Wisconsin antique bottle and advertising club

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Henry W. Chamberlain Stoneware

Made at the Milwaukee Stoneware Factory, possibly by O.F. Baker

In our collecting hobby, we sometimes encounter artifacts that seemingly are the only remaining evidence of a past person’s life. Usually with subsequent research from the name, location, or approximate date of the bottle, jug, or other item, we are able to assemble a story about the original owner. We do this by studying old city directories, newspaper articles and advertisements, business organization listings of the time, genealogies, census records, and land ownership documents.

Such is the case of one Henry W. Chamberlain of Sheboygan County Wisconsin in the 1850’s. Henry Hecker acquired a salt glazed jar marked “H. W. Chamberlain Sheboygan Wis” in the 1980’s from an avid auction goer in Menomonee Falls. Then in 2002, he bought a decorated, salt glazed pitcher with the same mark from Bob Markiewicz that he had just purchased. Henry was able to seize the opportunity before Bob got too attached to the pitcher. Accompanying the pitcher was a 1997 letter from Janice Hildebrand, a well known author of Sheboygan area history.

Below is the information that Ms. Hildebrand was able to find out about Chamberlain back in 1997. To summarize and paraphrase her research at the time:

The surname Chamberlain is well documented in early Sheboygan County in the 1850’s through the second half of the 19th century. There were several families that may have been related, but more research is needed. Henry W. and his wife Harriet are found in over 50 landowner records, the first in 1846 and the last for his widow in 1899. However, for as prominent as this couple must have been in the area at the time, there is very little recorded because there were no Sheboygan city directories until 1868.  Earlier directories would have shed more light upon his business and presumably might explain the context for the stoneware bearing his name. The first plat map for Sheboygan County dates from 1862 and Henry W. Chamberlain owned land all over the county.

Ms. Hildebrand found strong circumstantial evidence that Henry W. was a merchant and was conducting business in Sheboygan in the 1850’s. In “The History of Plymouth” by Mrs. H. Smith, there is mention of a Willie Chamberlain, believed to be Henry’s brother, renting space in 1851 in a building in Plymouth owned by Henry “Yankee” Chamberlain of Sheboygan. But Willie’s entrepreneurial days were short as he died in the cholera epidemic of 1852.

Henry W. and Harriet had several children. Those identified were Hannah Annie, Ester, C. Mariette, and Nellie. This is known because a Frederick Zimmerman was appointed guardian of these minor age children on April 9th, 1866. Henry W. was deceased prior to that date and had had left the area prior to that time.

Ms. Hildebrand also found an interesting tidbit about Henry W. Chamberlain that strongly suggests that the family had moved to Chicago before the 1860 census. In a Sheboygan paper news item dated September 15, 1860, an obituary for William Farnsworth, who perished in the Lady Elgin disaster, read, “The body of William Farnsworth of this city, who was lost at the wreck of the Lady Elgin, floated ashore between Gross Point and Evanston and was taken to Chicago, where it was recognized by H. W. Chamberlain, formerly of this city, who informed Captain Anderson of the schooner Gazella of this city, who was there at the time and he (Captain A.) procured a coffin, had the body suitable placed therein…..”

Flash forward to 2015, and using an internet search service for old newspapers (not available to Ms. Hildebrand in the 1990’s,) we now have some approximate dates for Chamberlain’s store on Pennsylvania Street in Sheboygan. In September 1848, Chamberlain offered for sale oats, potatoes, and pork but by 1851, George Smith was occupying Chamberlain’s former building. Smith may have simply continued commerce in a similar nature to predecessor’s business or perhaps expanded the offerings.

Furthermore by checking a reference site for grave markers, we have found a government issue grave marker in St Louis County, Missouri bearing Henry W. Chamberlain's name with reference to his death in May 21, 1862.   This cemetery was associated with a Union army barracks.  Subsequent research revealed that Henry W. Chamberlain enlisted in "Lincoln" with the Wisconsin 16th Infantry Regiment, Company E on October 7, 1861.  This regiment fought in the Battle of Shiloh which occurred over the course of several days in April of 1862.  The same reference mentions that Henry W. died of illness but it is not known whether he died as a result of active duty or was furloughed before the battle and died of disease as many other soldiers did during the Civil War.

We can also add more information as to the stoneware itself. We now know that Chamberlain operated a store in Sheboygan in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. Henry W. was a merchant conducting business similar to such Milwaukee notables as Leonard Farwell and J. N. Bonesteel (and perhaps L. Ransom) and had utilitarian stoneware made for himself to sell from his store. However, unlike Farwell and Bonesteel who likely ordered stoneware bearing their names from Ohio, Chamberlain appears to have locally sourced from O.F Baker in Milwaukee, or possibly Baker’s predecessors involved in the Milwaukee Stoneware Factory, i.e., Sanderson, Williams, Warner or Saph. Refer to the photograph of the Chamberlain pitcher and an O. F. Baker 1 gallon jug for side-by-side comparison and there are irrefutable similarities. There are also Baker jars that are very similar to the Chamberlain jar as well.

Henry Chamberlain probably ordered a batch of stoneware in a variety of forms, i.e. jugs, crocks, churn etc but to our knowledge these two pieces are the only ones found to date. Pitchers and batter jugs bearing Wisconsin names are extremely rare perhaps owing to heavy daily usage and low survival rate. There is a Mosier, Wautoma batter jug known to the authors and there are, of course, quite a number of earthenware milk pitchers known from Konrad Langenburg (Sheboygan), Anton Fuchs (Kewaskum) and the Whitewater potters, but not salt glazed stoneware pieces. However, it is quite obvious that the potter at the wheel about 165 years ago was able to modify his technique in turning the jug form into a pitcher by flaring out the opening of the vessel and finishing the rim in a quite accomplished fashion…. which suggests that this surviving pitcher was not one-of-a-kind by any means. In fact, in advertisements of the time for the Milwaukee Stoneware Factory, pitchers are mentioned as one of their wares.

Many questions remain to be answered. Where did the Chamberlain family originate? New York? Connecticut? What were all of the goods and wares that he sold at his store? Why did the Chamberlains leave the Sheboygan area? How did Henry W. meet his demise and did he actually see the battle field at Shiloh? These questions and others remain to be answered and Chicago records would appear to be a good starting point to new research.

And in some damp basement, or dusty attic or shed, there are more Chamberlain pots to be found…

Important! If you know of any stamped piece of H.W. Chamberlain stoneware please contact me. email Henry

Author: Henry Hecker
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