15 August, 2010

Vintage Sunday: E. Swasey & Co, Pottery

Pictured at right is a cute little 1-quart beanpot I picked up at a thrift store not too long ago.  It was made sometime in the late 1800's by E. Swasey & Company of Portland ME, a company which at one time was one of New England's most prolific pottery works and today is all but forgotten.

Eban Swasey was a potter who apprenticed in Exeter NH in the mid-1800s.  In 1875 he and his partner, Rufus Lamson, moved to Portland ME and established the Portland Earthen Ware Manufactory, producing redware.  Swasey and Lamson eventually went their separate ways, and in 1890 Swasey established E. Swasey & Co. at 273 Commercial Street in Portland.

In 1897, Swasey's youngest son Perley joined the company, which became a sizeable enterprise by the turn of the century.  Eban  died in 1906, but the business carried on until finally sputtering out of business in the Depression.  The factory buildings are still there on Commercial Street - refurbished and with the "E. Swasey" logos freshly restored on the end of the mill, they serve today as an office park.

During their four decades of operation, Swasey pottery was common and used all over New England.  They made beanpots, crocks, jugs and bottles, jars, creamers, and more.  Their most common pattern was the typical color combination shown in the photo - brown top, cream-colored bottom, with a light brown stripe between them and the characteristic "E. SWASEY & CO - PORTLAND ME" mark on one side - but they also produced contract work and more decorative pieces as well.

Not too long ago, Swasey pottery was easy to collect.  It wasn't considered "old enough" to attract the attention of antiquers, and it was pretty commonly found in rummage and yard sales really inexpensively.  Then, sometime in the early 2000s it was "discovered" and has since become hard to find and kind of costly for old crockery.  Personally, I don't collect any one particular manufacturer, but the little Swasey piece that inspired my essay here made a great addition to my collection of beanpots.


LeslieAlice said...

Thanks for posting this. I live in St. Louis, MO and just found a bean pot like yours with an outline of a block 2 above the maker's mark. It will be a housewarming gift for my daughter who lives in Portland, and will be filled w/ houseplants which are babies from her grandmother's plants; her grandmother has been gone for 17 years. I appreciate finding all of this great info!

Cheryl said...

I, too, thank you for posting this! I received a covered crock from my son-in-law for a Christmas present two years ago, and have been curious about the name of the company printed on the side. I am very happy to find out about the Swasey company, and that the building still exists in Portland. Looked it up on Google maps, and sure enough, the name is still there on the end of the building.