A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

James Carr and the City Pottery of New York

James Carr c.1880
The name James Carr is well known to American majolica collectors but relatively little is actually known about the man or the pottery he founded.

James Carr was born in Staffordshire England in July of 1820. Raised as a potter, Carr left England with his wife Mary in November of 1844 to find work at the potteries of New Jersey. He first found positions in Trenton at the American Pottery then in South Amboy at the Swan Hill pottery.

Carr majolica at the Brooklyn Museum
In 1853 James Carr partnered with a man by the name of Morrison to open Carr & Morrison on west 13th Street in New York. It was largely a retailer of imported and domestic pottery. In 1871 Carr dissolved the partnership and opened the New York City Pottery at the same location. It was here that Carr began the experiments with glazes that led to his development of a line of majolica. 

With the exception of one marked piece in the Brooklyn Museum we don't know precisely what he made. Atlee Barber in his book The Ceramic Art claims that he prepared majolica jars, pedestals, seats, boxes, and cups. Charles Rebert in his book American Majolica 1850-1900 claims that he made cauliflower ware and a line of shell and seaweed majolica but since none of it was ever marked we have no way of confirming this. His palette is said to have included the colors of cobalt blue, yellow, and green.

Shell and seaweed pattern Rebert attributes to James Carr

In 1876 Carr exhibited majolica and parian ware at the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia. In the sole surviving image of his display, shown below, we can see quite a few Parian busts; decorated ironstone; several majolica pedestals with a scene of Washington crossing the Delaware; a majolica jardiniere in the shape of a wooden barrel; majolica sardine boxes in the style of George Jones; a majolica dog sitting up and several majolica platters, though their design is indiscernible.


Carr's exhibit at the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia


An example of Carr's decorated Ironstone
Mark of the NYC Pottery

He also exhibited at the 1878 Paris Exhibition where he received an award for quality in workmanship for his display.

In 1879 in partnership with Edward Clark, Carr purchased a failing pottery in Trenton and renamed it the Lincoln Pottery. The pottery was dedicated to utilitarian cream ware and granite for everyday use. It was not a long lived venture however as the pottery was sold again just a few months later and Carr resumed his work at the New York City Pottery.

Carr's first wife, Mary Elizabeth Smith Carr
James Carr with his family
Carr kept an active social life. After Carr's wife Mary died in 1886 he married second wife Emily Kerr in 1889. She died just six years later. He had a total of thirteen children.

In 1888 Carr closed the NYC Pottery and retired. His investments in rental properties on west 13th Street kept him a wealthy man until his death in 1904. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York alongside the Astors and other wealthy citizens of victorian New York.

Parian bust of James Carr by the New York City Pottery