Stage publishes work on Donaghho Pottery
WILLIAMSTOWN — Jim Stage for many years has been considered the local expert on A.P. Donaghho and Donaghho’s Excelsior Pottery.
Now, he’s sharing his knowledge and research with others by writing and publishing “The Donaghho Story.”
The 230-page soft-cover spiral-bound history and reference includes 15 chapters of information about A.P. Donaghho and the Parkersburg-based company, which manufactured stoneware jugs, jars, crocks, bowls, churns, canners and flower pots in an area once known as Pottery Junction, where, today, Emerson Avenue branches off from Murdoch Avenue.
“I started on the book five years ago.” Stage said, speaking from the front counter of the Williamstown Antique Mall, of which he is a partner. “I used to hear lots of stories about A.P. Donaghho and his pottery and, the more I began researching and studying the subject, I realized a lot of local lore was exaggerated or just not true. A lot of the stories have become distorted over the years. I hope people can use this book as a way to set the record straight.”
Stage, who has about 80 pieces of Donaghho pottery on display at any given time in the antique mall, has amassed a personal collection of more than 300 Donaghho pieces. Meanwhile, the journey toward writing the book began, by accident, in 1968 after he returned home after military service in Vietnam.
“My family owned a big farm and I discovered a dump,” said Stage. “As I ran across the area, I tripped on what I found out was a buried stone jar. I dug it up and it was a smooth 10-gallon jar with no cracks in it. I later found lots of Donaghho and Porterfield (Ohio) pieces in that dump and around the farm and switched from collecting bottles to collecting jars.”
Thus began a lengthy and ongoing search for information, documentation and photographs about potteries in West Virginia and Ohio.
Stage focused his growing collection and the book on Donaghho because Excelsior pottery was known for its quality, design and geometric shape. What’s more, Stage, 70, became impressed with A.P. Donaghho, the man.
“I found out from relatives of people who worked for him that Mr. Donaghho (or A.P., as he was often called) was well-liked, honest and respected in the community.” Stage said. “The more I found out, the more he became sort of an idol for me and I wanted to uncover all I could about him and his pottery. He started making pottery when he was only 14 years old and, through a lot of hard work, became a well-known and important businessman.”
In addition to the history of Donaghho and his pottery, “The Donaghho Story” also discusses other area potters like James P. Crouse (a Donaghho partner), Dan Mercer (a Donaghho employee), Nathaniel Clark (often referred to as Parkersburg’s first potter) and potteries like Phelps, Sand Hill and South Side, among others. It is also designed to serve as a heavily-illustrated market price guide.
A work of this magnitude requires more than one person, Stage said, crediting his wife, Sue, son Shawn and knowledgeable persons like Linwood Lowden, Holly Bain, local historian and author Brian Kesterson and photographer Craig Morton, among others, for their assistance. The book is dedicated to the late Benton Ruppenthal and the late Jill Ruppenthal, Stage’s former collecting and business partners.
“Holly Bain is from Richmond, Ind., and she was able to provide photos of the layout of the (Donaghho) factory I didn’t even think existed,” Stage said. “There are a lot of photos in the book that have never been seen in print before.”
Stage, a former maintenance supervisor at the Fenton Art Glass, B.F. Goodrich and RJF manufacturing plants, said his work is meant to educate and maintain a key part of local history for future generations.
“When I started collecting I decided I wanted to learn all I could about A.P. Donaghho and his pottery and I just started putting pieces of information together,” Stage said. “When I started getting older, I realized, when I die, a lot of this information will be lost if I don’t put it out there. Some collecting friends of mine, who come into the shop all the time, suggested I write a book so the information could be shared and saved.”
Among the stories Stage hopes to clarify with his book concern the stenciled markings on the pottery, unmarked pieces, coloring, certain distinguishing marks and characteristics, and the on-and-off use of the Excelsior name.
Alexander Polk Donaghho, 1829-1899, moved to Parkersburg from Fredericktown, Pa., in Washington County, about 1870 and he worked at his craft until his death. His son Walter Donaghho kept the company going until 1904 when stocks of wares and the supply of high-quality clay ran out.
Beyond supply, key factors in the demise of Donaghho’s firm were stricter government regulations on food packaging and the advent of glass jars (Mason) for food storage. These were much lighter, cheaper to manufacture and easier to use than stone jars and crocks. Plus, persons could view the container contents without having to “pop the lid.”
Long after the closing of Donaghho’s plant and, later, the sale of the property in 1906, Donaghho pottery found new life as prized collectors’ items rather than the simple food storage containers for which they were originally designed and utilized.
“Donaghho pottery is everywhere,” said Stage. “I’ve had people come into the shop here and tell me they went on a cruise and saw Donaghho jars in antique stores in Alaska. “Of course, Donaghho jars are more popular here in our area more than anywhere else, simply because they were made here and most of the pieces have Parkersburg, West Virginia (W.Va or WV) stenciled on them. These jars are an interesting and educational part of local history. You know, at one time, almost every barn, cellar or home in the area had Donaghho jars in them for everyday use. Now they are sought-after collectors’ items.”
The Donaghho Story, printed by Morehead Publishing in Mineral Wells, will be available in early October for $39.95 through the Williamstown Antique Mall on Highland Avenue.