ANOTHER "GREAT FEATURE ARTICLE" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
SMITH vs. MERRILL
By David Graci and David Rotilie
In attempting to discover the germination of the
idea for molded or pressed stoneware utilitarian objects such as
bottles, and who may have made them first, an examination of the
patent recording process is necessary.
The Patent process was in its infancy in the early 1830s, with Patent Records being recorded for examination by 1836. Patent No. 1 was recorded on July 13, 1836 and was for Traction Wheels. This information is available to researchers for study. Patents issued before that date were indexed but not recorded and are not available to researchers.
Inventors were slow to grasp the concept of patents and the protection they offered, and growth of patent records was very slow, with only 2,000 numbered patents recorded by early 1841, just five years after the first.
Efforts were underway to produce molded stoneware products by various individuals who sought to record the dates of their ideas by this new method. Some of these early efforts are indexed in the patent records, as that on May 10, 1827, for a Machine For Making Clay Tubes, by J.H. Rowell & H. Wise of Fredericktown, Pa. Another is noted for Moulding Pottery by J.C. Mendall & R.B. Ricketts, of Masonville, Ky on June 30, 1836. The exact nature of their mechanics is unknown as no record was kept.
Joel Farnam, of Stillwater, N.Y. received Patent #4,242 on Oct. 25, 1845, for combining various materials to be used in the manufacture of potteryware. He states that the composition will admit of by molding, turning, or pressing, burning, and glazing, etc. More individuals were pursuing these ideas but were lax in recording them, and may have been using different processes to produce molded stoneware.
These efforts are seen in an examination of the first recorded patent for the Improvement in Making Bottles, etc., of Clay, issued to Edwin Merrill and C.J. Merrill, of Akron, Ohio, on July 31, 1847. Merrills patent states; many attempts have been heretofore made to manufacture hollow stoneware by machinery, but without success. The difficulties of pressing into shape have precluded its employment generally. This has (already) been attempted by means of a revolving piston working into a mold, etc. By our improvements we (Merrill) obviate all these difficulties and are enabled to manufacture, etc. (Italics mine) Other potters, perhaps like Mendall & Ricketts, were trying the same process. Merrills patent was for the inner shape of the bottle, called the core or mandrel, having spiral channels cut into its surface, which eased the bottle forming process, and for the device to attach and form the interior joint of the bottles bottom disk. He did not claim to have invented the basic process, only to improve it.
A major player in this effort was a potter named Washington Smith, who established a portable furnace and stoneware factory at 32-34 Eighteenth Street, in Manhattan, N.Y. It was known as the Greenwich Pottery and in New York directories of the 1850s was pictured as a long three-story building with four large smokestacks protruding from the roof. It also appears on an 1868 atlas of New York City. (Ketchum) Marked stoneware by Smith is hard to come by, though his early work included many objects used by householders. Much of Smiths early marked work is seen in sided stoneware bottles which carry his name within a shield, with the words Patent / Pressed above it. Most of his sided bottles have this wording, but one is known debossed with Patent / Issued, making a very difficult job of establishing which of these gentlemen, Smith or Merrill, developed this process first. An early debossed stoneware bottle is noted with the name S. Smith on the shoulder and near the base W. Smith / Greenwich, N.Y. S. Smith stands for Samuel Smith of Auburn, N.Y. in the business of making Mineral & Soda Water from 1844 to 1857.
Many sided stoneware bottles are known with most unmarked by the potter who produced them. Brewers or merchants names are found on many, with others being unmarked. An examination of those recorded is useful in any determination of age but made difficult by the similarities seen in the finished product. Washington Smiths business was established very early and prospered till 1870. Smith recognized the importance of producing clay stoves, drainpipes, tile and stove flues and his early efforts were focused in that direction. In 1861 he took in his son, Washington I. Smith, leaving him to run the business after his retirement in 1863. Smiths son continued until 1870, selling out to William Shute & Company.
Production of sided stoneware bottles continued for many years but only two other potters left their mark on sided ware besides Washington Smith and Edwin Merrill. Smiths earliest dated, sided bottle, is marked D.L. Ormsby / 1847. Dorman Leonard Ormsby was a brewer from Manhattan who operated from 1847 to 1873. A later marked example carries the date 1849 with a Star and at the base the Patent / Pressed / W. Smith within a shield.
Smith may have been working on the same type of molding process as the Merrill brothers, as Merrills first patent was granted on July 31, 1847, and Smiths earliest dated bottle is marked 1847. It is unclear why no patent record is found in Smiths name. Smiths use of the term Patent / Pressed and Patent / Issued begs an explanation. It is interesting to speculate on the possibility of these two potters working together to perfect this process, though no written records point in that direction. Their timing may be just coincidence, but Edwin Merrill and his brother Calvin were first to make a record of this effort at the patent office.
Edwin Merrill worked at the pottery trade with his father in the summer as a young boy, going to school in the winter when the kilns were shut down. At age 22, Merrill moved to Springfield Township, which became a part of Akron, where he worked in the trade first for Soloman Purdy, and then for the potter named Fiske. He later bought Fiskes business and had his fathers family move in sometime around 1835. They remained in Springfield until 1847, at which time they moved to Middlebury, also a part of Akron, where he and brother Calvin obtained their first patent. As members of Hill, Merrill & Co, they manufactured water pipes and stone pumps from 1851 to 1854.
In 1854 they, the Merrill Brothers, invented a machine for making sewer pipe, which they began to manufacture under the firm of Merrill, Powers & Co, with the brothers owning a one-half interest. This business did well until the panic of 1857 forced them to sell their products at reduced prices. About this time Edwin bought out his brothers interest, continuing on his own until 1860 when the business was destroyed by fire for a total loss.
