Articles - The Medicine Hat and the Alberta Potteries

Articles

The Medicine Hat and the Alberta Potteries

Ronald Getty
Glenbow Museum

Abstract

Over the last ten years considerable attention has been given to the Medalta Potteries of Medicine Hat, Alberta. This paper examines the competition - the Medicine Hat Potteries of Medicine Hat and the Alberta Potteries of Redcliff, Alberta. The names of both potteries were reused and therefore we are actually looking at four separate companies.

Although research is ongoing, enough information has been gleaned to differentiate the products made by each company through trademarks. This paper illustrates these trademarks and lists the products of each company, but further research is required to determine their full complement of wares and to define the time periods when each trademark was in use.

Résumé

Depuis dix ans, les poteries Medalta de Medicine Hat (Alberta) suscitent un intérêt considérble. L'article qui suit étudie la concurrence entre la Medicine Hat Potteries de Medicine Hat et l'Alberta Potteries de Redcliff (Alberta). Les deux raisons sociales ayant été réutilisées, nous avons affaire non pas à deux, mais à quatre compagnies différentes.

Bien que les recherches se poursuivent toujours, nous avons recueilli assez d'information pour différencier les produits de chaque compagnie par les diverses estampilles de commerce employées. L'article donne des exemples de ces estampilles et énumère les produits de chaque compagnie, mais il faudra des recherches plus approfondies pour répertorier l'ensemble de leur production et définir la durée d'utilisation de chaque estampille de commerce.

In recent years several researchers have studied the potteries in or near Medicine Hat, Alberta.1 In particular, a number of books and articles have discussed Medalta's products and markings, but little attention has been paid to Medalta's main competition.2 This paper will examine the products and stampings or trademarks of the Medicine Hat Potteries and the Alberta Potteries. Both company names were shared by two separate companies, operating at different times, and in one case at different plants. As a result confusion has arisen which it is hoped this paper will clarify.The four companies to be examined include: Medicine Hat Pottery Company Limited, 1912-14; Medicine Hat Potteries, 1938-55; Alberta Potteries Limited, 1932-38 (owned by J.W. Wyatt); and Alberta Potteries Limited, 1941-66 (owned by J.H. Yuill).

Medicine Hat Pottery Company Limited, Medicine Hat, 1912-14

The Medicine Hat Pottery Company Limited was the first pottery factory in the Medicine Hat area. The Western Porcelain Manufacturing Company of Spokane established the plant in 1912 through their representative, John A. McIntyre, and by 1913 the pottery was open for business. William Clark, an experienced potter was brought from Zanesville, Ohio, as superintendent of the new plant, and with a labour force of fifty it was soon producing a variety of stonewares in its two thirty-foot, round down-draft kilns. By 1914, however, the pottery had closed its doors. Perhaps the main reason for the failure was the lack of a nearby source of clay. The pottery had to import its stoneware clay from the state of Washington, since the beds at Eastend, Saskatchewan, were not yet developed. Little is known about the range of products manufactured by this short-lived enterprise or how they were marked. One advertisement illustrates a combinette or slop jar, a shouldered jug, a teapot, and two styles of pitchers. The only marked piece that has been recorded is a three-gallon crock bearing an oval-shaped trademark containing the company's name (fig. 1). The bottom half of this American wine measure crock was plain while the top half had a dark brown glaze. The size was marked with a large impressed numeral above the trademark. A three-gallon ice-water cooler bearing the name Medicine Hat Potteries and a scene of a polar bear on ice floes has been photographed, but whether this product was made by this company or the later one is not certain (fig. 2). Following liquidation of the Medicine Hat Pottery Company, the plant was taken over by a local group which incorporated in 1915 under the name of Medalta Stone-ware Limited. By 1916 the pant was in operation again. It seems reasonable to assume that the group also acquired the moulds of the original plant, and some of Medalta Stoneware's early products may indicate what the first plant had produced. If so, we may find butter churns and ice-water coolers bearing the trademark of the Medicine Hat Pottery Company.

