Clinchfield Pottery, A Bit of America's History
Author: Sharon Stajda
Clinchfield pottery came about when the Clinchfield, North Carolina, and Ohio railroad company wanted to expand their rail shipping business. Noticing the success of other new up and coming pottery companies
the decision was made to produce pottery. They focused their interests on a small town in Tennessee called Erwin. With it's population of 300
people, Erwin was centrally located, and from the standpoint of the railroad,
it provided easy transporting of the raw materials that were needed to
Clinchfield Pottery was started in 1916. The original pottery workers
were hired and imported from nearby Ohio. This is the reason the workers
were labeled the "Northern People" by the residents of Erwin. The Ohio
craftsmen were the ones to train the Erwin residents in the art of
making and decorating pottery. Commercial production started in 1917, and
was primarily centered around simple dinnerware. The patterns were simple,
with the use of molds and decal-applied patterns. Some evidence of sponging
was used at the edges to adorn, yet the work was still kept simple for the
beginning apprentices. There were some handpainted items being produced by the artists
from Ohio, in order to teach the art of handpainting to the new workers.
The marks varied early on. The words "Clinchfield, Handpainted, Erwin Tenn."
was one of the early marks. Later in 1920-1938 the Clinchfield Crown backstamp
was more commonly used. In 1920 the official name was changed from Clinchfield
to Southern Potteries, when a corporation charter was obtained and $500.000
in stock was sold to the public.
Hand Painting Introduced
In the late 1930's, Charles Foreman introduced a line of handpainted
items. These pieces again were kept simple and minimal, usually displaying leaves or
one or two colorful flowers. In some pieces the painting was added to an already decaled
piece. This added color and interest to the piece. Many pieces were now
bordered not with sponging but a more clean line border.
Clinchfield Closes It's Doors
In the 1940's and 1950's, Southern Potteries was one of the foremost
producers of handpainted china in the United States. After the Second World war
ended in 1945, a gradual erosion began in overall production, due to escalating labor
costs, competition from Japan, and the advent of plastic dinnerware.
Southern Potteries (Clinchfield Potteries) closed its doors in 1957,
due to layoffs, reduced workweeks, and shareholders liquidating their stocks.
While the products of the Clinchfield and Southern potteries were never
sought after by the affluent, there were many wonderful pieces which were artistic in
creation, and appreciated by their owners. There are not actually many of these
pieces left to be had, due to the fact they were used as everyday
dinnerware, and became worn and discarded. This is the kind of china you may if lucky find at
garage sales or flea markets. The owner not knowing the history may find it of little
value. The value is in the eye of the beholder. Yet it truly is a piece of
The following photograph depicts a unique piece of Cash/Clinchfield pottery which was produced sometime between 1945 and 1989. It was recently signed by the pottery's owner, Pauline Cash. You will find this item for sale at the Blue Ridge Pottery Web site, under the Cash/Clinchfield category.
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