Wisconsin antique bottle and advertising club

Charles Hermann &Co, Milwaukee Stoneware: Short History 1856-86

(With mention of his successor, Louis Pierron) By Henry Hecker

Charles Hermann &Co, Milwaukee Stoneware: Short History 1856-86
(With mention of his successor, Louis Pierron)

Charles Hermann was a Prussian immigrant with a factory on Johnson Street in Milwaukee. He commenced operations in 1856. His factory was strategically located near the Milwaukee River which allowed for the transport and unloading of high quality clay from Ohio. His firm also procured some clay from Illinois and  Iowa as well as the clay found in Wisconsin is for the most part not fit for salt-glazed stoneware, only earthenware. Following in the footsteps of earlier Milwaukee stoneware manufacturers such as Oscar Baker and the Maxfield brothers, Hermann was by far the most successful and prolific manufacturer of stoneware with a thirty year production period before making his stepson, Louis Pierron, a partner in 1882 and turning the business over to Louis completely in 1886.

By the Civil War, Hermann had a rousing business selling his stoneware wholesale and retail and had a store at 318 East Water Street. He was successful enough to have Civil War tokens minted and marked for his “Broom & Stoneware Factory.” Many firms had these coins minted because of the war time metal shortage.

Hermann recruited a number of accomplished decorators for his early cobalt and salt glazed utilitarian ware. In the 1850’s and ‘60’s he turned out thousands of jugs, crocks, cream risers (pots), churns many of them ovoid in shape which was the designs influenced by the Greek and Roman styles still popular from the first half of the 19th century. His pieces are usually incised in oval, “C. Hermann & Co. Milwaukee.) Many of the early ale and weiss beer bottles from Milwaukee can also be attributed to Hermann (and Pierron) as well. There are well known Otto Zweitusch jugs (for mineral water) that are “classic” Hermann in style and form that bear the identical incised stamp as Zwietusch stoneware bottles. From this correlation, it can be safely inferred that many of the F. Schwarz, I.S. Meister, Ph. Altpeter and others were also made by Hermann. Recently, I also learned another key piece of history from Herb Page, a long time collector of pottery bottles. In his younger years, Herb actually was a good friend of Louis Pierron, Jr. Louis, Jr., who was a bicycle enthusiastic of local fame in the first several decades of the last century, gave Herb a number of bottles mentioned above that Herb was told were made by Louis, Sr. These bottles are all in mint condition and obviously saved by his father from the business.

Early Hermann pieces are decorated with a number of derivations of floral styles and single and double bird decorations as well. One of his decorators obviously had a fixation for using dots in his flowers and birds and he, or she, was very prolific. Some of these decorations were likely applied using a dip cup. There are also more primitive, free hand flowers that were decorated using a brush or fingers. These contrasting styles are shown in examples in this presentation. Later, but still hand decorated pieces, often bear a more simplistic “snake flower” and these pieces probably date to the late 1860's or 1870’s. One decorator was probably Christian Daeffenbach who had worked for Frederick Herrmann before the Civil War and returned to Milwaukee after the war to work for Charles Hermann. Daeffenbach later started a pottery in New Ulm, Minnesota. Marked pieces from both potteries exist with identical decorations.

Hermann also did a steady business manufacturing product jugs, jars, preserve and snuff jars. Many of the mineral water, whiskey and other liquor purveyors in Milwaukee relied on Hermann for their bulk containers that could be sold retail or wholesale. These containers were cobalt stenciled with the firm name, e.g., Weiss Bros. , S.C. Herbst, Webster Bros, and some times also bore the incised C. Hermann oval on the shoulder as well. His jars sometimes were incised with the name of the firm, e.g., in an oval similar to Hermann’s stamp or were undoubtedly paper labeled as well.

There are undoubtedly many other forms and special order pieces that Hermann made but did not mark. Many snuff jars and bean pots found in SW Wisconsin bear identical semblance to marked pieces and bear finger prints from the employees that dipped them in Albany slip glaze. He undoubtedly made pitchers, milk pans and other pieces as these were produced in large quantities by other potters but not marked. Also there are one-off pieces such as those noted in the Wisconsin Fine Arts site (an “1856 Milwaukee” dated ovoid jug) and a cobalt scripted “I am not a tembrance man, my felo” jug that playfully quotes an Abraham Lincoln quip of the time. Inevitably, there must be “lunch hour” pieces that were taken home by employees. Most remarkably, Hermann even made a pig figural flask for liquor. Because the specimen that exists is marked on the rump with the C. Hermann & Co. distinctive oval mark, this might have been representative of a run of these pigs for a local liquor dealer, but to date only one has been found.

By the 1870’s and 1880’s, Hermann had abandoned the more time consuming hand decorated utilitarian ware for high quantity production of less elegant but still very useful Albany slip and salt glazed stenciled pieces. Hermann was producing Albany slip pieces very early but these are usually a much darker, almost black glaze while the later pieces are tan-brown. His jugs also can be two toned with an “orange peel” glaze on the dome shoulder with the lower cylinder of the jugs a yellow to tan.

Hermann & Co. also made fire brick, sold starch, and owned considerable land in rural Milwaukee county presumably to grow straw for his broom manufacturing. Various vintages of bill of sale for Hermann list a number of products and also provide insight as to the cost of his stoneware.

By 1886, Charles Hermann had turned his factory over to the complete control of his stepson, Louis Pierron. Louis marked transition pieces with a stenciled mark, “Manufactured at the Chas. Hermann Stoneware Factory, Louis Pierron, Prop., Milwaukee, Wis.” Later pieces are marked with an incised oval. Louis maintained his stepfather’s relationship with many of his legacy customers and continued to produce utilitarian ware (jugs, crocks, jars, and churns) as well as product jugs, jars and bottles. It is reported that Pierron fired some by around 1895, Pierron was augmenting his own manufacture by becoming a large distributor (jobber) for the Red Wing Company in Minnesota. It was reported in 1892 that he was operating a 35 hp steam engine for turning pieces and employing 25 workers. That year he turned out 500,000 gallons of stoneware! Pierron did fire some of Susan Frackleton’s (noted Milwaukee art potter, designer, and decorator) stoneware in his kiln in the 1880’s and ‘90’s.

Louis employed many German immigrants from Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Bavaria, Baden, and Swabia. In later years, Pierron was relegated to making flower pots as one of the last uses for his pottery equipment.

Frederick Herrmann, who was not related to Charles Hermann, also made pottery in Milwaukee from 1848 to 1884 when his son Albert took over the operation and prevailed into the 20th century. Unfortunately, these gentlemen did not take the time to mark their work so attribution pieces have been lost to the ages unless pieces of known attribution are located. 

Charles Hermann died in 1892. More research is needed on his lineage, business, and where his final resting place is located.

My collection of Wisconsin Stoneware includes over 50 pieces of Charles Hermann stoneware. His firm competed very well with other Wisconsin potters as evidenced by the long life of the company, range of distribution, plethora of surviving examples, and diversity of forms, marks, and decorations. I am always looking for good decorated and marked examples of his ware as well as photo, ephemera, and historical information on Hermann and other Wisconsin potters.

- Wisconsin Folk Pottery, Kenneth Dearolf, Kenosha Public Museum, 1986.
- Wisconsin Fine Arts Web Site
- Conversations with Don Mericle
- Notes from Author
- Henry Hecker, September 7, 2015

Author: Henry Hecker
Rate this article:

Categories: Stoneware, PopularNumber of views: 6870


Please login or register to post comments.

Theme picker

Terms Of Use | Privacy Statement