Medicine Hat Potteries, Medicine Hat, 1938-44

Another company that is sometimes confused with the Medicine Hat Pottery Company Limited was established by the Yuill family of Medicine Hat in 1937. They believed that there was a lucrative market awaiting the production of dinnerwares, and by 1938 they had enticed enough employees away from Medalta to open their plant. The Medicine Hat Potteries was established as a division of its parent plant. Alberta Clay Products Company Limited, and for the lifetime of the company was the only serious competition that Medalta ever had. The new plant with its modern facilities, streamlined operation, and new circular tunnel kilns was still battling the established Medalta name. Despite its best efforts it could never quite capture enough of Medalta's markets to put the latter out of business. Finally, in 1956, the Yuill family sold both Alberta Clay Products and Medicine Hat Potteries to Marwell Construction of Vancouver, who manufactured and marketed products under the name Hycroft.
Fig. 1. Oxide marking used by the Medicine Hat Pottery Company Limited, 1912-14.
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(Photo: Glenbow Museum, Calgary, neg. no. P-2 118-182.)
Fig. 3. Medicine Hat Potteries' stonewares, 1938-55. Mixing bowl (height 11.3 cm, diameter 21.9 cm), crock (height 27.0 cm), and casserole (height 12.2 cm, diameter 15.6 cm). Collection: Glenbow Museum, cat. nos. C-28131, C-25052, and C-24412.
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(Photo: Glenbow Museum, neg. no. P-2269-9)
Fig. 2. Ice-water jar made by Medicine Hat Potteries (height 44.3 cm). The polar bear trademark, almost obliterated by the Case decal, has not been dated as yet. Collection: Glenbow Museum, cat. no. C-24439.
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(Photo: Glenbow Museum, neg. no. P-2118-184.)
Fig. 4. Oxide markings used by Medicine Hat Potteries, 1938-55.
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(Photo: Glenhow Museum, neg. no. P-2118-188.)
The Medicine Hat Potteries' products are identifiable by their Little Chief trademark. The Indian crouched under his large sombrero is prominently displayed on items (fig. 3). This trademark was in use for the life of the company and is of no help in dating specific pieces. The symbol varies in size, but the variation appears to relate to the size of the product rather than to a change through time. It is most commonly found alone but appears above a pattern name as well. Variations that have been recorded to date are shown in figure 4, but many more may yet be located. Other trademarks may also be found.An impressed number found on the bottom of many pieces is the second means of identifying this company's products. These style or pattern numbers were used to facilitate orders and stock-taking. The numbers were produced by embossed lettering on the mould. When the Little Chief trademark is missing, the numbers can be used to identify the piece as one made by the Medicine Hat Potteries. Table 1 lists the numbers that have been identified. The Medicine Hat Potteries was geared to the production of dishes for home and restaurant use. Their first set of dishes was a plain rimmed set, available in white, grey, and yellow. By 1940 they had marketed a pattern which I call ridged in table 2, since the pattern name is not yet known. Stonewares included a full line of crocks, including ¼, ½, 1-, 2-, 5-, 10-, and 20-gallon sizes, 4- and 5-gallon butter churns, a butter crock, bean pots from 1 to 8 quarts in size, a brown-top, snap-lid pickle jar, a pickle jar with a screw top (height 9 ½") a chicken fountain (height 8½"), a spittoon (diameter 7½"), a dog dish (diameter 5½"), and a double-handled acid pitcher. During the war years the company produced plain white dishes for the armed services, and their other lines had to be produced when time permitted. Following the war they re-entered the coloured dish market. They were capable of producing up to 350,000 per month.3 Many new lines were introduced, including the named patterns, such as Lazy Daisy, Chop Sticks, Calico, Rustic, and Canadiana. Aft wares were probably introduced at this time as well, including vases, lamps, planters, bulb bowls, jardinières, decorative ashtrays, and animal figurines (fig. 5). Table 2 lists the unnumbered products that have been observed to date.
Fig. 5. Medicine Hat Potteries' art wares, 1938-55. Lamp (height 22.8 cm); planter, style no. C-114 (height 23.0 cm); plaster bear ashtray (height 14.8 cm); and rabbit planter (length 25.6 cm). Collection: Glenbow Museum, cat. nos. C-25103, C-26309, C-28684, and C-28685.
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(Photo: Glenbow Museum, neg. no. P-2269-11.)
The Medicine Hat Potteries' production was as diversified as Medalta's. Its plant was not modern and well equipped and its patterns are still being produced under the name Hycroft.

