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Rockingham Animal Figures from Bennington
Bennington and Rockingham ware are practically synonymous in the minds of many collectors. Rockingham ware, as described in the preceding section, originated in Yorkshire, England, on the estate of Charles, Marquis of Rockingham, and was first made in America about 1840 by the Jersey City Pottery Company.
Eight years later, a short-lived venture, known first as Lyman and Fenton and shortly afterward as the United States Pottery Company, was established at Bennington, Vermont. Here, for a brief ten years, wares of such fine quality were produced that those of other excellent contemporary potteries are often overlooked by ceramic enthusiasts today. The man responsible for this was Christopher Webber Fenton. He came from a family of Connecticut potters who had moved to Bennington where there was already a pottery. This had been founded in 1793 by John Norton, producing kitchen earthenware through several generations until 1894.
Fenton married Louisa, granddaughter of John Norton, in 1832 and later entered into an uneasy partnership with his brother-in-law, Julius Norton. Fenton had no great skill as a potter. He was a promoter, with the virtues and failings of one. He had vision, knew how to acquire good potters, and invented a refinement of Rockingham ware known as "Patent Flint Enamel." This differed from the usual type in the manner of applying metallic colors. Previously they had been applied with a rag or brush. With Fenton's process the colors were finely ground and then dusted on, before firing, with an ordinary pepper shaker. The result was a brilliant tortoise-shell effect against a brown background. He patented the process, but potteries in other areas copied it so expertly that, unless a piece is marked, it is hard to tell its origin.
The partnership with Julius Norton was dissolved in 1847. Norton stayed with the family business and Fenton started the venture which made the name of Bennington famous, The variety of wares turned out in the decade from 1848 to 1858 was amazing in quantity. Among them were animal figures made in Rockingham flint enamel. Several former Staffordshire potters worked in Bennington, among them Daniel Greatback who had come to America to work for the Jersey City Pottery Company in 1840. He designed some of the finest Bennington pieces.
The reclining-doe flower-holder is one of them. A companion to it is a stag with the same pose, coloring, and detail of base and flower-holder. Evidently this particular deer design was made only at Ben nington. Both pieces bear the oval pottery mark of "Lyman Fenton F3 Co., Bennington, Vt.," and the date, 1849. Greatback was also well known for his lions, poodles, houndhandled pitchers, and cow creamers, several of which were adapted from English originals.
The stag was among the most favored of animal subjects in Europe and England from the eighteenth century on. Around 1765, Ralph Wood the elder, made a reclining stag with flower-holder in the form of a broken tree trunk. It had a soft lead glaze and the color harmony for which the potters of this famous family were noted.