The History 
of
Purinton Pottery

By Joelle, Class of 2004

 
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This is a picture of what used to be the Purinton Pottery building. It is located in Shippenville. It is currently the Clarion Fiber Drum Company.

    Since as early as 1840 the name “Purinton” has been connected with the pottery business. The manufacture of this pottery in the United States began in East Liverpool, Ohio.  It was very simple cooking ware crafted from local clays.

            A family, which lived in East Liverpool, Ohio and was influential in its business life, was the Purintons. Bernard Purinton came from this long line of pottery specialists.  Because of his hard work, he developed a unique pottery casting process and a unique and beautiful type of pottery. He wanted to perfect and patent a method, which would produce a distinctive pottery quickly and economically in a wholesale production line.

            By 1940, Bernard had gotten patents on his unique casting process.  He realized that the Wellsville plant could not produce the quantity and quality of pottery he wanted, so he began to look for a location for a new and improved pottery manufacturing plant. His search led him to Clarion County, Pennsylvania. Purinton decided to settle his plant in the small town of Shippenville, five miles west of Clarion, Pennsylvania. With the hard work and enthusiasm of the community, the new Purinton plant was open for production on December 2, 1941. It employed 75 to 100 people at full capacity.

Throughout the factory, Bernard Purinton depended upon many other people to help with the different aspects of work. William “Bill” Bower, a resident of Knox, Pennsylvania, was the secretary of the Clarion County Chamber of Commerce when the Purinton Pottery Company came to Shippenville. John M. Hammer was named sales manager of the new Purinton Pottery Company in Shippenville. He was responsible for bringing Roy Underwood and the Clarion County Chamber of Commerce into contact with Bernard Purinton. He was also an important link between the Purinton production line and the pottery salesman and buyers in the industry. Roy R. Underwood became the company’s Vice-President. He was from Knox, Pennsylvania, and was president of the Knox Glass Associates, Inc. Dorothy Purinton met Bernard Purinton while attending college in Wooster, Ohio and they were married in 1917.  Dorothy only worked part-time in the Shippenville plant. She was never a salaried employee. 

When the Purinton Pottery Company opened in Ohio, William Blair also became interested in pottery, and he became an important figure in his brother-in-law’s operation.  Because of his artistic background and talent, he helped lay the groundwork for the decorating phase of the Purinton pottery process. Blair Purinton was the son of Bernard and Dorothy.  He became very familiar with his parents’ new pottery business. He did various tasks in the plants.  He was not only a good manager and salesperson, but was also valuable with his artistic abilities in the decorating department.     

The Purintons produced pottery with lovely hand-painted designs on creamy white clay in many creative shapes.  They were pioneers because they used a wide variety of multicolored free brush patterns, but the designs and forms used of their molds were original and unique. Their dinner and breakfast plate were an off-round shape.  This had never been seen in the industry before.

In the beginning only solid glaze ware was produced because the decorators had not been trained in other methods. The McCormick Tea Company got a contract for a yellow two-cup individual teapot. These teapots were the first pieces that came from the kiln at the new plant on December 7, 1941, the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed. The teapots were then sold to stores throughout the country.  After this, Purinton decided to promote decorated lines of pottery. Decorated pottery did not cost that much more to make, and could be sold at double that cost

            Purinton fashioned many patterns. These items were produced and sold in chain stores. Many of the specialty items, such as small vases and planters, were decorated with unnamed patterns and sold to florists and gift shops. Because Shippenville was considered a gateway to Cook Forest State Park, many souvenir pieces, sometimes decorated with pine trees and log cabins, were made for restaurants and souvenir shops.

            Sometimes one of a kind pieces were produced such as plates and mugs for children or commemorative pieces made for anniversaries or other special events. The Autumn Leaf Festival was an annual event in Clarion.  Dorothy Purinton painted souvenir plates for the event. Employees of the Purinton Pottery Company were allowed to make special pieces for themselves. They could decorate them however they wanted, sometimes adding their names.

Esmond Industries, Inc., a New York organization is probably one of the most well known companies for which Purinton made pottery. Their revolving canister set on a wooden base is a popular example. Purinton produced lazy susans, canister sets, and casseroles on stands for them.

In 1958 foreign imports on the market caused many financial difficulties for the Purinton Pottery Company. The pottery company was liquidated in 1959.

            Purinton pottery is distinct not just because of its shapes and designs, but also because of the methods used to make it. Purinton’s production system of hollow ware was different from any other pottery in the United States. Instead of the traditional method where a special amount of slip is poured into each mold individually, a group of molds was immersed completely into a container of slip.

The free hand decorating of Purinton Pottery was probably the most important step in its production. This is where the pieces got the original decorations that collectors love today. Under the direction of Dorothy Purinton, a group from eight to ten trained artisans painted designs on the ware. These designs include Apple, Plaids, Intaglio, Maywood, Saraband, Pennsylvania Dutch and Teawood.

All procedures in the Purinton process were strictly controlled and were found after much research and experimentation.  If there were errors in drying and firing times, the quality would be poor. The Purinton method produced a strong, lightweight pottery that was made to be used, not just admired.  It is unique and different from any other utility or serving ware of its time.

Bob and Jackie Schauer of Franklin, Pennsylvania, have been collecting Purinton pottery for the past 20 years.  They began their collection with several pieces they inherited from Jackie’s grandmother.  They used to search flea markets for the pottery, but now they usually find them at antique stores.  Their collection is not very big, only twenty pieces or so.  They collect only the odd pieces, not sets of dishes.  Jackie’s favorite piece is her lazy susan.  It has coffee and tea holders, on a wooden turn-table.  They are decorated with different fruits, like apples and pears.  Jackie also says her most unique piece is a Purintan cat that Bob bought for her.

 

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This Purinton jug features the Ivy design.

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This piece of Purinton Pottery is entitled “Rooster.” It is a cookie jar.

 

 

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This 2-cup teapot also has the Ivy design.

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Pottery borrowed from the Knox Library This is a picture of some Purinton. These pieces are the design called “Apple.”