Alberta Potteries Limited, Redcliff, 1932-38 (J.W. Wyatt)

Alberta Potteries Limited was established by Jesse William Wyatt in a remodelled automobile factory in Redcliff, Alberta. Wyatt was brought to Medicine Hat in 1924 by Medalta's management who wanted an experienced potter to act as plant supervisor. He remained with Medalta until 1929, when he left to set up his own operation in Redcliff. With his family, friends, and some former Medalta employees, he built a round down-draft kiln. A second kiln was added, but this expansion could not keep the company solvent. The Depression was forcing many western Canadian businesses to fold, and all the potteries were feeling the effects of the slump. Alberta Potteries was never any serious competition for Medalta Pottery. The staff never numbered more than fifteen, and production was anything but steady. By 1936 the company was in financial trouble, and Wyatt left for Ontario. In 1938 the plant closed its doors. During the short time it was in operation, the pottery produced wares similar to Medalta's, although they never had Medalta's variety or range of sizes. The stonewares included imperial measure crocks with a prominent beaver trademark (fig. 6) and ranging from one to ten gallons in size, butter churns, and butter crocks. At least five styles of bowls were available: two patterns were unnamed, the others were "Service," "Rex," and "Elite" (fig. 7). They produced pudding bowls, meat pie pans, casseroles, custard cups, various sizes of bean pots, two sizes of barrel-shaped cookie jars, at least four different styles of pitchers, and even a spittoon.Alberta Potteries also produced art wares. Two styles of vases have been recorded, one marked "No 1" and the other "No 50." They may have been part of a consecutive series, with another forty-eight styles still to be found. The pottery also produced a low jardinière, a bulb bowl with lugged legs, and a variety of personalized pieces, which may or may not have been production lines. The latter include two vases and a footed-bowl for holding candy or nuts. All were incised with Wyatt's initials "J.W.W." in script (fig. 6). Other items include sets of book-ends, one in the shape of a horse's head and the other an Indian wearing a feathered head-dress. The company also produced advertising, commemorative, and specialty products. These include an ashtray for the Dominion Hotel, Calgary, a mixing bowl for J.C. Falconer, dated 1933, and a cup given to school children to mark King George V and Queen Mary's jubilee in 1935.
Fig. 6. Markings used by Alberta Potteries, 1932-38 (Wyatt). Top two rows are oxide markings, bottom rows are impressed markings.
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(Photo: Glenhow Museum, neg. no. P-2118-189.)
Fig. 7. Alberta Potteries' products, 1932-38, Wyatt's company. Mixing bowl, "Rex'' pattern (height 10.8 cm, diameter 24.6 cm); lacquered vase no. 50, embossed design (height 28.2 cm); and mixing bowl, "Elite'' pattern (height 9.0 cm, diameter 17.0 cm). Collection: Glenhow Museum, cat. nos. C-25006, C-26308, and C-22893.
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(Photo: Glenhow Museum, neg. no. P-2269-6.)
Fig. 8. Alberta Potteries' products, 1941-66, Yuill's company. Coffee mug (height 8.8 cm), mixing bowl with advertisement (height 11.4 cm, diameter 23.0 cm), and vase (height 16.9 cm). Collection: Glenbow Museum, cat. nos. C-24463, C-28133, and C-28132.
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(Photo: Glenbow Museum, neg. no. P-2269-8.)

Alberta Potteries, Redcliff, 1941-66 (J. Harlan (Hop) Yuill)

