Attached you will find several photos of a salt-glazed stoneware crock that I obtained recently from an antique shop here in Ohio. At first glance, it appears to be a rather un-extraordinary piece of stenciled stoneware made by James Hamilton & Co. of Greensboro, PA who was in business from ca. 1850 to 1880. However, you will note that in the upper right either the potter who turned the piece and/or the decorator has inscribed their initials in the upper cobalt stripe. They read WSR.
That seems to be an unusual characteristic in its own right. Of course, having a 3 letter initial for a person’s name provides one with a better chance of determining exactly who signed this piece (compared to having only a 2 letter initial). I immediately went to the PA pottery books by Phil Schaltenbrand as he not only shows the names of the pottery owners but also the names of some of the people that worked at the larger potteries in southwestern PA (he provides several group photos of various owners and workers each identified in the picture title). After looking through his books I found 1 name that was a possible match: William Rumble. Many members of the Rumble family worked at various Greensboro and New Geneva potteries. I could find no other name that matched in Phil’s books and William was only listed in a group of names and was not described further in any text that I could find. I am certain Phil could have provided more details but, unfortunately, as many of you know, he passed away last November. (Just as a sidebar, Phil made several really outstanding stoneware pieces for my wife and me in the late 1980s which we still have in our possession.) For the next step, I went to Ancestry to see if I could find a William Rumble with a middle initial ‘S’ living in Greensboro and working at pottery. Bingo! I found a William Smiley Rumble in the 1880 Federal census living in Greensboro and listed as working at a stoneware shop. His parents must have had a sense of humor in providing him with the middle name of Smiley. He was born on Sept. 13, 1854, in Monongahela Township, Green County, PA (Greensboro is in this township). He is in Greensboro by 1874 when he marries. Presumably, he was working at pottery by that time.
There were 2 active potteries in Greensboro during this period of time: James Hamilton & Co. on Water St. and Hamilton & Jones on Diamond St. I am fairly certain he was working for James Hamilton & Co. (the company who made this piece of stoneware) based on where he was living. The 1880 census provides a dwelling number for his residence. In one of Phil’s books, he shows an 1876 plat map that has the owners of each lot in Greensboro. No lots show William S. Rumble as an owner but the dwelling number indicates he was living on Water St. very close to James Hamilton and the James Hamilton & Co. pottery. Based on the above information all evidence indicates that the William Smiley Rumble was likely the person that put his initials on this stoneware item.
I have been able to assemble all of William Rumble’s genealogical information including wives, children, and places he moved to and worked. Most of this is not relevant information for this discussion. I will say though that he does continue to work for potteries after those at Greensboro declined and closed toward the end of the 19th century. He is still in Greensboro in 1884 when he remarries after his first wife dies (likely now working in the same pottery which is now owned by Williams and Reppert) but by 1891 he and his family are living in Lincoln, NE and he is working at the Lincoln Pottery Works. He continues to work there until 1903 when the pottery closes. He and his wife and several children move on to Blackfoot, ID where he is listed simply as a laborer (there were no known potteries there that I could find). He dies in Blackfoot on Oct. 7, 1929 (just a couple of weeks before the stock market crash!).
References (books all by Phil Schaltenbrand):
1. Old Pots (1977)
2. Stoneware of Southwestern Pennsylvania (1996)
3. Big Ware Turners (2002)
If you have or have seen others pieces of stoneware marked in a similar manner with WSR or other initials I would very much appreciate hearing from you.