C. C. Cole "tourist" pottery is the secret sin of many collectors and admirers of North Carolina art pottery. Often consigned to second-class status - - as if the great bulk of North Carolina pottery of the era wasn't sold to tourists - - these colorful and usually multi-colored honey jugs, cider jugs, vases, and cream-and-sugar sets are works of artisanship in their own right.
All of the Piedmont pottery shops made "tourist" pottery to a certain extent, but this was the main product of Charlie Cole's operation. C. C. Cole Pottery opened for business in 1938 and closed in 1971; in between those points, it turned out millions of "tourist" pottery items. Many of these were wholesaled to companies like Stuckey's, which filled them with honey or syrup for sale on the pre-Interstate Highway rest stops. Like other North Carolina art pottery shops, C. C. Cole Pottery also made small pieces for wholesaling to the soap-and-candle concerns, such as Carolina Soap & Candle Makers and Tar Heel Candle Co.
Charlie Cole had been a potter in his own right but had quit turning pots after he lost a finger following a snake bite. (A picture of a Charlie Cole piece can be seen on Michael Mahan's blog.) But Charlie Cole's children Thurston Cole and Dorothy Cole Auman were among the best production turners in the business. Although they occasionally made large pieces, both Thurston and Dorothy concentrated on making large quantities of small wares, particularly the polychrome-glazed honey jugs for which C. C. Cole Pottery is known.
The polychrome glazes are not unique to C. C. Cole Pottery, but they are characteristic of its wares. C. C. Cole polychrome-glazed pieces first were dipped in a white body glaze; other colors were dribbled around the body; then the top was dipped in yet another color. Four-color glazes are typical, but there are many pieces with three-color glazes and some with a body glaze and a top glaze. There are pots glazed in single colors, including both colored lead-fluxed glazes and lead-rutile matte glazes.
The finished appearance of the multicolored glazes can vary greatly, depending on the degree of heat applied during the final burning of the ware. The glazes on some early pieces are barely vitrified; other pots have over-fired glazes which have run together. Lead-rutile glazes have a matte finish at normal earthenware temperatures but take on a high-gloss, variegated surface at higher heat levels. Part of the charm of C. C. Cole pottery is the seemingly-endless variety of colors and glaze melts available.
The great majority of C. C. Cole pieces are unmarked. For a time during the 1950s, some pots were marked with a pair of stamps reading "C. C. Cole" and "Seagrove, N.C." These are relatively scarce. Charlie Cole also had a logo which contained the name "Dixie Craft Pottery," but the logo was used only on advertising materials and was never stamped on the pots. The "Dixie Craft Pottery" name likely derived from the Carolina Craft Pottery, which Charlie Cole and his brother Everett operated in Wake County from 1927 until 1933.
Thurston Cole was still young when he died in 1966. His premature passing was a loss not only to the C. C. Cole shop but to the whole North Carolina art pottery genre. When not engaged in producing honey jugs, Thurston made large pieces; some of his big floor vases are truly spectacular. Had he lived to see the Seagrove pottery revival, there undoubtedly would have been more of these. Two fine examples of Thurston Cole floor vases are reproduced in Perry (ed.), North Carolina Pottery, at pages 63 and 76.
Charlie Cole died in 1966. Both Dorothy and Walter Auman continued to work at C. C. Cole Pottery, turning and glazing pots, until that shop closed. During its thirty-plus years in operation, C. C. Cole Pottery produced a huge volume of pottery; the honey and cider jugs alone certainly numbered more than 5 million, and maybe double that. In one perspective, Thurston Cole produced more pots in a year than most studio potters make in a lifetime. Because they were used to sell honey and syrup, many of these were damaged or discarded, but the shop's output was so high that pieces remain available on the secondary market, turning up at yard sales and flea markets on a regular basis.For a longer version of this article, click HERE.
To see a gallery of C. C. Cole tourist pottery, click HERE.
Text and images copyright © 2009 by Jay Henderson. All rights reserved.