by Jay HendersonWho made Daison Ware? Conventional wisdom holds that the pottery sold as Daison Ware in the 1930s and 1940s was made by various of the North Carolina Cole families, but that may not be so. Certainly, J. B. Cole's Pottery was a primary source, but there is insufficient evidence to attribute other potteries with this connection.
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Daison Manufacturing Corporation -- sometimes incorrectly called "Daison Lamp Company" -- was a manufacturer/distributor of lamps and other housewares and was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to the records of the Pennsylvania Department of State, Daison Manufacturing Corporation was a registered corporate entity from January 1, 1933, until its dissolution on October 29, 1958. The 1933 date is likely not the date of incorporation but is probably the date of the first accessible records; however, it does establish that there was a corporate existence in the mid-1930s. There is a second Pennsylvania registration for "Daison Manufacturing Company," changing the final word of the name. The reason for this duplication is unknown.
Daison was connected to the department-store trade, selling to those establishments in many locations along the Atlantic coast. The Daison label tends to be found in or near urban areas which featured department stores, such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Atlanta. Daison lamps were artistically-designed, quality products and occasionally turn up in estate collections. Photographs of two Daison lamps are currently available on the Smithsonian Institution's CollectionsSearchCenter. During the 1930s and 1940s, Daison purchased pottery which it labeled as "Daison Ware" and sold as part of its department-store line.
The connection between J. B. Cole's Pottery and Daison Ware is well-established and was attested by Waymon Cole in later years. The exact dates of the J. B. Cole - Daison Ware arrangement are unknown, but the best evidence would make it from the mid- to late-1930s through the mid- to late-1940s. It may be that the Daison account came after the Sunset Mountain Pottery arrangement with Treasure Chest/Three Mountaineers ended in 1935.The relationship turned out to be the salvation of both J. B. Cole's Pottery and Daison Manufacturing. During World War II, metals which Daison used to make its lamps became difficult to purchase, owing to the demands of armaments production. Coin collectors are familiar with the "steel cents" made by the United States Mint in 1943 when, because of the use of copper for shell casings and other military needs, the Mint coined one-cent pieces on zinc-coated steel blanks for a year. The copper shortage meant a brass shortage, and brass was then as now a primary material for the making of lamp bases. Daison turned to J. B. Cole's Pottery for the production of ceramic lamp bases -- and it was this contract that saw both Daison and J. B. Cole's through the war with business intact. While J. B. Cole's Pottery had made lamp bases prior to this time, they are fairly scarce items prior to the Daison arrangement in WWII.
Unlike Sunset Mountain and other contract arrangements, the Daison Ware name was not stamped into the pots. Instead, paper labels were glued to the base of each piece. There are numerous examples of Daison Ware labels still in existence. Some of these labels are virtually intact, others are remnants, and undoubtedly some of the labels were washed off or otherwise removed over the years. The labeled pieces are they key to attribution of Daison Ware.
Many students of North Carolina art pottery had attributed Daison Ware pieces both to J. B. Cole's Pottery and A. R. Cole Pottery. However, one of my correspondents, North Carolina collector Peg Wiebe, mentioned last year that she had not seen a Daison Ware piece which she would credit to A. R. Cole. Peg Wiebe has seen a lot more A. R. Cole pottery than I have and knows it well. My interest whetted, I began making comparisons where I could, and concluded that she was correct -- A. R. Cole did not make Daison Ware.
To begin, I looked up the A. R. Cole "Daison Ware" piece in Lock, Traditional Potters, and saw immediately that the attribution is wrong. The vase illustrated in Lock (see image on left) is not an A. R. Cole piece but instead is a Nell Cole Graves form, N47-8" as illustrated in the J. B. Cole 1940 Catalogue (see image on right, below). Lock's 1940s dating is right, since J. B. Cole's Pottery had switched to the Smithfield red clay after the Michfield clay bed was sold in 1938. However, the glaze is not a lead-rutile glaze, but a green overdipped with white.
Other examples of Daison Ware mis-attribution came to light. For instance, a Rebecca pitcher sold at auction in 2006 is attributed to A. R. Cole but is unmistakably the work of Waymon Cole. A large vase sold at auction in 2007 provides another such example. Another piece, a pitcher with applied decoration, is consistent with the forms shown as W108 and W 109 in the J. B. Cole 1940 Catalogue. (This attribution requires thanks, again, to Peg Wiebe for her sharp eye and excellent memory.) By comparison, there are numerous examples of Daison Ware which correspond to J. B. Cole pieces, including this vessel, a form G308 (1940 Catalogue) glazed in rose-and-white. My working conclusion at this point is that Daison may have purchased pottery from more than one source, certainly including J. B. Cole, but not from A. R. Cole.
In his introduction to North Carolina Art Pottery, Everette James wrote, "Knowledge about North Carolina art pottery is an evolving process. A 'truth' widely accepted today may be dismissed tomorrow in light of new data." So it goes with Daison Ware pottery. Given the nature of such contractual arrangements -- the potteries made pieces by the truckload for delivery to such customers -- it is only reasonable to expect that there would be a good number of surviving examples. There are so many examples of J. B. Cole pieces sold under this label that the connection is unassailable. The same cannot be said of A. R. Cole wares.
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Text and images (excluding excerpts from The Traditional Potters of Seagrove, North Carolina, by Robert C. Lock, and from the J. B. Cole's Pottery 1940 Catalogue) copyright 2010 by J. R. Henderson. This article was originally published in Backcountry Notes. Reprinted by permission.