In the late 1800s White’s Pottery of Utica, New York, (also called the Central New York Pottery) is thought to have created this substantial stoneware vessel. Makers ornamented its surface with patterns and shapes, including swags, ribbons, flowers, and vegetables, all highlighted with cobalt blue. The legend “Masonic Fair” is impressed within shield-shaped cartouches in three places on the outside of the object. This handsome and intriguing bowl is a recent addition to the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.
At first glance, this large footed vessel—over 19 inches in diameter—appears to be a punch bowl. However, a close look at the patterns beneath the lettering within the shield-shaped cartouches ornamenting the bowl raise questions about the vessel and the purpose for which it was originally designed.
In addition to functional objects, such as jars, water coolers, and mugs, White’s Pottery and the Central New York Pottery made decorative stoneware objects such as commemorative tankards, match holders, and coin banks. One of the firm’s clients was Bardwell’s Root Beer, a company run by druggist Charles Ellis Bardwell (1853-1927) of Holyoke, Massachusetts. He advertised “Bardwell’s Unparalleled Root Beer” to his fellow drug store owners to sell at their soda fountains. In a 1900 notice he offered not only root beer syrup, but an “outfit, consisting of Bardwell’s Root Beer Cooler…Bardwell’s Root Beer Pitcher, Six of Bardwell’s elegant Steins.” The components of these sets were made of stoneware and are commonly thought to have been manufactured by White’s Pottery.
In 1899 Bardwell received a design patent for “a new and original Design for Bowls” that were distinguished by vertically oriented perforated cylinders at their centers. From an image accompanying one of Bardwell’s root beer outfit advertisements, it appears that the perforated element contained the pitcher from which the root beer was poured into lidded steins. Bardwell’s ads described the bowl with the cylinder at its center as a cooler, claiming that his delectable product was served in “ice cold steins kept cold in Bardwell’s cooler.” The perforated cylinder kept the pitcher used to serve the root beer out of the ice, but cool. The dense stoneware from which the cooler, steins, and pitcher were made was a good insulator and helped keep the root beer, steins, and pitcher cool.
From images of surviving examples and pictures in Bardwell’s ads, each element of Bardwell’s outfit—the cooler, the pitcher, and the steins—bore the name “Bardwell’s” or “Bardwell’s Root Beer” in distinctive script. Surprisingly, this vessel, though marked with the phrase “Masonic Fair,” was made from a mold originally designed for to create the bowl that was part of Bardwell’s root beer outfit. On this bowl recently added to the collection of the museum, letters spelling out “Bardwell’s Root Beer“ are faintly visible under the words “Masonic Fair” (below, at left, look for the letter "R" under the star). The phrase “Masonic Fair” was likely pressed into the bowl while the clay was still moist enough to accept the impression. Decorators later outlined it with cobalt blue.
A member of Mount Holyoke Lodge in South Hadley Falls, Massachusetts, Bardwell may have offered coolers customized with the words “Masonic Fair” to serve refreshments or as prizes at fundraisers for Masonic organizations. Hopefully further research will shed light on the connection between Bardwell’s root beer coolers and Masonic fairs.
Advertisements, “The Popular New England Beverage for 1900…,” The Spatula, March, 1900, May, 1900, n. p.
John L. Scherer, Art for the People: Decorated Stoneware from the Weitsman Collection (Albany, NY: The University of the State of New York, 2015), 126-127, 136-141.
“What’s New?” The Spatula, April, 1900, 361.
For examples of stoneware made by White’s Pottery, see the Munson Museum, Utica, New York, online collection database.
Cooler, 1894-1901. Attributed to White’s Pottery, Utica, New York. Museum Purchase through the Special Acquisitions Fund, and Maureen Harper, Patricia Loiko, and Hilary Anderson Stelling in Memory of Jill Aszling, 2023.001. Photograph by Michael Cardinali.
Detail Cooler, 1894-1901. Attributed to White’s Pottery, Utica, New York. Museum Purchase through the Special Acquisitions Fund, and Maureen Harper, Patricia Loiko, and Hilary Anderson Stelling in Memory of Jill Aszling, 2023.001. Photograph by Michael Cardinali.