After this date the record is blank as the Calvins movement, while Edwin H. Merrill and his father Henry E. Merrill formed a new business, called the Akron Pottery, locating at the corner of South Main and State St. They prospered, and in 1887 the firm was incorporated as the E.H. Merrill Company, with Edwin H. Merrill as president, Henry E. Merrill, superintendent and Fred W. Butler secretary. Edwin Merrill died January 25, 1888 and Henry became both president and secretary.
While Washington Smith and Edwin Merrill may have been pursuing similar ideas, other inventors did not remain idle. On Sept. 29, 1857, Philip Pointon, of Baraboo, Wisconsin, received patent #18,298 for his Machine for Manufacturing Pottery-Ware. In his patent he states With the above described arrangement of a revolving mold and loose bottom, I am enabled to mold articles of pottery ware either plain of fluted in a much more expeditious and perfect manner than has heretofore been done either by hand or with any machine with which I am acquainted. I do not wish to be understood as claiming a plunger descending into a revolving mold, nor a movable bottom acted upon through a hollow shaft, both of which I am aware are in use. (Italics mine)
William Linton of Balitmore, Md obtained his patent #31,394 on Feb. 12, 1861 for his version of a Machine for Molding Pottery. He made certain Improvements in Machinery for Molding Pottery-Ware, Crucibles, and other Articles such as are usually made on the Potters Wheel. More patents would follow with John Tresch of New York, N.Y. getting his #38,430 on May 5, 1863 for making large quantities of flower-pots or other similar articles. Mr. R.J. Marcher of New York, N.Y. recorded #38,905 on June 16, 1863 with Keil & Tresch following on April 1, 1867 with #63,529 for Moulding Pottery.
A listing of over ninety sided stoneware bottles, debossed with names of brewers and beverages makers, is known, making a comparison of differences between them easier because of several important factors. Smith and Merrill started in business about the same time, with Smiths early efforts being directed toward the clay stove, drainpipe, tile and flue market. With Smiths retirement in 1863 and his sons sale of the business in 1870, establishing the operating dates for brewers and beverage makers he may have made bottles for becomes quite important. Smith is known to have produced some cylindrical shaped stoneware bottles while Merrills are primarily sided. Determining differences in the styles of these early bottles with those identified as being made later adds to this process. With Merrills longer business record it becomes easier o credit his company with the possible production of more of those recorded examples. Important comparison factors include the use of fluted shoulders, eight, ten or twelve sided examples, and marks observed on the very base of these bottles. The production process used required a sectional mold to ease removal of the finished bottle, with Merrills first patent of 1847 being identified as using a mold with four pieces. Merrills improved patent of 1868 used a three-piece mold. Upon close examination of the lip and body areas of sided bottles, the marks from both types of molds can be seen. Smiths lack of a recorded patent to identify the process he used is unfortunate, though it had to have been very similar. It has been established that an unknown number of other potters were working on similar devices and that one with the very same principle did exist.
Another possible explanation for the similarity of their products is that Merrill licensed Smith to use his device, though no evidence exists to support this idea. Perhaps it was a joint creative effort with Smith getting to use it in production while Merrill got to patent the idea. Only two other potters are identified as producing sided stoneware bottles, with no evidence suggesting their using Merrills idea.
The Akron Stoneware Agency, of Akron, Ohio was created in 1883 when eleven stoneware companies joined together. A printed flyer of the period, from this company, has illustrations of the different products they made, with two stoneware bottles shown. One is small in size, of cylindrical shape and identified as a Wies Beer Bottle, while the other, is a taller, sided or paneled shape, named a Root Beer Bottle. This later identification has led some to call all sided or paneled bottles used only for root beer. California Beer, Lemon Beer and Ginger Pop are some of the other products seen in this style of bottle. It should be noted that in examining the printed price lists of many potters, most sold beer bottles. However, none are known to have listed the style or type produced, such as paneled bottles, or identify them as being root beer bottles.
SMITH vs. MERRILL - Conclusion
While consideration if given to the factors discussed here, it must be remembered that no conclusive evidence presents itself to support the claim that Smith was first. Merrills 1847 patent indicated that other potters were familiar with the process of making sided bottles and may even have precluded both Smith and Merrill in producing them. In Donald Blake Websters book Decorated Stoneware Pottery of North America, on page 197, he refers to two other potters having produced sided stoneware bottles with their names marked on them. Goodwin & Webster, from Hartford, CT., ca; 1810-1840, the best candidate for first honors, and Cowden & Wilcox, from Harrisburg, Pa., ca; 1870-1881, who most certainly competed with Merrill. Very few sided examples have been recorded from these two potters, making important comparisons impossible. Merrill remains the only potter in this comparison to have secured patents on the molding process. A strong factor supporting Smith and Goodwin & Webster are their dates of operation, and the existence of their names on sided stoneware bottles.
Perhaps the main difference between these early sided bottles, and the quest to identify who made them, can be found in the fluted shoulders observed on only a small percentage of them. This feature is found in conjunction with the bottles base having no swirl marks, as seen and produced by Merrills 1868 patent. Another important feature revealed, upon close examination and with some difficulty, is the number of mold marks produced in the manufacturing process. Merrills 1847 patent shows a mold producing four lines, while his 1868 patent shows just three lines from the mold.
Detailing the names of these examples reveals another important element concerning the merchants whose names appear upon the bottles. They all seem to have very early dates of operation, suggesting that Smith may have produced this highly identifiable style. Smiths mark is seen on some of these fluted shoulder bottles while Merrills mark appear on none. These differences represent thin evidence to support any strong conclusion so the question of who first produced sided bottles will remain open to several interpretations.....
SIDED STONEWARE BOTTLES
WITH FLUTED SHOULDERS
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