This ancient pottery town is buzzing with a new book by collectors and historians Bill and Donna Gray.
“Amazing items made in the pottery district of east Liverpool,” features profiles of over 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 item, something no one else has attempted.
“The advantage of this book is that it is a pictorial history of pottery”, said Susan Weaver, director of the East Liverpool Museum of Ceramics. “It’s a complete job. The photographs of the pottery products are magnificent to see.
“The Book of Greys is beautiful, with first class text research on the various potteries,” said attorney Jackman S. Vodrey, whose family roots are in the local pottery industry. “The photographs of the very many individual pieces are incredibly crisp and clear.”
Grays’ initial order was for 100 books, priced at $112. Ninety-five copies were sold, given away or gifted, and an additional order of 24 copies was printed.
Copies have been donated to East Liverpool and Wellsville Public Libraries, and are on sale at Barnes and Noble Bookshop or locally at the Museum of Ceramics, Pottery City Galleries antiques shopping centre, or from the Grays themselves .
Bill and Donna Gray wrote in their dedication: “The potters extracted the clay, built the kilns, designed and made the moulds, fired their creations and decorated them exquisitely. . . This book is for them and their descendants. . . .”
Although comprehensive and detailed enough for collectors, “Amazing item” is very entertaining with its tightly written stories of pottery and stories about the personalities of early potters.
For example, the sons of John Goodwin Sr. despaired of finding the funds they believed they had set aside before his death to redevelop 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 they couldn’t 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, D.C. Originally from Wellsville, Bill was divorced, worked for Bell Atlantic (later Verizon) and moonlighted in a convenience store, where they met.
She loved antique furniture and he loved bird watching and antique pottery and had about 10 pieces from Harker and Hall.
On their honeymoon in Hilton Head, SC, they purchased a gray Harker Pottery teapot from a thrift store in Moorehead, NC. They hadn’t guessed that they would eventually become the greatest collectors and experts of Harker Pottery tableware.
During a visit to Dorothy, Bill’s mother, in East Liverpool in 1996, they decided “we wanted to move here, where the pottery was.” 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, “Boycé” on his nameplate, Bill said, “We talked about pottery for two hours before discussing the finances.” The Boyce family was one of the main owners of Harker pottery.
They bought the house (“On Much Faith”) and moved here in 1997, found employment and settled into the community while continuing to purchase Harker items. (He retired after years as a sales representative at National Church Supply, she after long service as a guidance counselor in schools in Eastern Palestine.)
“We were only collecting Harker at that time,” Donna said. Their collection of Harker at its peak numbered 12,000 pieces and filled the former Vodrey House basement as well as display cases throughout the living space.
Wishing to share their knowledge of the Harker articles, in 2006 they wrote the authoritative 224-page document “Harker Pottery from Rockingham and Yellowware to Modern,” printed by Schiffer Publishing, a company specializing in collectible books.
Never having possessed more than modest means, there were many times “we ran out of money before we ran out of months,” said Bill. To support their “Harker’s Habit”, they became dealers as well as collectors.
Searching for Harker in antique shops and on the internet they also found and sold items from other east Liverpool potteries and met other collectors, both locally and across the US .
Even before moving here, they had met and been mentored on the ins and outs of fundraising by local resident Lois Myer, a source 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,” Donna said.
Before publishing the Harker book, the Grays had started collecting rare and beautiful items from other potteries in east Liverpool. It was around this time that Donna described the form that “Amazing item” book would take.
They estimate their current collection at 14,000 pieces, which includes a wide selection of prized and expensive Lotus Ware from Knowles, Taylor and Knowles.
The Grays acknowledge that the story of the potteries of East Liverpool has been told in detail in two previous books: the scholar “City of Hills and Ovens” by Bill Gates, and a book on local manufacturers and their brands (backstamps) by Bill Gates and Dana Ormerod.
In their introduction to “Incredible Items”, they declare that “The purpose of this book is the third element: images of the actual merchandise.”
In any book like this, lines have to be drawn. The period covered is from 1838 to the early 1970s, and the potteries described are only those operating in East Liverpool and Wellsville. For potters who moved to the West Virginia side of the Ohio River, including Harker and Homer Laughlin, they said those stories are told well in other books.
Bill and Donna Gray included in “thanks” a list of the many people and organizations who provided information, allowed them to photograph their collections, and helped in other ways.
Key help came from Don Jones, “our mentor, photographic advisor, graphic designer, who . . . gave us much needed technical support and actually put this book together,” layout of text and photos in a digital program that went to the printer.
Bill and Donna Gray “Put a tremendous amount of time and energy into this book,” said Susan Weaver. She said they had spent countless hours volunteering at the Ceramics Museum and she often referred people to them for information about east Liverpool pottery. “They are the most generous people with their expertise that I have ever seen. I can’t say enough good things about them.
Solicitor Timothy Brookes, chairman of the East Liverpool Historical Society, said: “Bill and Donna Gray’s latest book shows their incredible dedication to telling the story of East Liverpool’s pottery industry from its unlikely beginnings. to an industry that has given our city its distinctive character.
Their efforts to collect the necessary information and place it in a single volume are more than commendable.