.
She liked antique furniture and he liked birdwatching and old pottery and had about 10 pieces of Harker and Hall.
Honeymooning at Hilton Head, SC, they bought a gray Harker Pottery teapot at a thrift store in Moorehead, NC They did not guess that they would eventually become the foremost collectors of and experts on Harker Pottery ware.
On a visit to Bill’s mother Dorothy in East Liverpool in 1996, they decided “we wanted to move here, where the potteries were.” They were guided by real estate agent Jean Diddle to a house built by the Vodrey family. Diddle sent them to see Charles Lang at First National Bank about a mortgage. After seeing Lang’s middle name of “Boyce” on his desk nameplate, Bill said, “We talked pottery for two hours before we got to finances.” The Boyce family had been a principal owner of the Harker Pottery.
They bought the house (“On a whole lot of faith”) and moved here in 1997, found employment, and settled into the community while continuing to buy Harker ware. (He retired after years as a sales representative at National Church Supply, she after long service as guidance counselor in East Palestine schools.)
“We were collecting only Harker at that point,” said Donna. Their collection of Harker at its height numbered 12,000 pieces and filled the old Vodrey house basement as well as display cases throughout the living space.
Wishing to share their knowledge of Harker ware, in 2006 they authored the authoritative 224-page “Harker Pottery from Rockingham and Yellowware to Modern,” printed by Schiffer Publishing, a company specializing in collector books.
Never possessed more than modest means, there were many times “we ran out of money before we ran out of month,” Bill said. To support their “Harker habit,” they became dealers as well as collectors.
Searching antique shops and the internet for Harker, they found and sold ware from other East Liverpool potteries as well, and got to know other collectors, both locally and across the US
Even before moving here, they had met and were mentored on the ins and outs of collecting by local resident Lois Myer, a wellspring of knowledge about East Liverpool. “She was the force behind what we did. . . “We have met the most wonderful people who have been so helpful,” said Donna.
Before publishing the Harker book the Grays had begun collecting rare and beautiful ware from other East Liverpool potteries. It was about this time that Donna outlined the form that “Amazing Ware” book would take.
They estimate their current collection at 14,000 pieces, which includes a large selection of the prized and expensive Lotus Ware from Knowles, Taylor and Knowles.
The Grays acknowledge that the history of East Liverpool potteries has been thoroughly told in two previous books: the scholarly “City of Hills and Kilns” by Bill Gates, and a book on local manufacturers and their marks (backstamps) by Bill Gates and Dana Ormerod.
In their introduction to “Amazing Ware,” they state that “This book’s purpose is the third component: pictures of the actual ware.”
In any book like this one, lines must be drawn. The period covered is from 1838 to the early 1970s, and the potteries profiled are only those operating at East Liverpool and Wellsville. For potteries which relocated to West Virginia side of the Ohio River, including Harker and Homer Laughlin, they said those stories are well told in other books.
Bill and Donna Gray included “acknowledgments” a list of the many individuals and organizations which provided information, allowed them to photograph their collections, and helped in other ways.
A key assist came from Don Jones, “our mentor, photographic adviser, graphic artist, who . . . gave us much needed technical support and actually put this book together,” laying out text and photos in a digital program which went to the printer.
Bill and Donna Gray “put an enormous amount of time and energy on this book,” said Susan Weaver. She said they have spent countless volunteer hours at the Museum of Ceramics, and she often refers people to them for information about East Liverpool potteries. “They are the most generous people with their expertise I’ve ever seen. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Attorney Timothy Brookes, president of the East Liverpool Historical Society, said, “Bill and Donna Gray’s newest book shows their amazing devotion to telling the story of East Liverpool’s pottery industry from its unlikely start to an industry that gave our city its distinctive character.
Their efforts in collecting the necessary information and placing it in one volume is beyond praiseworthy.”