Etruscan Majolica Pottery's Historical Phoenixville Ties
In the late 19th century, Phoenixville was known far and wide for more than just iron. Here are the people and the stories behind its illustrious pottery past.
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When many of Phoenixville’s streets were recently uprooted to install new sewer lines, Dave Frees was one of the few who welcomed it. The civic-minded businessman headed down with a digging trowel and plastic bags—a modern-day archaeologist descending more than 14 feet on contractors’ ladders.
Frees was in search of pottery shards. He unearthed hundreds, and he’s still cataloging them today. Police would stop to coax him out of the ditches after suspicious neighbors called. “I dug for the better part of a month,” he says.
Frees’ target area was the corner of Starr and Church streets, the former site of Phoenixville Potteries—actually nine consecutive firms operating on two large lots between 1867 and 1903. From 1879 to 1890, the Etruscan Majolica of Griffen, Smith and Hill was the most heralded of the diversified lines produced there.
Majolica is a name given to raised-pattern, soft-clay pottery that depicts natural elements—leaves, flowers, birds, fish, vegetables—and is covered with a bright-colored or opaque white glaze. The name is derived from an Italian ware with relief design that originated on the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. It reached mainland Italy in 1115, when the Pisans conquered the island of Majorca.