Following the closure of the Alberta Potteries Limited plant in 1938, the factory was idle until J. Harlan Yuill acquired it in 1941. The plant may have been used intermittently between 1938 and 1941, but I know of no products produced under the name of Alberta Potteries during this time. The Yuill family's Medicine Hat Potteries was equipped to produce hotel wares, and Hop Yuill was quick to realize that there was a market for inexpensive, sturdy mixing bowls. In partnership with Mr. Clark, he acquired the Alberta Potteries and, under the management of Luke Lindoe, produced a line of bowls finished with a red lead glaze. Lindoe was anxious to see the potteries expand, and when Yuill refused to do so Lindoe left. New lines were introduced and production continued to 1966 when the plant was leased to Shorty Matuska. He produced items under the name Medalta Potteries (1966) Limited. Wares produced during Yuill's time were more limited than line produced by Wyatt. Yuill's products included various sizes of crocks, bean pots, a mixing bowl, a pudding bowl, a salad bowl, an ashtray, a rabbit-shaped planter, two styles of jardinières, two styles of vases, an umbrella stand, and a number of coloured dishes, such as a soup bowl and a coffee mug (fig. 8). Antonelli and Forbes report that coloured dishes were made during Wyatt's time, but those that have been seen are of a later date. Markings on these products are illustrated in figure 9. The production line that is well dated is that of Malcolm MacArthur, who was at the Medicine Hat Potteries until 1956 when he left to manage Yuill's Alberta Potteries. During MacArthur's time at Medicine Hat Potteries he developed a set of barbecue dishes which had plates and saucers like a sectioned log (fig. 10), while the cups resembled a chopped log with a branch for a handle (fig. 11). He left Alberta Potteries in 1958 to set up his own venture in the leased Medalta Potteries plant, and again the barbecue set was produced, this time under the name of "New Medalta Ceramics." When the Medalta plant burned on 24 September 1958, MacArthur's involvement in the business ended, but a year or two later Ralph Thrall of Lethbridge had acquired and rebuilt Medalta's facilities. MacArthur became the manager of the new plant and started producing items under the name of "Sunburst Ceramics." Again the bark-pattern barbecue set became a production item.
Fig. 9. Markings used by Alberta Potteries, 1941-66 (Yuill). Top two rows are oxide markings, bottom row is impressed markings. These impressed marks may also have been used during Wyatt's time; the top right mark also bears a Medalta stamp.
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(Photo: Glenbow Museum, neg. no. P-2118-190.)
Fig. 10. Bark pattern plate (diameter 26.0 cm) of Malcolm MacArthur's barbecue set in 1957. Private collection.
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(Photo: Glenbow Museum, neg. no. P-2200-D6.)
Further research is necessary before the interrelationship of the potteries is understood. At least one example, vase no. 1, bears both an impressed Alberta Potteries stamp and an oxide Medalta stamp (fig. 9). Did Medalta acquire some moulds from Alberta Potteries and, if so, was it during Wyatt's or Yuill's time? Perhaps it was simply a case of Medalta acquiring items from a competitor to fill an order. Examination of the products made during Wyatt's and Yuill's time reveals that quite a number of impressed markings and/or oxide stampings were used. Some markings, particularly the impressed ones, were used by both companies. Yuill may have acquired some of Wyatt's moulds, but a much larger product sample must be examined to resolve this question and to permit more accurate dating of the products.In comparing the markings of both companies (figs. 6 and 9), some observations can be made. As a rule, Wyatt's pieces, excluding the stonewares, usually had an impressed marking with the word "Limited" or "Ltd" often present. When "Limited" was not used its omission appears to be a result of the size of the product. Yuill's pieces, on the other hand, were usually marked with an oxide stamping and the word "Limited" was not used. There are, of course, exceptions to these trends and further research is required.
Fig. 11. Chopped log pattern cup and sugar bowl designed by Malcolm MacArthur while manager of the Alberta Potteries in 1957. Private collection.
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(Photo: Glen-bow Museum, neg. no. P-2200-B1.)
Finishes of cane or yellow, green, blue, mottled brown, and browns were common during Wyatt's time. Vases were decorated with coloured lacquers but perhaps glazed examples will yet be found. The products prodded by Yuill's company are more colourful and include rose, violet, orange, pink, and yellows. Under Yuill, finishes were of glaze and not coloured lacquers.

Conclusion

The story of the pottery industry in the Medicine Hat area of Alberta, is now becoming clearer. Medalta was for many years the only pottery that had been studied through collections, yet to understand Medalta one must know as much about the others. They are now being documented and their products collected. In time, we will be able to date pieces precisely and to tell when one company has taken over part or all of the moulds and inventory of another. The author would welcome any information readers can provide on the potteries discussed in this paper.
TABLE 1 Medicine Hat Potteries' Style Numbers
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TABLE 2 Medicine Hat Potteries' Unnumbered Products
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NOTES
1 Marylu Antonelli and Jack Forbes, Pottery in Alberta, The Long Tradition (Edmonton, Alta.: University of Alberta Press, 1978); Bill Borgtwardt, "Medalta and Other Pottery from Alberta." CanadiAntiquer, April 1979, 8-12; Ronald Getty and Jack Forbes, "Alberta Pottery: An Overview of the Pottery Industry in the Medicine Hat/Redcliff Area of Southern Alberta, 1912-1981," Canadian Antiques and Art Review 22 (October 1981): 26-30.
2 Ronald Getty and Ester Klaiman, "Identifying Medalta, 1916-1954: A Guide to Markings," Material History Bulletin 12 (Spring 1981): 17-60; Richard Symonds and Jean Symonds, Medalta Stoneware and Pottery for Collectors (Surrey, B.C.: Symco Distributors, 1974).
3 Antonelli and Forbes, Pottery in Alberta, 143.
4 Ibid., 73.